Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2007
In reviewing Jennings' book, Virginia NBCT Gail V. Ritchie says, "When faculty members know the intended outcomes of the meetings, have the opportunity to collaboratively develop norms, and work together in heterogeneous groups, they are more likely to arrive at the meeting with positive expectations."
Jennings, M. (2007). Leading effective meetings, teams, and work groups in districts and schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD
Leading Effective Meetings, Teams, and Work Groups in Districts and Schools
2007 (188 pp./softcover)
$27.95 ($21.95 for members)
Reviewed by Gail Ritchie, PhD, NBCT
Fairfax County, Virginia
One of my responsibilities as an Instructional Coach is to plan and facilitate professional learning for my K-6 colleagues. Another responsibility is to facilitate team meetings as our school implements the tenets of professional learning communities. So I eagerly volunteered to read and review Leading Effective Meetings in the hope that it would provide me with insight into making meetings meaningful and relevant for participants.
The book is divided into three sections: Faculty Meetings, Inclusion Teaching Teams, and Committees and Task Forces. The first two definitely related to and informed my work. The third section helped me realize why I sometimes experienced frustration as a member of curriculum-writing committees. I plan to put this knowledge to immediate use in my ongoing efforts to transform my school culture from one where teachers hate meetings into one where teachers eagerly look forward to opportunities to collaborate with one another.
Matthew Jennings begins the first section with a vignette that illustrates a major point: an effective faculty meeting should resemble effective classroom lessons. Early in the year, school leaders must:
1. Communicate the purpose of the meetings,
2. Collaborate with staff to develop norms for expected behavior, and
3. Create faculty “teams.”
When faculty members know the intended outcomes of the meetings, have the opportunity to collaboratively develop norms, and work together in heterogeneous groups, they are more likely to arrive at the meeting with positive expectations. Furthermore, if the physical environment for the meeting is pleasant, then “participants will contribute more to and get more out of meetings.” Facilitating faculty meetings effectively involves attention to such details as presentation skills, discussion skills, listening skills, nonverbal behaviors, use of visual aids, team-building activities, and professional learning opportunities. Jennings provides specific information and examples for each of these categories. He also offers advice for dealing with difficult situations and/or difficult participants. The “Faculty Meeting Rating Survey” (Appendix 1) will be a valuable tool for me as I begin to plan for next year’s professional learning.
The second section, “Inclusion Teaching Teams”, was focused on helping classroom teachers work effectively with special education teachers in an inclusion (rather than a pull-out) model for student learning. Jennings begins this section with a vignette, explains the research base for inclusion teaching, and then provides advice for creating a supportive school culture. Again, as I support the work of grade-level teams and vertical teams, I can make use of his suggestions for creating and developing inclusion teaching teams: set parameters, select appropriate team members, obtain/provide necessary material resources (including time and schedules), ensure appropriate class composition, provide professional learning for the staff, and participate in walk-throughs and evaluation to ensure implementation.
While I don’t have the authority to select the team members and devise the schedules, this section can serve as a resource when providing recommendations in those areas. And, though I know walk-throughs are not universally popular among teachers, as a previous administrator of mine once said, “What gets checked, gets done.” If my administration and I value inclusion and collaboration, then it is our responsibility to support teachers’ implementation. As Jennings says, “It is critical to observe teams in action and find examples of effective co-teaching to reinforce.”
The final section addresses the nearly universal frustration that educators have with committees and task forces: “Nothing ever changes . . . I’m not wasting my time on that.” Jennings begins by explaining the difference between the two groups. A committee focuses on “general tasks that require ongoing attention,” while a task force addresses “more specific concerns . . . and are disbanded once they’ve achieved their goal.” He concludes the first chapter in this section by stating, “Unfortunately, the skills necessary to design, manage, and lead committees and task forces are seldom included in preparation programs for educators.” The remainder of the book is dedicated to unpacking the attributes of successful committees and task forces and explaining the phases of effective implementation:
1. Analysis and Decision Making—determine the task to be accomplished;
2. Planning and Preparation—identify group members and design the task;
3. Start Up—discuss desired outcomes and develop norms;
4. Assistance—eliminate barriers to the group’s work; and
5. Evaluation and Closure—present results and evaluate the group’s effectiveness.
Anyone who has ever sat on a committee, feeling frustrated, will benefit from reading about what should have been going on to make the committee’s work more meaningful and effective. The book concludes with appendixes containing surveys and forms that will help school leaders evaluate the effectiveness of their meetings, teams, and work groups. While the book’s intended audience appears to be principals and district leaders, rather than teacher leaders such as myself, I did glean useful information from Leading Effective Meetings, and I certainly plan to share that information with my school leadership.