Great Schools Partnership

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Four Moves to Start Every Meeting Right

by Reed Dyer

Educators never have enough time to collaborate, so when we do get together, we should do whatever we can to make the meetings worthwhile. Unproductive meetings need to go the way of the mimeograph and smoking in the teacher’s room.

If it’s true that “well begun is half done,” I offer four simple steps that will set your meeting up for success. Whether three teachers are going into a 45-minute common planning time or the entire school faculty is starting a day-long inservice, these four simple steps will get everyone in the right frame of mind to be productive and engaged. 

And, since everything we do as educators needs a good acronym, here’s a new one for you: CRAN, which stands for Connections, Reflections, Agenda, and Norms. 

CRAN is a useful and flexible way to open any meeting. So flexible, in fact, that the entire process might take a couple of minutes in a brief meeting or could, in and of itself, occupy much of a morning in a multi-day gathering. 

 

Move One: ConnectionsFor a meeting to be successful, people need to transition into it. People will usually make time to do this, even if you don’t plan for it. It’s why people make small talk before meetings start. There are things that individuals may need to share, or hope to express, or just want to say. Providing a deliberate opportunity for everyone to verbalize a few thoughts before diving into the structured work is crucial. 

Provide a space for participants to make the transition from what’s on their minds to the work that needs to be done now.  

In this step, you could:

  • Ask participants to introduce themselves, say something about their role or identity, and share their hope or motivation for this meeting.
  • Follow the Connections protocol from the School Reform Initiative.
  • Give an opening prompt and ask each person to respond to it.
  • Allow for turn and talk time (between pairs of individuals around a prompt of your choosing).

 

Move Two: Reflections

This section requires that your group has met before; if your group has not met before, this step can be skipped — assuming that when you discuss the agenda you provide the rationale and grounding for why the meeting is taking place.

Most meaningful work and learning in schools occurs through the regular coming together of educators who have a common connection. Link this meeting’s work to previous gatherings, allowing for lingering thoughts or questions from the previous sessions to be addressed. 

In this step, you could:

  • Share specific feedback from a previous session.
  • Share significant themes from a previous session’s feedback and how those themes impacted planning for the current meeting.
  • Remind participants of what was accomplished at the last meeting.
  • Ask participants to share an intention they have for the day: a question they are curious about exploring or something they’re looking forward to learning or doing.

 

Move Three: Agenda

In order to orient the group to the agenda, you actually have to have an agenda. Obviously, the length, complexity, and type of meeting will impact how detailed and structured the agenda will be, but every meeting deserves an outline of what is going to be discussed. For a short or ad-hoc meeting, your agenda could be as simple as three bullet points scribbled on the white board or jotted into a shared document. The goal is to orient all participants to the plan for the session so they understand the proposed areas of work, time allotted, and structures to be used. 

In this step, you could:

  • Reference the agenda and highlight any revisions made in light of feedback; you might also draw attention to important sections that meet needs or answer questions participants have raised.
  • Provide opportunities to adjust your agenda (some agendas are non-negotiable, so this may not be an appropriate or necessary step in all cases).
  • Clarify roles such as facilitator, notetaker, timekeeper, and process observer.

 

Move Four: Norms

If you don’t have norms written down, it’s time to do so. There are many ways to do this, but we suggest starting with Norms Construction – A Process of Negotiation by the School Reform Initiative.

When thinking about norms, it’s helpful to recognize that most groups who meet regularly  already have them. Even if they aren’t written down. Maybe one norm is that it’s okay to check your email during the meeting. Maybe another norm is that it’s fine for people to arrive ten minutes late. Maybe a third norm is that a few people generally do most of the talking while others sit mostly silent. If that’s your normal, it’s also your norms. The goal here is to get intentional and start creating norms that are written, explicit, and agreed upon. These rules of behavior allow everyone to do their best work as a team.

In this step, you could:

  • Review and reinforce norms.
  • Ask each participant to identify one norm they will focus on for their own best work in the current meeting.
  • Reflect on a particular norm that the entire group might focus on during the meeting.
  • Identify a process observer who will pay particular attention to the norms and the group’s use of them during the session (and then report out as part of the debrief). 
  • Give participants the opportunity to suggest an additional norm that may be useful to add for today’s work.

 

That’s it. CRAN. Connect, Reflect, Agenda, and Norms. 

Now that your meeting is off to a great start, roll up those sleeves and make great stuff happen for your students.

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