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Teachers Hate All Those Meetings. Can Principals Find a Workaround?

Two banners hang in the media center at the Rodgers Middle Magnet School in Riverview, Fla., one of which reads: “We’re not here to figure out the smell of the color nine.”
Adam Lane, the principal at Rodgers, says it’s a reminder to teachers that they don’t have a minute to waste in their 30-minute meeting every Tuesday morning, especially since he slimmed it down from an hour to just 30 minutes.

“If we are reducing the meeting time, it has to be powerful and productive. You can’t walk in five minutes late,” Lane said.

Now, all 75 teachers meet in the media center instead of separately, splitting off by subjects and grade levels in the four corners. Teachers who are can’t make it in person can connect via Microsoft Teams. Using this setup, Lane said he’s managed to give teachers back at least two hours every month, that they can use to plan their lessons, meet parents, or invest in their own development.

The seemingly simple work to reduce meetings belies how it can help teachers, who spend a lot of time in meetings—and by and large, say it’s too much.

In a nationally representative survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center as part of its new project, The State of Teaching, over 1,400 teachers said they spend close to 6 hours a week on meetings or administrative tasks—an hour more than the time they spend on grading, and four more than what they spend on their professional development.

When asked what activities they would spend less time on, the largest percentage— 33 percent—said meetings, followed by 17 percent of respondents who want to do less administrative work.

In survey’s open-ended responses, teachers detailed why they wanted to reduce the number of meetings.

“We seem to be using meetings as a stage to disseminate information, rather than allow us to share concerns and problems,” said one teacher.

Another teacher, in response to an EdWeek social media post, said that the mounting burden of administrative tasks impacts her teaching:

“I’m ‘meetinged’ OUT! I’m also ‘tested’ out. When shall I teach? How should I prioritize all the things I SHALL DO?”

—Sammi H

“I suspect if you asked principals the same question, they would also want to spend less time in meetings. No one went to college to train as a teacher only to sit in these meetings. We must let teachers do what their best at,” said Matt Haney, principal at Mount Desert Island High School in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Haney has also tried to bring down meetings times to under an hour in his school.

“It’s the worst thing [for a teacher] to leave a long meeting and think … that could’ve been an email.”

Reduce the quantity, improve the quality

Haney laid out some rules around how meetings should be held in his school. Meetings should have a clear purpose, with defined start and end times. They should also be predictable, so that teachers can plan around them. And he cancels them when there’s nothing in particular to go over.

“If we don’t need a meeting, we won’t have it just because it’s on the schedule,” said Haney.

Last year, he noticed that that the number of meetings had shot up to four per week. In response to a growing number of district mandates like testing requirements, Haney said, the knee-jerk reaction would be to set up a meeting.

Mike Randolph, principal of Leesburg High School in Leesburg, Fla.,faced a similar situation four years ago. In a mid-year survey conducted with teachers, the demand to reduce meeting time was right at the top, Randolph said.

“Teachers clearly wanted more time for professional development and wanted to be celebrated.”

In response, Randolph created a new timetable centered on Wednesdays, when his school has an early release.

“Out of the four Wednesdays, we only use one to hold a staff meeting or group PD. Teachers spend the three other Wednesdays in their professional learning communities,” said Randolph.

Meetings at Leesburg are strictly for learning. Randolph sends out a weekly newsletter on Sundays to share informational updates, like an upcoming testing schedule or the school’s graduation tracker.

Like Lane, Randolph had to impress on his teachers that it’s a two-way street: To get more time away from meetings, teachers committed to reading the Sunday newsletter.

Striking a fine balance

Principals must still ensure they don’t lose touch with what’s expected of their teachers. Haney said instead of calling all the teachers into a meeting, he walks up to individual classrooms, and meets with smaller groups of teachers about an upcoming school assessment or a field trip. “It’s a great way to build trust and make sure teachers are collaborating with each other,” he added.

It’s a fine balance to strike, though. Some large meetings are unavoidable because of district or state-specific mandates. School safety alone Lane said, comes with several new required trainings.

“There is so much documentation we have to show to check boxes. Teachers have to sign up for meetings to learn about fire, lockdown and evacuation drills. We have to cross the Ts,” said Lane.

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