8 Tips to Make Your Next Meeting More Valuable for Your Teachers

Jeff GargasBlog, Lead Better

There aren’t many things more frustrating than getting up earlier than normal to attend a mandatory meeting. Except, of course, getting up earlier than normal to attend an unnecessary or inefficient meeting.

Yep, we’ve all been there: sitting in our seat, more tired than normal, annoyed with the fact that you probably didn’t need to be at this meeting. Or maybe you’ve been on the other side of it; holding a meeting that just doesn’t go as planned. Maybe it got derailed off topic, went on forever, or lost focus.

So why do we continue to do it? Well, meetings can certainly be a good thing. They get our teams together in person and allow us to build camaraderie. And if done properly, they can be extremely effective and beneficial to everyone involved. You just need to read more about how to make your meetings more effective – this way, each meeting will be as productive as possible.

I’ve spent the last 15+ years of my life starting and running businesses. Which means I have spent most of life managing people, leading teams, and yes…attending meetings. The positions I’ve had have also provided me the opportunity to manage hundreds of meetings as well, so I have my fair share of stories about horrible meetings.

During our time working with teachers, we’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on a lot of meetings, whether they were general staff meetings, TBT meetings, content meetings, or even administrative planning meetings, and what I’ve found is that the same things that kill the efficiency of a business meeting, have the same devastating effect on teacher meetings.

Don’t worry! We can change this! We can still hold an effective meeting that is efficient and valuable to your teachers. All it takes is focusing on some key elements of your planning and execution. So let’s look at a few things to think about while you plan your next meeting, to make it more valuable for your teachers.

1. Create an agenda.

This one seems obvious, however, one of the most common mistakes we see with meetings is not spending enough time planning. You create to get a clear, specific, and focused plan for every meeting. You should actually spend more time on your agenda than any part of your meeting.

More time spend here = less wasted time in your meeting.

Focus on your meeting objectives. If you’re not exactly sure what you’re trying to accomplish, I can almost guarantee it won’t happen. If you are the meeting organizer, it is your responsibility to have a clear, concise list of objectives. Feel free to bring in other team members during the planning phase. Make sure all your team leaders agree with the purpose of the meeting.

The most important part of your agenda is sticking to it. Don’t stray off topic. Stay focused and aligned with your goals.

2. Only invite team members who need to be there.

If they are not going to gain or provide value to your meeting objectives, they don’t need to be there. Nothing confuses me more than a room full of people daydreaming while 3 people hash out a solution to a problem no one else cares about. It’s not only a waste of their time, but its a waste of your time and most likely your money.

Ask yourself: Do all of these people really need to attend this meeting? Or could some of them just receive a brief email summary or quick catch-up call afterwards? If you can reduce the number of attendees to a 30-minute meeting by removing 4 people whose presence isn’t essential, you’ll save your team 2 hours of productive time that can be (and should be) spent elsewhere, like in their classroom.

Not to mention, fewer people in your meeting equals less confusion and a lesser chance of getting off-topic.

3. Set a time limit…and stick to it!

After you’ve created your agenda and established your primary goals, set a time limit for your meeting…then cut it in half. So if you’re thinking the meeting should take an hour, set a time limit of 30 minutes. Force yourself to stay focused, keep your attendees focused, and stay on track!

I promise you, you do not need as much time as you think. Your brain has been programmed to estimate more time, because it is used to meetings going off topic and wasting time. But you’re not going to let that happen anymore!

When you hit your time limit, your meeting is over. No exceptions. If you didn’t cover everything, that’s okay. Make a note of it and plan better next time.

4. Consider holding a stand-up meeting.

Some research suggests that stand-up meetings can be more efficient. In most cases, groups who hold meetings standing up will cut decision times by one-third, saving your team even more time.

Obviously, stand-up meetings aren’t always logistically practical. But if they are, it’s worth considering.

5. Establish ground rules and expectations.

Let your team know, ahead of time, how the meeting will be run, who will manage each part, and what is expected of them. Do not allow random, off-topic conversations to happen. We have a rule during our meetings: we save “parking lot” talks for the parking lot. A “parking lot” talk is a conversation that should be held as you’re walking to your car, not during your meeting. These are those off-topic, brainstorming chats, that can be important, but don’t pertain to your specific goals and can hurt the efficiency of your meeting.

We use a Meeting Notes Document to keep all our meetings on task. Within the template, we have a spot for those parking lot talks. Feel free to steal our template here.

Be sure to share your rules and expectations before the meeting. Set the standard right away and create a strong, focused culture for all your future meetings.

6. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

Review your objectives and prepare any and all documents, notes, reports, etc, that you may need to cover. Share as much as possible with your team before the meeting. A huge efficiency killer is the time it takes for everyone to find a document, print a copy, or review an email. Within your expectations for the meeting, include any and all things that should be reviewed prior to it. Then make sure you have printed copies of anything you may need. I can’t tell you how often we see a group of teachers have to sit and wait as someone tracks down that piece of data. So be sure to be specific about what your team needs to bring, and to encourage them to review any necessary data before the meeting.

Also, an often overlooked prep task is to double-check your meeting room’s tech equipment and ensure you won’t run into any issues there.

7. Start on time!

Nothing drives me crazier than showing up on time (or 10 minutes early) for a meeting, only to sit there waiting for team members, and having the meeting start 10 minutes late!

As part of your expectations, and that culture I mentioned earlier, should be the understanding that meetings will start on time, and it is everyone’s responsibility to be there, and be ready, at that time.

An effective tip to lay the foundation for this is to remove all the empty chairs at the assigned start time. This means, if someone shows up late, they stand.

A huge piece that goes along with starting on time is not going back for those who show up late. If you need to review everything you’ve already covered, you are essentially starting all over again and your meeting efficiency will plummet. If someone is late, send them a review/summary email later. Stay on task and stay on time.

8. Review and get feedback.

Building a strong culture for efficient meetings takes some time. And it takes some practice as well. Review your meeting notes and see what went well, what did not, and why. It’s always a good idea to ask your team for feedback. See how they felt the meeting could have been better, and actually listen. Make adjustments as needed and improve your next meeting.

The Meeting Notes Template I mentioned earlier has a section for “Things that went well” and another for “things that could have gone better.” We use this to assess every meeting and make adjustments. A good routine to get into is reviewing your most recent meetings notes while you are creating your next agenda. Pay close attention to what could have gone better, and adjust things as needed to improve efficiency.

Here’s that template again.

The bottom line is this: Meetings are going to need to happen, and they can be a very important part of your team’s success. But if they aren’t efficient, if they waste people’s time, and if they don’t accomplish their specific goals…they’re pointless and harmful to your culture, and your team’s morale.

Keep these 8 tips in mind as you plan your next meeting, and make sure it is valuable for your teachers!