Do you dread staff meetings as the principal? Does your staff audibly groan when you discuss policy changes or district minutia? Do you see your teachers watching the clock and counting down the minutes until they can leave? A few years ago, staff meetings at Harrisburg South Middle School were just this way, tedious gatherings that both the staff and I wished would just end as soon as possible.

Knowing this was not good for any of us, I sought to change the vibe of our staff meetings. Just because staff meetings have traditionally been times to communicate school information, they didn’t have to be stale and boring. I wanted our staff meetings to model the best practices and tools we integrate into our classrooms. I started by incorporating the following practices and activities to help set a positive tone, build relationships, and share ideas.

Set a Positive Tone

As people walk in the meeting room, do you want them to feel like it is a morgue or a space where they feel some warmth or ease? To set that positive tone, two things have helped:

  • Music—Create the mood of the meeting by having some music playing. What do you play? I mix it up by using Apple Music, Amazon playlists, or albums. At times it includes current hits, but many times I just use music that will be uplifting, inspire creativity, or fits the season. If I want the vibe to be casual, I play some Jack Johnson. When the winter doldrums hit, I play ‘Breezy Summer Classics’ on Amazon.
  • Food—This always pleases, but will depend on the frequency of your staff meetings. In my building, we meet only one time per month. I either have the food service in my building make something or grab bagels from Panera (1/2 price on Tuesdays!). It’s amazing how sharing food can sometimes spark a better conversation.

Build Relationships

Since one of the most important parts of our job involves building relationships, use staff meeting time to get them relating to one another. Find ways for them to connect, communicate, and learn about their teaching and lives. In every meeting, we include at least one organized icebreaker. Here are some of our favorites:

  • “Speed dating” for Teachers—This has similar ideas as speed dating, but we rotate with each other and answer questions prepared ahead of time. Questions are related to school, family, and personal life.
  • “Who’s That”—This activity is simple. If your school and teams are similar, it is possible to not see someone in another hallway for weeks. While together for a staff meeting, people find others they do not associate with on a regular basis. They take turns answering questions about their family and school passions.
  • Culture Team—I created a specific team that works to build our culture for adults. They call themselves the Culture Club. During staff meetings, they provide a skit and explain the social calendar for the upcoming months. They host outside of school events for staff and their families such as picnics and tailgates and activities within the school day like luncheons and staff spirit days. These events help to create and maintain a family atmosphere.

Enhance Meeting Time with Technology

Our classrooms aren’t the only places we should be integrating technology. Utilize digital tools at your next staff meeting to promote engagement. These tech tools have helped to share ideas, facilitate discussions, foster interaction, and more:

  • YouTube—Videos can be a great way to get attention and drive a message. They range from American Ninja Warrior to Goalpost clips and other education sites, and I’ve used them to share messages of hope, overcoming challenges, the importance of relationships, and more.
  • Flipgrid—This easy tool allows you to create “grids” of short questions to which participants respond through recorded videos. The videos appear as tiles on a message board, allowing everyone to view. One of the best mixers I created for my staff was a grid where people had to talk about themselves, explain what they love about teaching, and what their goal was for kids. Our staff created over 200 videos with each other and thoroughly enjoyed watching their creations.
  • Mentimeter—A great free tool that allows for interactive polling, word clouds, and more. It is a great way to get your group interacting with one another, and it is fast and simple to use.
  • Padlet—Padlet has a starter version that is free and provides an electronic board for everyone to post comments or provide feedback. We’ve used Padlet to help develop our school’s purpose. It allowed everyone to give their input in a time-efficient way.

These are just a few ideas or tools for you as a leader. Our meetings don’t have to be filled with policy discussions or information passed down from central office. Make it a positive time for relationship building, vision sharing, and idea generation.

What do you do to make your staff meetings worthwhile?

Darren Ellwein is the principal of Harrisburg South Middle School in Harrisburg, SD. He is a 2017 NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and has a book coming out in February of 2019 with Derek McCoy called The Revolution. Follow him on Twitter @DEllwein.

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