Make your department meetings sparkle

Written by: Terry Freedman | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Meetings can often be the bane of a teacher’s life. Terry Freedman offers some tips on how to make your head of department, subject or other middle leadership meetings sparkle

Many people regard head of department meetings as a necessary evil. It is hardly surprising. Given the choice between listening to the latest diktat from senior or middle leadership and getting on with some work (or getting home), what would you rather do?

But with a bit of thought and not too much effort, such meetings can help to enhance your team’s work and bind its members together. The way to achieve such nirvana is through a combination of respecting people’s time and arranging interesting activities.

Respect people’s time

Although people are obliged to attend team meetings, that shouldn’t mean middle or senior leaders should be taking their commitment for granted. Here are some ways to show that you are not – and also to get more benefit from the meetings themselves.

People should know in advance what the meeting will cover, which will give them a chance to prepare and contribute more effectively. Even if there are only two or three items to discuss, it looks more professional to have an agenda – and to stick to it.

I realise that you know what an agenda looks like, but it might be useful to show you a “worked example”, because not all agendas are equal:

  1. Welcome (five minutes). Although most people in the room will know each other, it is a good idea to have a kind of settling in period at the start for people to grab a cup of tea and a cake. I thoroughly recommend buying some cakes or biscuits for the meeting, because it makes it more friendly. If you have a guest in the room (see below), this is the time for introductions.
  2. Issues arising this half-term (10 minutes). Most agendas I have seen have this item near the end of the meeting, when nobody has the time to discuss any issues. If there is an issue it ought to be dealt with rather than being left to cause resentment. Besides, the discussion here might influence the rest of the meeting’s business.
  3. Arrangements for the new syllabus (10 minutes).Or whatever else is new or updated that needs to be known by everyone and discussed.
  4. Something special (25 minutes). See below.
  5. Any other business (10 minutes). Always allow time for this and give people the opportunity to add items to this in advance.
  6. Date of next meeting and close.

Note the inclusion of timings. It is important to stick to them, if necessary arranging another meeting to continue the discussion if time runs out.

And while we are on the subject of timing, do the decent thing and send out the agenda and any accompanying documentation well in advance. Don’t be like the team leader I had the misfortune of working with who emailed everyone the agenda and a 120-page document to be discussed 10 minutes before the meeting was due to start.

Interesting activities

In the example agenda above there’s a large chunk of time given over to “something special”. What might this be? Here are a few ideas.

Invite a guest speaker

This sounds very grand, but it doesn’t have to be. The guest speaker could be a colleague from another department in the school. For example, I invited a history teacher to talk to my team about research resources.

Having a guest speaker is useful because he or she probably has different knowledge and approaches than you or your immediate colleagues, almost certainly has a different perspective, and will give everyone a break from listening to you!

Invite a member of the SLT

It is a good idea to have representation from the senior leadership team. Having someone on the senior leadership team who knows enough about (and supports) what you are doing is vital as they can champion your cause at the highest level.

In these times of tight budgets, having a friend who can speak up for you when you ask for a sum of money can be very useful indeed and, such mercenary considerations aside, it can be useful to find out what the senior leadership team’s views are on particular ideas before you spend a lot of time trying to implement them.

For example, you might decide to offer a vocational qualification to students for whom GCSE is not suitable. It would be a good idea to sound-out the senior leadership on this if nobody else in the school has done it. Are they in favour of it? If not, would they let you run it as a pilot scheme for a year?

Alternatively, show the senior leader the current work you are all doing with the students, and why it is important. If you are doing something practical, encourage them to have a go themselves. Enthuse them!

Watch and discuss a video

It is hard for teachers to make time to sit down and watch a video and give it their full attention, so why not allocate part of a meeting for this? Even ultra-short videos can be useful, because you can garner people’s views on issues like:

  • Should we incorporate this approach into the lessons for the next topic in the scheme of work?
  • Might this video be a useful classroom resource? If so, what sort of activities can we come up with for before and after showing the video?
  • Is this teaching technique something we could adapt or adopt in our subject area?
  • Workload reduction advice or tips for more effective practice in areas such as assessment and feedback.

If the video is a potential classroom resource, is someone prepared to take on the task of devising a lesson based around the video? If so, the lesson plan they come up with could form the basis of next meeting’s “something special”.

Share interesting ideas

If you or a team member has done something that worked really well in the department or subject, or heard about something that someone else has done, it should be shared.

This idea could be combined with the first one, that is you could invite a guest speaker, possibly from another curriculum area in the school, to talk about what other teachers have tried.

Alternatively, ask everyone to bring along and share details of two or three great resources that they have come across – podcasts they have discovered, articles they have read in SecEd and elsewhere and so on. You can make this even better by specialisation...

Specialisation

One of the most useful things you can do as a head of department or subject is to ask team members what aspects of the subject they are interested in, and ask them to take responsibility for keeping a watching brief in that area. For example, if one of your computing teachers is especially interested in robotics and artificial intelligence, they might share some of the things they come across that could be interesting and useful for the team as a whole.

If each person in the team is happy to do this – and why wouldn’t they be given that they are passionate about and immersed in the topic anyway? – then it means that in every meeting colleagues could find out about half a dozen or more resources they might not have known existed. It is a great way of saving everyone’s time.

Further ideas

These are just a few of the things that can make people actually want to come to your meetings. Here are some other ideas:

  • You could devote time in the meeting to discussing a mark scheme or rubric alongside examples of pupils’ work – an incredibly useful exercise for teachers.
  • Why not use some meeting time to visit each person’s classroom to see how they have laid it out and what they have on the walls and why (when do teachers have time to really look at what their colleagues are doing?).If you know of a teacher in another country, and the time zones allow it, why not have a discussion with them and perhaps their kids over Skype?

Conclusion

So team meetings don’t have to be deadly dull and useless. With some planning and by devising interesting activities – and by keeping to time – meetings can help to make teaching and learning more effective.

  • Terry Freedman is a freelance ed-tech writer. He publishes the ICT & Computing in Education and Digital Education newsletters at www.ictineducation.org. To read Terry’s previous SecEd articles focused on computing and technology, go to http://bit.ly/2NAtSDX


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