“A good intention, with a bad approach, often leads to a poor result.”
― Thomas Edison
We often find ourselves in a position where we would like to share a new idea or concept with a team of educators and we are hoping it will be well received. Or maybe we feel it is time for a change and we want to offer a new way of doing something and hope the idea will be accepted by others. In leadership, we often hear about teacher buy-in and we are shown ways to lead meetings or work with others. Even if we have all of the skills to lead a meeting and generate ideas with teachers, it will not be successful if we do not have the right approach.
I have been in meetings where the leader talked over the teachers as they were talking. I have worked with a leader that started a meeting by saying “We have only 15 minutes to accomplish A, B, and C, so here is what we will be doing…”, and I have been in meetings that were timed, with a timer and when someone tried to ask a question, they were told “No questions. This is not the right time to do that!”. The meeting goals were accomplished, but after the meetings many members were talking about how offended and turned off they were to attend another meeting with that leader. We are always going to have things that we need to share with others or moments where there are tight deadlines and much needs to get accomplished. There are ways we can do that with our voice, attitude, and, especially, with help from others.
Voice and words can make or break how we run a meeting. The same idea of “We have only 15 minutes…” can be said in a way that is respectful and received well by others. The meeting can begin by sharing what needs to be accomplished and then mention the short time to meet. “Okay all, we are hoping to have a plan for this child that involves all stakeholders and we only have 15 minutes to do this. Does anyone have an idea for how we can stay on task to accomplish this goal in the given time?” Most likely, others will offer to be a timekeeper, recorder, norm the way to share ideas, etc (and that happens within about 2 minutes). Now, teachers understand the guidelines of the meeting, but it did not have to come from you, the leader, or in a way that will stress out others. Eventually, if this is the way you lead meetings, it will become natural for others to feel they are helping to lead the meeting and they will offer to be a timekeeper, note taker, or planner.
Another way to approach a meeting is with our attitude. If we have the attitude that things are positive and we are working with highly capable educators, others will take on the same attitude. When teachers are empowered in a meeting to share ideas, express their feelings, and feel validated as members, they will want to actively participate. It is our role to listen more and talk less. When questions are asked at a time that is not ideal, it is okay to nicely say, “Let’s hold off on asking questions until after this portion of the meeting is through.” When being respectful, teachers will be more thoughtful and engaged and will begin to model this type of wording with their colleagues.
When approaching a stressful meeting or situation, it is important to involve a team of teachers to lead the meeting. If you know you have a difficult meeting coming up, ask a teacher if they have any ideas of how to best approach the meeting. Instead of putting the task fully on your shoulders as a leader, ask another teacher to start a portion of the meeting. I have found that meetings that are led by organized and competent teachers tend to be more interesting and show the teacher leadership in a school. The administrator does not need to be the one who leads the meetings each time, especially in a committee. Choose some of the more passionate and strong teachers to take ownership over parts of the meeting, which helps take attention away from you. It is often our goal that teachers view their relationship with educational leaders not as top-down but as a supportive position that can help teachers grow their own leadership skills.
Teachers may not remember all of the things that are said in a meeting or feel like they had much to offer, but they will remember how they felt when they left the meeting. Let’s hope they feel valued, listened to, and respected.