Two people in a meeting looking closely at papers
For Administrators

How to Run a Meeting: Agendas and Protocols That Really Work

By Jennifer Gunn January 22, 2018

We’ve all been there — sitting in a meeting that could have been an email while our other tasks continue to mount in our minds. A glance around the room finds some people drifting, scrolling on their phones, checking the clock while just a few people monopolize the conversation. Time is so precious in schools, and meetings can become a serious time suck. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Here’s some ground rules for effective meetings and advice for shifting your meeting culture to make every school gathering productive and efficient.

Make a precise staff meeting agenda

Too often, meetings get derailed because they go off topic. It’s tempting for people to use the opportunity of a gathering to share their own items or to overshare, eating up the meeting time. Pre-planned staff meeting agendas are crucial for staying on topic and on time. Agendas should be made and shared ahead of time with all meeting participants. When appropriate, allow participants to add items to the agenda, but only up to a certain deadline and only up to a certain amount. Throwing in discussion topics five minutes before a meeting or adding too many topics just creates unrealistic expectations. Make sure everyone has an updated agenda prior to and during the meeting. Using a system like Google Docs allows everyone to simultaneously view and take notes in the agenda in real time.

Excellent meeting agendas include:

  1. Time limits for each item. (Meeting time management is a skill you’ve got to have!)
  2. A clear meeting objective or objectives.
  3. An explanation of each item and its purpose.
  4. An indication of who is leading each conversation topic.
  5. Space for note taking during the meeting and a chosen recorder.
  6. Notes about whether each item needs a decision or if next steps are required.
  7. Information about what attendees need to bring or have prepared for the meeting.
  8. An indication of any protocols that will be used during the meeting. (See below!)

Use meeting protocols to keep things moving

It is just human nature to get lost in conversation. When you have a lot of people in a room trying to make their voices heard, time can quickly slip away. The use of discussion protocols during school meetings provides a framework for keeping things fair, balanced, and efficient. Protocols are simply structures for conversation and there are hundreds of them to be found online.

The National School Reform Faculty has created over 200 protocols and activities for use in classrooms and meetings, and most are available for free online. Protocols include activities for team-building, discussion, observation, problem-solving, article-sharing, dialogue, and much more. Adding protocols to your agendas gives each meeting a tangible construction that maintains the integrity of the meeting’s purpose while deeply valuing the voices of its participants.

Define what constitutes a meeting

As mentioned above, we’ve all been in a meeting that could have been an email. With anyone else at your school who typically organizes and chairs meetings, create a consistent system for what constitutes a meeting and what only warrants an information share.

Before you call a meeting, think:

  • What is the goal of this meeting?
  • Could this goal be accomplished another way—an email, a memo, a quick chat?
  • Is this goal or issue timely? Urgent? An emergency?
  • How much time do I really need to accomplish the goal of this meeting?
  • Who do I really need to be in attendance and is this topic worth asking of their time?
  • Is this meeting merely an information share? (If yes, does it require explanation or training that necessitates a meeting?)
  • Does a decision need to be made?
  • Do I need input from others?
  • Do I need help determining or carrying out next steps?

Consider when to hold your meeting

What time of day you hold your meeting really does make a difference. Hold it too early and you’re impeding the start of the work day for your attendees. Hold it too late and people are tired and less focused. So when is the best time to hold a meeting?

Scheduling app company YouCanBookMe determined the best day for meetings is Tuesday. Monday morning meetings, while seemingly scheduled to get a jump on the week can actually derail a person’s new-week flow. End-of-the-week meetings can be less productive because people are fatigued and tasks can get lost from one week to the next. The magic day appears to be Tuesdays, when we still have most of the work week ahead of us and plenty of time to work on whatever is discussed in the meeting. Research also suggests that mid to late morning or early afternoon times work best, but also to avoid scheduling meetings right before meal times.

More practical tools

Meetings don’t have to be a drag, and with just a little consideration and planning, you can dramatically change your school’s meeting game. So go on, follow these tips to make your meetings a meaningful and productive part of everyone’s day. Want to stay super organized and meeting-ready? Here are some more practical tools to help.

Ink and Volt Meeting Notes $13.00

Rhodia Meeting Notebook  $10.99

Action Day Meeting Notebook $21.99

National School Reform Faculty ProtocolsFree

Google Docs for Shared Document AgendasFree

Leading Effective Meetings, Teams, and Work Groups in Districts and Schools $25.64

The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice $25.91

Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also cofounder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation, and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.

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