Helping Principals Facilitate Staff Meetings
Leadership Insights

PD for Principals: Supporting Principals to Improve Meeting Skills

By Terry Wilhelm May 19, 2015

In past posts, I have discussed ways for district office leaders who support principals to assess principals’ leadership styles. Attending staff meetings run by principals can be illuminating and provide valuable information for helping a principal improve his or her meeting facilitation skills.

Many new principals need stronger meeting facilitation skills

Many new principals are promoted from assistant principal positions where they did not have opportunities to plan and facilitate meetings or professional development sessions. Because of this skill gap, it is not uncommon for staff meetings to be somewhat disorganized or inefficient, giving teachers ample reasons to complain that they’re a waste of time.

In my experience, there are two basic tenets for principal coaching regarding staff meetings:

  1. Use memos and email for business items; use staff meetings for professional development.
  2. Do not hold meetings just to hold meetings.

Most teacher contracts spell out exactly how often staff meetings can be held, and for what duration. Unfortunately, many principals simply schedule and hold “status” meetings when there is no real need. This is particularly true of principals who tend to use meetings for business or informational purposes instead of providing professional development for their staff.

Sharing professional development responsibilities with teacher leaders can increase staff engagement

A third coaching point is to encourage principals to share professional development responsibilities with teacher leaders. Having teachers help plan and facilitate PD for colleagues increases the likelihood that fellow teachers will value and participate fully in the session. This strategy also raises the principal’s credibility because of the implicit recognition of teacher expertise. And, often when others are empowered to share ideas and lead, more engaging, innovative approaches to PD can be seen.

Coaching principals to make business meetings productive, positive and efficient

Sometimes, a business meeting must be scheduled and held. How can you guide your principals to plan and facilitate the most positive, productive, and efficient business meetings? Here are a few helpful strategies:

  • Post an agenda for all to see, even if a paper handout of the agenda is provided. This serves as a visual reminder of remaining items, and provides a reference point in case the meeting begins getting off track.
  • On the posted agenda, allot a specific number of minutes to each item.
  • Post a piece of chart paper labeled “Parking Lot.” If the discussion begins to wander off-topic or becomes contentious, ask the current speaker to make a note of the problem on a 3×3 sticky note and put it on the Parking Lot.
  • Parking Lot items can be assigned for private discussion before the next staff meeting, for an ad-hoc committee to consider, or even tabled for the next meeting.
  • If table cliques are a problem during meetings, create new groups by handing out colored paper squares as teachers enter the room, and have them sit at the table designated for their paper color. Or, prearrange groups by listing names for each group on a sheet of paper placed in the center of each table.

Debrief with a principal after he or she conducts a staff meeting

Be sure to debrief with your principal after they have planned and conducted a meeting using some of these guidelines. That will help bring best practices to a conscious awareness, increasing the probability that they will be repeated.

Unproductive meetings exacerbate other kinds of problems that principals experience in leadership. Helping your principals make their meetings more productive and valuable will go a long way in smoothing out other rough spots, as well as boosting their confidence as they work with teacher groups, including the full faculty, in a formal meeting setting.

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