Meet you after class

8th January 1999 at 00:00
You can expect to attend four or five meetings a week on school business. Elizabeth Holmes discusses how to make the most of them

It will come as no surprise that the end of the day for children is the beginning of another for teachers. Yet what shocks many newly qualified teachers is the number of meetings held in schools, both during and after the teaching day.

New teachers can be involved in meetings of the full staff, with mentors and advisors, with year or department staff, in union meetings, planning meetings, special educational needs and information and communications technology meetings, special events and parentstaff association meetings. You may also have appraisal meetings and informal meetings about your progress. All this can amount to four or five meetings a week, each involving preparation and follow-up.

Most of these meetings will be outside teaching time and those arranging them should limit their frequency and duration. And you're perfectly justified in asking a meeting's organiser whether you need to attend.

As soon as you receive the agenda, look through it to see if any items relate directly to you or the classes you teach. The point of a meeting is to pool skills and knowledge and to allow for interaction.

When the discussion is flowing and jargon is whizzing over your head, ask for explanations. By the time you have worked out what the TTA, QCA, BECTA and NGFL are and how they could relate to you, the crux of the discussion will have passed you by.

If you do want to have some input, plan in advance and have a list of questions or comments to refer to. Speak clearly, succinctly and positively. Moaning elicits little support! Check any facts you may refer to and make sure that what you say is relevant.

The chairperson will have to keep the discussion flowing but should never dominate or manipulate the speaker.

When you have something to say, avoid confrontation, keep your tone consistent and make eye contact whenever possible. Calm assertion can go a long way.

Invariably, attending meetings means leaving with a small forest's worth of paper tucked under your arm. Assess what is relevant to you while you are in the meeting. Highlighter pens are helpful to colour code what needs immediate action, what can wait and what can be discarded.

Follow this through with a ruthless filing system. For each piece of paper, file immediately for future reference, act on it immediately or destroy it. If such quick decisions worry you, create a "recycle" bin, but empty it regularly.

When a meeting results in you being given a task, ensure you have the means to do it. If you are given a deadline, you must also be given realistic time for the task.

Minutes should be distributed a few days after every meeting. Read them promptly and if there is anything you don't agree with, discuss it with the person who produced them. Be especially vigilant if you are quoted. If something has not been minuted that you consider should have been, mention it. If necessary, you can have it recorded that you disagree with the minutes when they are discussed at the next meeting.

You are perfectly justified in asking the chair for an issue to be added to the agenda. You may not be successful, but your request should at least be heard. It may be included at a later stage.

MANAGING MEETINGS

* Do you really need to attend?

* Do you know the purpose of the meeting? If not, ask the person who called it.

* If you are directly involved, make sure you have prepared for it.

* Send your apologies if you are unable to attend.

* Be punctual. A prompt star makes for a prompt finish.

* Ask for clarity on a point if you don't fully understand it.

* Be brutal in your paper management after the meeting. Either file, act on or bin each piece of paper.

* Make sure you have the time to perform any tasks that result from a meeting.

* Read the minutes carefully and discuss anything you are not happy with.

* If you would like to add something to the next agenda, discuss this with the chairperson.

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