The Role of Faculty and Staff Meetings in Fostering Collaborative Relationships
When you walk into a school building that has a network of strong relationships, you can feel the positive energy radiating from both the kids and the adults. Students are calm, cared for, and focused, knowing that their academic and behavioral expectations are the same from classroom to classroom. You'll get the same vibe from adults, who feel connected to their students, invigorated by their colleagues, and supported by their administrators.
If you've witnessed this type of environment, you might be asking what the custodial staff is putting in the drinking water, but the real answer lies in the quality of collaborative relationships within a building.
5 Guidelines for Great Staff Meetings That Lead to Collaborative Relationships
Team, grade level, or faculty staff meetings should follow a specific protocol to maximize the efficiency of your meeting time, and ensure that the group's dynamic remains positive and productive. It is within these meetings that colleagues build great working relationships with each other.
1. Begin the School Year by "Norming" the Staff Meetings
In order for the collaborative process to work well, you'll have to guide highly-educated, and often highly-opinionated, people to work together towards the common goal of student success and achievement. This direction should come from the team leader, department chair, or administrator, and is a series of ground rules that all meetings will follow in order to ensure they run smoothly. This is called "norming" the meeting, because you are establishing a set of norms that the group follows every time they meet. Here are some great suggestions:
- We may need to speak about personal matters pertaining to a student that are affecting their academics or social/emotional health. However, we will treat these conversations with dignity and respect, and respect the confidentiality of the situation.
- Come to the table with solutions, not just problems. It's normal to be frustrated, but meetings cannot turn into unabashed venting sessions. It's ok to present a problem, but also be prepared to provide, or hear, some solutions.
- All members will receive a meeting agenda several days in advance, and have the ability to suggest or add items.
- We are all professionals with lots of experience and varied backgrounds. We will respect each others' voices, and will refrain from vulgarity.
- Please leave the room if you need to make a text or phone call.
- Meetings will not last beyond XX minutes.
2. "We Can" Statements for Your Team
A growing trend in education is for teachers to write "I can" statements on a daily basis that pertain to the day's lesson, so students have a visual reminder of where the day's lesson is going. Great teams also create "we can" statements that focus on a particular skill or long-term goal for the school year.
For example, if the 8th grade team wants to focus their combined efforts on academic vocabulary, then they may post "we can utilize 20 new academic vocabulary words per month" in their classrooms as a visual reminder. As a team, you can share strategies and techniques that worked within your classroom and domain while working towards this common goal. Your students will also begin to notice how interconnected their courses are!
3. Know How to Navigate Conflict
Even the best teams have conflicts, which often is seen with a negative connotation. In fact, conflict can occur not out of anger, but out of brainstorming creative solutions or approaching new topics. When this occurs, it is critical that the team leader, department chair, or administrator holds firm to the established norm of treating peers with respect. Conflict and disagreement are fine, and often very productive, as long as each party is respectful of the other's voice.
However, when emotions run high and the mood turns negative, it takes a skilled hand to guide the conversation back on track. One technique that works is paraphrasing what the other person has said. Sometimes you get so lost in preparing what you want to say next that you aren't really "hearing" your colleague.
Try this: "What I think I heard you say was..." The respondent can confirm what you've paraphrased, or have a chance to correct your interpretation. By taking this moment to reflect and respond, both parties usually realize that they can find some common ground, or that they were simply misunderstanding what was being presented. Be careful here, as each person's tone here is critical. Emphasize that the tone should be direct and calm, not condescending.
4. Get to Know Your Staff
Administrators, even with all of the demands on your plate, make yourself visible and accessible to staff. This allows you to speak with your staff, and also see and feel some of the unspoken interactions that occur between staff members. As an educational leader, you are in the position of making sure the ship sails smoothly, so take charge of your vessel and avoid any rough waters before it's too late to turn around.
5. Presume Positive Intentions
Because educators have increasingly come under attack from many different angles, they may feel as if they are on the defensive during meetings. Try shifting the intentions of what you're hearing from accusatory or negative towards a positive spin. For example, your meeting may be discussing why test scores or data points have dropped, and approaching this from a negative mindset leads you to believe that administration or your colleagues are not pleased with your work, and looking to penalize you.
Turn this outlook around and approach it as a chance to take an introspective approach to the material taught. Did you use re-teaching opportunities? Were formative assessments used often enough to gauge student understanding? Were the test questions clear and well-written? Presuming positive intentions can allow groups to tackle difficult topics and discussions gracefully.
The ultimate goal of fostering great collaborative relationships is to increase student engagement and learning. Strong relationships build strong students, who in turn build strong schools!
What are some ways that you foster collaborative relationships through staff meetings? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology