A team meeting with an effective agenda
Leadership Insights

Developing Teachers as Leaders: Empowering Teachers to Share the Stage

By Terry Wilhelm March 15, 2013

As a principal, you are undoubtedly limited when it comes to the time allotted for staff meetings. You may have no more than two 60-minute staff meetings per month. Teacher contracts vary by district, but whatever you have, it probably feels inadequate.

Developing Teachers as Leaders: This is the third part in our series about developing teachers as leaders.

How do you invest your valuable meeting time?

What’s the best way to capitalize on face time with your whole staff, which can be a rare commodity? Increasingly, principals are investing it effectively for professional development (PD). After all, weekly emails may be used to disseminate information.

However, there will always be occasions when a quick, whole-staff announcement or brief business/operational discussion is necessary.

In either case, staff meetings provide an ideal opportunity for principals to increase teacher efficacy and develop teachers as leaders.

How can teachers co-lead meetings?

At the very advanced end of the continuum, a principal might eventually — after the strategic development of teacher leaders’ skills — turn over staff meetings completely to the teachers. This is akin to the concept of a faculty senate in higher education. In this model, when the principal (or university official) has an agenda item, s/he submits it to the faculty member currently responsible for coordinating the meetings, along with a requested time frame (such as 10 minutes).  Once meeting usage has evolved from primarily business to predominantly PD, the principal, as the lead member of the Leadership Team, may have a role in the team-developed PD plan – or not.

Key meeting ingredient: Effective agendas

Even in the beginning stages of sharing leadership of meetings, the value of assigning time frames to agenda items or professional development plan segments cannot be overstated. It keeps the facilitator and the group on track, assures the group that their time will not be wasted, and symbolically respects the professionalism of the entire staff. The agenda, whether business/operational or PD — should be distributed in advance, as well as posted on a large chart or whiteboard, with time frames noted. Meetings must begin and end on time.

All of these best practices for meetings and PD also apply to the model of the principal running the show solo. However, that model is far less powerful than empowering teachers as leaders.

If the upcoming meeting is strictly a business meeting, collaborative agenda-building ideally involves the whole staff. Tools can range from a public agenda-in-process on the whiteboard in the staff room to a Google doc that anyone on the staff can access and edit. There are a variety of tools that can increase collaboration and productivity. Anyone with an item simply adds the item, his/her name, and the requested time frame. The meeting chair or coordinator finalizes the agenda so that it complies with the contractual time frame available.

Essential facilitation tools to give teacher leaders

Two essential tools to help both principals and teacher leaders facilitate meetings effectively are group norms and a “parking lot.”

Group norms must be collectively established as a team and adhered to at all times. A “parking lot” is simply a blank piece of chart paper or area on the whiteboard where a topic can be listed that either is running overtime (remember, each item has an allotted time frame) so it is tabled for a future meeting, or an item not on the agenda that arises, having the potential to derail the time frames (or the whole meeting). The meeting facilitator simply says, “Looks like we need to add this to the parking lot,” and someone assigned to that task for the meeting records a phrase or word to capture it.

It is important not to enforce time frames. The facilitator may say, “Excuse me, Linda, we’re out of time for this topic. Let me poll the group. Colleagues, would you be willing to give this topic another 2 minutes?” Use group consensus to determine whether to allow more time or put the item on the parking lot.

Principal modeling and transparency

As a principal begins to develop teacher leaders, modeling and explicitly labeling these facilitation behaviors is important. This kind of transparency will build the confidence of teacher leaders. One-to-one conversations with shy teachers who want to put an item on the agenda, but want someone else to handle it, can often be instrumental in boosting their confidence enough to convince them to take the risk. Moving into the use of these meeting skills can also begin to ameliorate the problem of staff members who dominate others in a public setting, simply by making it structurally more difficult for them to do so in a carefully planned and executed meeting.

Developing Teachers as Leaders Series

Read part four: Gradual Release of Control

Terry Wilhelm has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office and area service agency administrator, and adjunct university instructor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the bimonthly magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.

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