Do teachers really need so many meetings?

Meetings can be a valuable part of school life – but not if they're just a box-ticking exercise, says this teacher

Anonymous

Teacher workload: Do teachers spend too much time in meetings in school?

A meeting can be the tipping point in the day for some teachers. I tentatively use the word “can” here, because it is not always the case. But, truth be told, most meetings are futile and add to the stress and workload of already strained teachers.

What with the current restrictions, it seems as though there is an increase in the frequency of meetings being called. The rise of online meetings has brought a plethora of positives and negatives. But, in reality, some meetings are completely unnecessary – if you’re wondering how you can tell if an email would have sufficed, give this a read.

Now, more than ever, I want my workload to be safeguarded. I teach, I lead, I’m busy and I’m under pressure. None of this is new, but what with the disruptions to “normality”, maybe it’s time for us to rethink how meetings are used in schools. Maybe now is the time to listen to what teachers actually think about meetings?

Teacher workload: The burden of pointless meetings

We need meetings in schools. We need them to communicate, to network and to share ideas (among many, many, many other things.) Meetings make up a part of the teaching experience, and in no way am I saying that they should be removed – but I think we sometimes forget why we meet, and that is one of the main issues.

There is a level of rigidity in schools when it comes to meetings. The formality of the gathering often creates an unnecessary pressure around the event. Meeting with no clear agenda, just because “that’s what we do on Tuesdays”, is one of the most frustrating elements for me as a classroom teacher. 

When meetings are clearly a box-ticking exercise, you are switched off before the speaker even begins. It is this mindset that creates a barrier that significantly reduces productivity. The audience is hostile, the speaker or contributor feels isolated, and round and round we go. 

'What am I doing here?'

In truth, very little of what is discussed in the meetings that we have to attend is relevant to us. Truly impactful meeting time is relevant to those present.

It is interesting that department time is often the most productive in terms of relevance and output for a lot of teachers. Too often, I find myself asking, “What am I doing here?” and, as a byproduct, quickly become demotivated. 

Too often in life recently, things have felt like Groundhog Day. The last thing you want, therefore, is to listen to repeated messages in meetings at work. If something has been emailed or has been included in briefing notes (or equivalent) then it doesn’t need a meeting to be announced. 

Of course, it could be argued that those who miss the email or briefing notes are reminded of the message, but it also completely devalues the initial communication. It should be one or the other, not both. 

I don’t want to be a revolutionary about this. I’m not encouraging you to march around with a fist in the air demanding the end of all school meetings. But I do think that there is a healthy opportunity to rethink how meetings are used as part of a teacher’s directed time. 

The author is a senior leader at a secondary school in East Anglia

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