Saturday, September 11, 2010

C4T#1- Do I Dare Disturb the Universe by Scott Elias

Meeting to Meet
by Scott
I know this will come as a huge shock, but most people despise meetings. When I ask staff about things that are holding them back, almost to a person they have said, “Too many meetings.”
When it comes right down to it, though, these are rituals that are deeply ingrained in the culture of our school. Most schools have a similar situation.
Long, low-energy meetings tend to distract and mute the day. – Martin Fowler
The trouble with throwing out meetings completely is that they do have some value. According to a few papers summarized here, meetings can help achieve the following:
* Shared commitment
* Communicate daily status, progress, and plans to the team and any observers
* Identify obstacles so that the team can take steps to remove them
* Set direction and focus
* Build a team
Being a new leader and getting to know my staff, I’m not willing to cut out all meetings. But what I am committed to doing is making sure that every minute we spend in some kind of meeting serves to move forward the school’s mission and agenda.
Zero-Based Meeting Budgeting
We’re going to get back to basics. At the first regular, monthly meeting of our leadership team, we will remove every meeting from our calendars and begin adding back in those meetings that make sense and will move us toward our goals. We will no longer meet four times per month if we can accomplish the same objective in two highly-productive, focused meetings.
Less meeting time focused on dissemination of information
Since my first day on the job, I’ve made some changes that I hope will whittle down the sheer volume of meeting time. Depending on the sensitivity, items that are “information only” in nature go into an email to team leaders or onto our school blog or wiki. Weening people off email has gone well so far, in no small part thanks to my very flexible group of teacher leaders who have been willing to jump into some new ways of doing business.
Two things I’ve learned in trying to bring this level of change to the day-to-day business of an organization are (1) stop trying to use the “inducement” approach to improving processes and systems (see letter B of Scott’s post on RSS for PD), and (2) stop asking questions like “Do you use Google Docs?” in favor of questions like, “To which email address should I send the invite for this document we’re working on?” It’s all about positive presuppositions. Of course we’re using Google Docs! I mean, who isn’t?
I’ll let you know how it goes, but it’s a start! Look for an upcoming post with more detail on the process of paper-reduction in a 40-year-old middle school.
Interesting reads I plan to share with the team:
* The 22-Minute Meeting
* It’s Not Just Standing Up: Patterns of Daily Stand-Up Meetings

Hi Scott. My name is Brittany Schneider and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. Our class blog is I will be reading and commenting on your blog every 2 weeks. I will also be posting a copy of your blog post, along with my summary on September 12.
I believe you are right on target on the idea of meetings. Long, boring meetings do not promote productivity. Having less meetings that give good information keeps things fresh and keeps people interested.

What We Do, What We Think by Scott on August 6th, 2010
Being a newly appointed principal has provided me with a short window of time during which I am doing a sort of “ethnography” of the school and culture. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my goals these first few weeks has been to try to gather an understanding of what staff is most proud of and what they’d like to see abandoned or, at least, reconsidered.
Like some other schools with diverse student populations, our students need a variety of supports – both academic and personal – to achieve “proficiency” on state tests. While I’m not a fan of this kind of assessment of our kids or our schools, as a new principal I believe that arguing about the merits of said tests is best left to the policy wonks. It’s the hand we’re dealt for now, and as a new principal I’m focusing first on those things within my control.
So my main objective in the near-term is to support my teachers in wrapping their heads around the idea that student success as measured on our state standardized tests and student success as measured by their ability to communicate, collaborate, and produce content in an interconnected, global community are not mutually exclusive.
When I first landed in the Big Chair, I ramped up my scouring of the blogs of other school leaders. What I found was an abundance of ideas, lists of tools and apps, advice on being a good Tweeter, and the like. I’m certainly guilty of posts like this…
What I’ve become increasingly focused on is moving from ideas and feel-good blog posts to action. One of my goals is to renew my use of this space and to spend time writing and reflecting about my actions in this first year as principal. I want to look at things that I actually do as a new principal that might improve systems, culture, and learning in my school with the goal of cultivating an environment that empowers students to learn and develop their identities as global citizens and world-class learners.
I’ll probably fall on my face. I might do that more than once. But at least I’ll try to maintain a good record of my thoughts and actions and how they play out in this organization. Maybe they’ll even help someone else who is entrusted with the exciting but very real responsibility of being a principal.
Some topics I will be addressing in upcoming posts:
  • Re-imagining a culture of meetings
  • Developing a manageable system of academic interventions that address students’ individual needs
  • Moving a 40-year-old school into the 21st century
  • Paring back “initiative bloat”
  • Doing my best not to reinforce the status quo
  • Quite frankly, anything else that comes to mind…
So stick around. This could get interesting.

Hi Scott,
I have just read your earlier blog post and I must say I feel you had the right idea in starting this new position. An attempt to utilize what policies are already in place, as well as implementing your own is a great tactic to truly understanding the current position, but also being able to make it your own. I applaud you for not just accepting the methods currently set in place or trying to totally disregard the system that had been used is a great balance. I also am interested to continue reading your blog to see what does and does not work, as you try different methods out. I am looking forward to seeing which methods you try out and the result of these things. Thank you for sharing your experience,
Brittany Schneider

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