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6 Ways to Improve your Staff Meetings

They’re an unavoidable, and often unpopular, aspect of school life – but are you making harder work of them than is strictly necessary, asks John Dabell…

John Dabell
by John Dabell
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1 | By invitation only

Some meetings are a glorious waste of time for a good chunk of the people attending – they simply aren’t required to be there. So, if you are hosting, the first thing to decide is who actually needs to turn up.

Be judicious when selecting participants and let others feedback to colleagues informally, or send an email with a summary of key points. Work-life balance is crucial, and people have different demands and personal commitments which should be respected.

Along the same lines, if you are invited to a meeting where you have no useful input then politely say no, explain why, and don’t go.

2 | Start on time

Punctuality greatly affects the value of meetings. So many get off to a bad start (and deteriorate thereafter) because they don’t start on time. If yours is scheduled for 4:35pm, then at 4:35pm the door should jolly well be closed, with no waiting for anyone.

There may be stragglers and latecomers, of course – but if so, don’t recap what’s been covered so far; it will all be in the minutes. An odd starting time – rather than on the hour – will have an uncanny impact on promptness, as will scheduling well in advance.

3 | Speak up

Every school has someone on their staff who can rabbit and ramble for England… and for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well. Given half a chance, they’ll go off on a tangent, take the meeting off-piste, monopolise discussions and, well, just bang on.

We normally point the finger of blame at the person running the meeting if things are going pear-shaped, but sometimes the Chair needs our help.

What we can do, therefore, is try to influence the flow of the meeting, and politely speak up when it goes off topic or drags on.

Chipping in with a diplomatic comment to get things back on track normally works better than, “Shut up will you!”

4 | Go outside

So many of our meetings are sedentary and held indoors that we can sometimes forget what the real world looks like. Hot, stuffy and airless rooms don’t make great places to take decisions, action plan, solve problems and communicate training. Neither do freezing cold air-conditioned ones.

But guess what? Meetings don’t always have to be held in the same location, and when the weather is right, they can actually be more effective when taken outside (and, if it’s a one-to-one deal, on the move).

If getting out into the fresh air isn’t an option then try a stand-up meeting instead, with no more than three items on the agenda.

5 | Adopt a meetings mindset

Meetings aren’t on many ’10 great things to do before going home’ lists, but having a more positive mindset towards them helps. Make a conscious effort to contribute and learn something, and refuse to get drawn into sharing ‘looks’ with other staff members or playing Buzzword Bingo.

Rolling eyes, looking to the ceiling and shaking your head will only make you resent this use of your time even more. Arriving with your own clear sense of purpose and professional development is much more productive.

6 | Outlaw AOB

If you want a relatively smooth end to the day then make sure that AOB is not included. Any meeting should be planned to include all the business you need to cover with a fixed end time, and anything extra can whistle for attention in another session.

If something is important then it will be on the agenda. If anyone chips in with a Columbo-esque “Just one more thing…” then that’s the time to do an Elon Musk and leave the room; because when a meeting looks like it is about to end then end it should, no surprises or hijacks.

…and one for luck

Never, ever, underestimate the conciliatory power of a selection of very, very nice biscuits.

John Dabell is a teacher with 20 years’ experience teaching in primary and secondary schools, an author of maths, science and English books and a trained Ofsted inspector. For more information visit and follow him on Twitter at @John_Dabell.

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