Outstanding staff meetings for educational settings – Part 1

We should use our valuable, face-to-face time to strengthen relationships with the people we work with.

Consider these strategies for strengthening relationships at staff meetings.
Consider these strategies for strengthening relationships at staff meetings.

Most of us have had plenty of experience with staff meetings that seem to drag on and on. Nothing is more frustrating to a busy employee than the feeling of wasting time going over something we all know already. This is because many administrators use staff meetings to inform employees on the status of projects or policies. Rather than spend time verbally going over something that would be more easily read in a memo, we should use our valuable, face-to-face time to strengthen relationships with those we work with.

Early childhood education experts Margie Carter and Deb Curtis highlight the importance of taking time to build relationships between staff in their book “The Visionary Director.” They suggest several strategies that can help employees get to know each other better and explore their practices in a supportive community setting.

One of their strategies is to encourage teachers to become storytellers. The bulk of time in a staff meeting is set aside for one or two teachers to tell brief stories about an early childhood education incident from their own experience. Our stories come from the same place as our early childhood education practice—our hearts and minds. Many of our stories relate to why we became teachers, how we view teaching, what we want to share with our children and families in the classroom, and what we need and want from our colleagues.

To get at these very important issues that inform our practice, we may need to start out asking some questions. These can include clarifying questions, such as “Tell us more about…”, or open-ended questions, such as “How was guidance used in your own family?” After the story, the role of the group leader or administrator is to pull the concepts and topics that relate to our practice with children. As teachers learn more about each other, they build relationships that will help them collaborate on curriculum goals, relationships with families and pursue the mission of the program.

Another strategy that is similar to telling stories about ourselves is to break down the story into only three words. The group leader asks each teacher to write down three words that describe something about themselves. It could be something very narrow and specific, such as how they feel about math, or it could be something broad and general, such as what is the role of the teacher in the classroom. Then, teachers pair up and discuss the words they chose, elaborating on the concepts. Finally, a few teachers share their words with the whole group. The purpose is to help teachers clarify and verbalize their attitudes and thoughts, and to learn more about each other’s professional practice.

For other strategies to help teaching staff get to know each other within the professional setting, Michigan State University Extension suggests the following websites and books:

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