As a teacher, nothing is more emotionally draining than directionless meetings. Without a specific goal and agenda in place for meetings, educators often end up in complaining sessions. This leaves everyone feeling like time was wasted.
Here are some solutions to the prevent unproductive meetings:
Choose Team Roles
At the start of the school year, each team should choose meeting roles. An administrative representative should be present during the first few meetings, so that he or she can learn the team dynamics and help guide teams in choosing roles. These roles might include:
Agenda Keeper: This person is responsible for maintaining the weekly agenda. As colleagues think of topics to add to the agenda, they email the agenda keeper. Then, the agenda keeper sends out the final agenda the day before the meeting. If there is nothing to discuss, this person should cancel the meeting.
Time Manager: This person in charged with keeping meeting discussions on track and gently re-directing colleagues who have taken the discussion into a tangent. This is one of the most important roles during the meeting. Many teachers will feel uncomfortable re-directing a colleague back to topic, so it is helpful to clearly define that this is a responsibility.
Note Taker: This person is responsible for taking notes during meetings. After the meeting, this person should email all the team members (including administration) with the meeting notes and a specified to-do list for each team member as discussed during the meeting (if created). Including administration on this report will help open lines of communication. If there was a specific problem discussed during the meeting that requires administration guidance, this should be highlighted on the meeting notes. It is imperative that administrators read these updates and respond in a timely manner. Administrators who do not know the daily struggles and workings of their teams are not effective leaders.
Define the End Goal of Each Meeting
Often, teams will identify the overall purpose of a meeting. For example, we are going to discuss Response to Intervention. Instead, teams should identify the end-goal of the meeting. What specifically do you plan on accomplishing? In order to be productive, there needs to be a result of the meeting. This might include a specified change in the way instruction will be delivered, a new way to measure student progress, a new grouping of students for instruction, a plan for an event, or a shared lesson plan. The team should identify specific goals for each meeting at the start of the meeting or prior to the meeting.
For example, "By the end of this meeting, we plan on to create new student groupings using RTI data. We also want to decide who is responsible for lesson planning each group."
Identifying a specified plan will also help team members stay on topic. If a discussion moves to information that is irrelevant to the goal, it should be tabled for the next meeting. Administrators should help guide teams in defining the end goal for the first few meetings, as many teams do not usually operate in such a specified manner.
Meaningful Meeting Plans With Support Staff
Every school has support staff, including learning disabilities teachers, reading specialists, and speech language pathologists. As their title states, these team members should support the general education teachers. Here are some ideas for defined team meetings with special education support.
1. By the end of the meeting, team members will create student groupings across the grade level using RTI data and assign specialists to support the groups.
In order for this to function, administrators need to allot common educational block times across the grade. It is helpful for administrators to be present during this type of meeting in order to help alleviate any scheduling conflicts. After collecting reading/math/language RTI data, teams should meet to create cross-grade level groupings. By creating cross-grade groupings, specialists can work with students in different classrooms at a specified intervention time by pulling all the students together in one room.
2. By the end of the meeting, team members will identify the classroom reading comprehension strategies/math goals/decoding pattern goals for the month and identify differentiated (or alternative) goals for high performing and low performing students.
Too often, classroom teachers carry the brunt of differentiating lessons for their class. In order for support staff to provide lesson plan help, they must know the overall unit/month goals with enough time to plan. As teachers move through lessons, the pace of instruction and activities might be need to adjusted daily. However, if overall learning goals can be identified prior to each unit/month, then specialists can help lesson plan. In order for this to be successful, it is recommended that administrators guide the first few meetings, as some teaching staff may not currently plan overall unit goals up to one month in advance.
If team members can identify the overall goals and modifications, then a to-do list might include which team members will create differentiated materials. For example, SLP Jane Doe will create 5 differentiated lessons/worksheets/online materials to meet the needs of students Mark, Bob, and Sarah from pages 20-45 in the reading textbook to include language strategy work on summarizing. Or Teacher Ima Smart will create extension lessons for students Tim, Jen, and Jose for Social Studies Unit 4 on the Native Americans that include the classroom goal of summarizing.
3. By the end of this meeting, team members will identify vocabulary words/concepts for the month in the area of social studies/science and sort them into "foundation," "core," "bonus," and "stretch."
"Foundation" words are vocabulary words that are not specifically taught in the unit, but are needed as pre-cursor vocabulary to understand the content. "Core" are words that are within a unit that are the most important content for students to learn for the unit. If a student learned just the "core" vocabulary/concepts, her or she could earn a low passing grade. "Bonus" words/concepts are harder concepts that a student needs to master to earn a higher grade. "Stretch" words go above and beyond the curriculum. These can be the words for advanced students who are capable of mastering all of the core and stretch words easily and need an extra challenge.
Once words and concepts are sorted, the meeting To-Do list might include which teacher/specialist will create modified worksheets/activities to use during student independent work time or during a leveled instruction time.
By specifying roles and identifying end-goals, meetings should end up creating less work for all the team members as the workload will be shared. School administrators may also want to look into online lesson plan sharing, such as Planbook. If special education teachers and regular education teachers can create a shared location for plans, then all specialists can ensure that they are targeting the same goals. Using a google shared drive to create shared lesson plans is also a solution.