Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tips for Collaborative Meetings

It’s that time of year again! (You know, back to school faculty meeting time!)

As someone who loves Edcamp, I hate (really, really hate) top-down, didactic meetings. In many ways, it’s a waste of time. If you're just going to tell me what to do (without my input), save us both a lot of grief and write me an explicit memo or email.

With that being said, I love (really, really love) collaborative meetings where everyone’s ideas are honored and shared. However, running a collaborative meeting can be risky (whether your audience is adults or kids).

If you’re in the process of planning a faculty meeting, consider the following tips (taken from a recent meeting I observed in a fantastic school in New Haven, CT) to make your meeting more collaborative.
  1. Give people an agenda with specific times and goals relative to each component of the meeting. Setting these expectations helps people to understand how and when they can best contribute. It helps people understand why they are there and values their time.
  2. Put the school/department/classroom mission on the top of the paper. Use it as a tool to steer conversation in positive directions when it gets off track.
  3. Have people self select specific roles to make the meeting run more smoothly. For example, have people volunteer to be timekeepers, note takers, or prodders. (Prodder is my favorite role. That person should ask provocative questions or keep conversation moving forward when it’s stuck.)
  4. Design the space and the size of the meeting to allow for extended dialogue.  Groups shouldn’t be too large and the furniture should allow for people to have eye contact with comfort.
  5. Use language that honors and values people throughout the meeting. Shut down dialogue that is disrespectful to students or colleagues. Consider the following statements I overheard in my meeting at New Haven:
“I’ve been documenting what I’ve done well.”

“Nobody is ever done growing.”

“The point of this meeting is not to start over. It’s to build on what’s already been done.”

Good luck, and I hope your school year gets off to a good start!


  1. Thanks for the tip, but one little detail I might change is that I would call it tips for cooperative meetings as opposed to collaborative meetings. Simply because of the definition I found last week. I only wish I remember where I saw it.

    Collaborative - each individual provides a unique aspect to the group and if they were removed or changed the entire group would be fundamentally changed.
    Cooperative - each person fills a role and the individual filling the role doesn't really matter.

  2. Hi Brendan. Thank you so much for the helpful clarification. I appreciate your thoughts. Your comment has now prompted another question for me: Should we be having cooperative meetings at all? If we don't need everyone there, then can it be done virtually or asynchronously? There's always another wrinkle! Thanks for pushing my learning.

  3. Tip #3 is smart work. I agree, I really, really resent task assignment driven meetings, the effect is quite diminishing. Additionally, the concept of self-selection of roles is also remarkable for the classroom learning culture (w/slight adaptions for the audience). My work is in a high school and during learning walks often when I ask a student about their learning the student is able to regurgitate rote teacher talk. Tip #3 stretched my thinking to this effect. Perhaps at the beginning of an academic school year, a teacher might introduce students to roles with descriptions and actions such as problem solver, critical thinker, clarifier, questioner, innovator, and so on. Upon any given planned curriculum, the teacher would introduce the learning targets and move through the logical sequence of instruction and just as the instruction is transitioning into the processing sequence allow students to grapple with their learning within their self-selected roles for the day and the teacher talks less and gives push back to deepen student learning, increase meaning, and prune content for transfer or production/performance... just my thoughts. I need to prune my thoughts a bit more. Thanks for the stretch.

  4. Jai, I love the student-centered spin that you put on the roles. I'm going to try that!



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