Enough With the Boring Staff Meetings: How to Turn It Around

No one said staff meetings had to be boring.

top It’s 6:50 am, and school doesn’t start for another hour. Students won’t be in the building for another 40 minutes. It’s the perfect time for teachers to get their classrooms and lessons ready for the upcoming day. But not this morning. This morning they are fighting back yawns as their principal preemptively starts a staff meeting by saying, “We know this isn’t fun, but we have to get through [new age educational theory, which is backed by very little research] this morning.” This is followed by showing an hour’s worth of information, which could be read in 10 minutes. I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t get my blood pumping and spine tingling, leaving me super excited for the day!

There is nothing worse than feeling like your time is being wasted by a mandatory, boring staff meeting. This isn’t to say staff meetings can’t be valuable. The problem is when schools miss an opportunity to come together as a staff and enjoy each other’s company while learning something new and valuable. Too often meetings become a place to be secretly scrolling on the phone or to be attempting to sleep with open eyes. Here are five tips for administrators, department chairs, and teachers on how to create an engaging staff meeting where people won’t just be catching ZZZs.

1. Make time to build connections.

The meetings that I enjoy are the ones that remind me that the staff is a family. These meetings aren’t cold or distant, rather they are a time for sharing and celebrating successes. Too often we are quick to get right down to business, as we don’t want to “waste” any time. However, in that haste, we forget the human element. It is something we incorporate into the classroom. We know that we need relationships to help us teach our students, but then we don’t incorporate that same approach when teaching our staff. 

Try some of these fun team-building activities to set the tone for the rest of the meeting. 

2. Use storytelling.

What do places like Google and Amazon have in common when it comes to business meetings? They leave the boring PowerPoint presentations at home and instead use narrative structure to run meetings. Science has shown that we are hardwired for stories, and yet it’s so easy to fall back on listing information instead. Capture the magic of the classroom by sharing real anecdotes with teachers. Maybe email a couple teachers a few days before the meeting and ask them to prepare a story to share. Tell your own stories related to the topic of the meeting.

Todd Nesloney, elementary principal and author says, “Magic happens when we decide to be brave and share our stories with others.” Imagine the connections you can form in staff meetings when you always dedicate time to storytelling. 

3. Play music before every meeting!

When energy is low and your staff needs a boost, turn to music! There are few things better than walking into a meeting and hearing the beat of Rick Astley reverberating off the walls or feeling Thriller in your bones during your right-before-Halloween meeting. Music is a quick, free way to set the tone for the meeting even before it starts. And, if you’re as lucky as my school, maybe you will have a Zumba instructor on staff who leads willing people in a quick dance routine.

4. Get people involved.

60 minutes + 1 person = 50 blank stares. Not only does getting other people involved spice up the material, it is also a great way to share ownership. Everyone at your school is an expert, not just the people who are in charge. Tap into the knowledge of all of the staff members and have them use their personal experiences to illustrate the concepts at hand. For example, when it comes to standardized tests, have teachers share how they approach teaching test prep or getting students to care about it. Give advance notice to presenters so they have time to prepare a worthwhile presentation or activity. There isn’t a topic out there that a staff member hasn’t tackled, so move away from the sage-on-the-stage view of meetings to making it a collective undertaking.

5. Plan something unexpected.

The best meeting I have ever been to was on the first day of PD in August. It was accurately named Professional Undevelopment by my principal. He worked hard to get the funds so the whole school staff could spend the morning at a local family fun center, requiring teachers to master geometry in mini-golf, physics in go-karts, and communication in laser tag. It was AWESOME! It set the tone for the year. And though it was a fun-filled day, I got to know my colleagues in a brand-new way. The activities built relationships, which paid huge dividends throughout the year.

Now this may not be in the cards for every school because of budgetary concerns, but too often meetings look the exact same to the point that they just all blend together in monotony. Some quick and free fixes for this range from changing venues for meetings, taking classroom gallery walk-throughs to see fun things happening, or creating scavenger hunts. Keep your staff engaged and curious as to what might happen this time!

Staff meetings don’t have to be perfect, and they don’t always have to be a fun adventure. However, they should always be a time of learning and reflection. If not, a potentially boring staff meeting should probably just be an email. Meetings should remind us of how important our job is and help improve our craft. So start building your staff meeting culture and move from ZZZs to passionate engagement!

Join the great conversations going on about school leadership in our Facebook groups at Principal Life and High School Principal Life.

Plus, check out these team-building activities!

Posted by Derek Boillat

I am a high school English teacher and assistant professor in Grand Rapids, MI.

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