30 ideas for organising a team meeting with a difference

If you lead a team of ed tech or Computing teachers, you can do a lot with team meetings; in fact, you can turn (at least some of them) into opportunities for professional development. It's a very good idea to occasionally depart from the standard team meeting format and put on a "special". This helps to keep interest high, and enables various goals to be achieved, including staff professional development.

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New term, new set of meetings. If you run an ICT department or are responsible for ICT in your school, here are some ideas you might like to consider for making your meetings more formal:Formalising meetings.

For some ideas about how to make your meetings more interesting, take a look at this article:31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 21: Organise a Team Meeting With a Difference

Hope you find those useful.


Five Minute Tip: Managing Your Team Meetings

Five minutes are all it takesIn my experience, most people run most meetings really badly. What are the most common pitfalls, and how can you avoid them?

Meetings should always result in something happening. Even if the meeting was a discussion, an exchange of views, there should be an action arising from it -- a good example here would be for someone to produce a summary of the views expressed.

Colleagues should know in advance what the meeting is going to be about. All too often, the Agenda appears at the last minute. You must give people time to prepare, especially if you want to have a genuine discussion about something.

Papers for the meeting should be made available well in advance. I have attended meetings where a 108-page document relating to the meeting was emailed to everyone 25 minutes before the meeting was due to start. That is unacceptable, and simply lays you open to suspicion of not intending to have a genuine discussion.

Someone should take notes in the meeting. As you are unlikely to have a secretary to do that, the fairest thing to do is take it in turns. But note that it is very difficult to take notes and chair a meeting. When it's your turn to take notes, you might consider asking someone else to chair it. That would also have the benefit of giving others a chance to step into your shoes and gain some valuable experience in their own career advancement.

Minutes are meant to be a record, not a transcription. Keep them brief and to the point. And make sure they are distributed within a day or two. The person taking the minutes should always give them to you for your approval before disseminating them to the rest of the team.

Minutes must always include action points, with a named person responsible. Note that the person responsible must be selected in the meeting, not afterwards, and only if they are present and agree -- it could be considered unprofessional to assign a task to someone in their absence, especially if it's a task that nobody else wishes to do.

Meetings should have set start and finish times. Even better, there should be some guidance in the Agenda as to how long each item will take. If these timings turn out to be optimistic, curtail the discussion and put the item(s) high on the next meeting's Agenda.

The meetings should start on time, and finish on time. No waiting for people who haven't arrived: the most important people are the ones who are actually there, and it's unfair to keep them waiting. It's also self-defeating, because they will learn that meetings start later than the time specified, so next time they will arrive late as well, because there is always something that "I just need to do quickly before the meeting."

Meetings should not be so frequent that they end up being held for their own sake -- everybody is too busy for that. Neither should they be so infrequent that there is no opportunity for a team spirit to build up. You'll have to judge this for yourself, but I would suggest that a meeting every two or three weeks is about right. If that is very difficult to fit in, consider a different pattern and structure: say, a full meeting every month, with a ten minute get-together at the end of each two week period in-between -- or an audio or online meeting just to "touch base".

Sometimes it may be impossible for someone to get to the meeting, but that need not be a problem. It's now both possible and easy to hold meetings which include people who are not physically present. Doug Woods, in a comment on my article about special team meetings, made some incisive comments, which I've reproduced here:

It seems to me, and this is hardly an earth-shattering observation, that people cannot always attend a meeting. Maybe this is because of illness, working from home or a different site, or they have a scheduling clash...whatever. Perhaps, this may be more of an issue nowadays with school clusters, federated schools, schools on split sites etc..These people, however, may well have a valuable contribution to make or could benefit from hearing other members' contributions .... else why would you have invited them to the meeting?

It can be important, therefore, that you enable such absentees to be able to make their contribution to the meeting in some other way. Possibly you could ask them to write their contribution beforehand and then have someone read it at the team meeting but I'd suggest that might be a poor substitute for an informed dialogue or discussion. So why not consider audio (telephone) conferencing or video conferencing as a means of allowing absentees to contribute and share in the meeting? Even someone on a train or someone driving could pull into a services [station] and contribute via a video link on their smartphone.

It also occurs to me that while meetings take place between key members of your team, there are other staff who may be affected by decisions or outcomes made at such meetings. Why not video your meetings and/or have a discussion board live during and after the meeting so that these other people can make a contribution and feel that they are included?

I'd also add that you could invite guest speakers to your meeting via Skype or a similar webcam-based solution. If you really wanted to push the boat out you could ask a member of your team who is attending a conference or an exhibition to report in live through their laptop. There also various online meeting applications available, such as Flashmeeting.

Finally, even though they may not have a choice in the matter, the members of your team are giving up valuable time to attend the meeting. Very few people like meetings. Sugar the pill by making sure refreshments are available. If possible, invite a guest speaker in, or ask one of your team to prepare a presentation. In other words, make it a bit different: you might like the sound of your own voice, but others might not!

This is an expanded version of an article originally published on 5th April 2007. Thanks to Doug Woods for his comments.

31 Days to Become a Better Ed Tech Leader -- Day 21: Organise a Team Meeting With a Difference

A task a day for 31 daysIf you lead a team of ed tech teachers, you can do a lot with team meetings; in fact, you can turn (at least some of them) into opportunities for professional development. It's a very good idea to occasionally depart from the standard team meeting format and put on a "special". This helps to keep interest high, and enables various goals to be achieved, including staff professional development, which I discussed in the post about attending conference. They can also help the team to maintain its "edginess" and dynamism. As Doug Woods said in his comment about the post on resources, the most precious resource a school has is its staff. Help them become even better, and in so doing improve the team as a unit.

1 Invite a guest speaker

It may be difficult to get someone to come for just an hour. However, if you invite them to spend the afternoon, say, being shown around and taken into some lessons and talking to students, they may be willing to address you and your team afterwards. The benefit for them is that get to see a real school in action, and which prevents them from losing touch quite so rapidly!

Alternatively, invite another member of staff or even a student to give a talk on something of relevance. It may be about a generic issue such as assessment or lesson observation, or a more specific one such as how your students use Facebook.

If you invite a student to an after-school meeting, make sure you obtain parental permission and check that it's OK with the powers-that-be.

Remember: all guests should be offered refreshments.

2 Evaluate resources

Make team meetings productiveIt helps to prepare for this. For example, ask teachers to come armed with a list of topics that they need resources for, and/or a list of resources they have come across or acquired but have not had time to have a proper look at. There's a rubric I devised which you may find helpful.

Also, consider getting in inspection copies of books and demo software to look at.

You could also consider combining this idea with the previous one, and invite a product salesperson to come in and give you a demo and answer questions.

3 Invite the senior management/leadership team to meet YOUR team

Yes, they know you and your team and what you do -- but  do they? Why not invite them along to look at the kind of activities the students are asked to do, and have a go at some of the whizzier things themselves? Make sure there is student work to look at, and be prepared to discuss examination results and that sort of thing.

4 Do pupil work scrutiny

"Work scrutiny" means going through pupils' books and folders to try and gauge what they have leant and achieved -- in this case in the use of educational technology. It can be very useful if you can, with permission of course, go through the pupils' books from another subject, such as English, although a request to do so could be construed as being some sort of inspection.

The purpose of doing work scrutiny is to find out how good a job you've done at getting pupils to use and understand educational technology in general. Read more detail in the post about looking at students' work.

5 Watch and discuss a video podcast

There are plenty of technology-related podcasts available. It could be useful to watch and discuss one or two, in case there are issues you could raise with students. (Look out my forthcoming post about a great video to get the intellectual juices flowing.)

6 Listen to and discuss an audio podcast

See above.

7 Have an international discussion

This is a variation of inviting a guest speaker. Why not arrange to speak to an ed tech teacher or her students in Canada or the USA, say, via Skype? Obviously, you have to keep an eye on time zones (which is why, being based in the UK, I did not mention Australia or New Zealand).

8 Do moderation

"Moderation" means going through pupils' work and assessing it, in order to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of (a) what the standards are against which you're assessing the work, and (b) how to interpret and apply them. It is not the same as work scrutiny, mentioned earlier.

9 Share best practices

If you or a team member has done something that worked really well, or heard about something that someone else has done, it should be shared. This idea could be combined with the first one, ie you could invite a guest speaker, possibly from another curriculum area in the school, to talk about what other teachers have tried. If you arranged for another teacher to come and look at what you do,

10 Share ideas

Why not discuss the activities you already do, and see if other ways of achieving the same thing can be thought of? Ideas that sound promising could be put into practice on a limited trial basis -- see the next idea also.

11 Share research results

For this to work, at least one person has to have done some research of course. It could be classroom-based research. For example, you may have decided to try out one of the ideas generated in the ideas "special" meeting with one class as a pilot study. The outcomes can be discussed here. Or someone might report back on a conference or an exhibition they've attended.

12 Have staff training

Use the time to be shown how to use a particular application, and to practice using it. This can be especially useful if a unit of work is coming up that requires people to have a knowledge of, say, how to use a wiki or desktop publishing.

13 Create resources

The one thing that teachers always complain they have too little of is time. So make a space for them to create resources. Doing so in the same room as others gives people a chance to bounce ideas off their colleagues.

14 Share news updates

This works especially well if you have asked different members of your team to be responsible for different things. For example, are there changes in the rules about writing school reports? Has anything happened in the edublogosphere that ought to be brought to your colleagues' attention?

15 Do development planning

What courses will you put on next year? What needs to be done for the new course starting in September? What courses do you hope to run, or should you be thinking about running, in 3 years' time?

16 Discuss data

How well are your students doing? How much progress have they made since last year? Are there differences between the attainment of girls and boys? What does your data tell you about these sorts of questions?

17 Discuss ways to become better

This is not quite the same as discussing ideas (see above). Having analysed the data, you will probably want to discuss ways in which to improve -- but this can be a stand-alone activity. A very useful starting point is to approach it from the point of view of a student. As a student, how do you know how well you are doing, for instance. In fact, why not ask the students what they think you're doing well, and what needs addressing, with suggestions?

18 Focus on pupils with special educational needs

Take a look at your handouts or VLE pages for your students. Do they require a higher standard of reading than some of your students possess? What is in place to ensure that students at risk of falling behind get the extra help they require? In fact, going back a step, what is in place to make sure that you find out in advance which students are at risk in that sense? What about students with physical disabilities? Have you catered for them?

Use a meeting to discuss these issues and then draw up an action plan to deal with them.

19 Focus on pupils who are gifted and talented

If pupils are under-challenged they become bored, and bored children often become disruptive. What extension activities are in place to prevent that happening? Again, use the meeting to identify gaps in the provision for such students, and decide who is going to what about it by when.

20 Have a good clear-out

Do you and your team really need that copy of the version of the National Curriculum that was changed in 2000? It's nice to have an archive of historical material -- but only if you're a museum. I have always found that clearing out a load of obsolete stuff has a really liberating and refreshing effect on the whole team.

21 Do budget planning and analysis

Is too much money being spent on printing? Are costs in one area significantly greater than in others? What peripherals and consumables need to be bought before the end of this school year, and what needs to be planned for next year?

Involving the whole team in such discussions can lead to a greater sense of shared responsibility -- as well as some good money-saving ideas.

22 Plan capital purchasing

What equipment needs to bought next year, and what replaced? How about over the next 3 years? You'll need to have your development plan handy for this one. It also ties in with planning professional development (see below).

23 Discuss success and challenges

What's going well, and what not so well? Clearly this is related to other suggestions here, such as sharing good practice, but there is a subtle difference in emphasis. To make this work, there has to be an atmosphere of trust: nobody likes to say in public what is not going so well for them. It also ties in with the Niggles and Quick Wins suggestions (see below).

24 Do joint lesson planning for team-teaching

If there is a chance to have some team teaching, why not use meeting time to do some joint planning? In fact, even if you are not  going to have team teaching, planning lessons together (doing so in pairs works well) can lead to new insights and ideas. It can be a great way to freshen up everyone's teaching. See also the suggestions about creating a lesson plan bank.

25 Discuss lesson observations

If you have a chance to observe each other's lessons, the results can be discussed here. With permission, you could video parts of lessons and use the meeting time to watch and then discuss the videos. Alternatively, and perhaps less threatening to people, carry out this exercise using a third party video. For example, Teachers TV lets you download and use video clips.

26 Departmental policies

When was the last time your departmental policy on assessment was looked at? Do you have one about accessing the VLE? How about equal opportunities? Obviously, in an ideal world the policies will be lived in practice. Nevertheless, the documentation ought to be reviewed and, if necessary, updated at least once a year.

If you think about it, an evaluation by an inspector, who will not have the time to see everything that goes on, can be affected by the sight of a set of policy documents that are clearly 5 years old. Sometimes, the policies themselves are fine in principle, but the terms used have become obsolete. For example, a sentence like "Pupils are not allowed to bring in their own diskettes" looks old even though diskettes are still in use. But changing that to "memory sticks" will only solve the problem temporarily. It may be better to try and future-proof it to some extent by using a general term like "media" instead of a specific one.

27 Niggles list and simple solutions

What sort of things are upsetting people, and how might they be tackled? One of the things that always used to upset me, for example, was teachers leaving the computer room as if it had been hit by an earthquake. Or take the case of a school I visited recently where someone had walked off with a video lead, because it was "stored" on someone's desk. What creative or even very simple solutions could be implemented to deal with such occurrences? See the next suggestion too.

28 Quick wins

In a way, this is similar to #27, but is more outwardly-focused. Walking around the school, what could be done very quickly and inexpensively to make other teachers want to make greater use of the educational technology facilities? Why not ask your colleagues, via a survey, what they like and dislike about the provision, and invite suggestions to improve it? You could then discuss the results at this meeting.

29 Plan professional development

What professional development do the team, and its individual members, require? What's coming up in the next year by way of conferences or other events that may be useful to attend? You will need your development plan at this meeting, because it is much easier to get the go-ahead to attend an event if you can demonstrate how it will enable you and your team to meet your objectives.

Did you find this list helpful? All feedback greatly appreciated!

This is a variation and an update of an article first published on 22 August 2008.