Point of order Mr Chairman

24th October 1997 at 01:00
Staff meetings and parents' evenings are facts of school life, but they needn't be daunting. Luke Darlington sets the agenda

Before long you will be attending your first staff meeting and then it will become a regular part of your professional life. You may feel daunted at first, but as a new member of the staff team don't underestimate yourself. After all, as with any team, you have been picked because you are good at what you do.

You could perhaps use your first few meetings as training sessions while you find your feet and discover their general format. At the same time you will learn more about the personalities of the other staff with whom you will be building a working relationship. Listen to what they say, how they speak and to whom. You may find for example that individuals do not speak directly to each other but via the person acting as chairman - probably the headteacher. If others chat privately among themselves during the meeting don't do likewise. It is a poor habit and not business-like. Take a professional attitude from the outset and it will stand you in good stead.

Always bring your diary with you and be punctual, even if others are not, and if a parent seems likely to delay you (it can happen all too easily sometimes) explain politely why you have to leave and that others are waiting. Suggest another time. If you are unable to attend the meeting remember to give your apologies, and be certain to find out later what was discussed and what decisions were taken. Action points may have been allocated to you. If there is an agenda - and preferably it should have been issued in advance together with any other papers for discussion - brief yourself about the items on it and consider how you can contribute to them. Don't worry if you can't. You don't have to. Just listen and learn.

Be willing to offer ideas though and, if they have been thought of before, don't be discouraged. At least you are being positive. It is better to show interest than to take no part whatsoever, but be sure that your comments are relevant and concise. Ask questions if you don't understand and be prepared to be asked directly for your opinion. It may be the chairman's way of giving you confidence and showing that you are valued. If you have something to say under Any Other Business remember that it is courteous to advise the chairman beforehand. Perhaps your item will be deferred as an agenda point for the next meeting. But sometimes AOB doesn't appear on the agenda at all if the head prefers to plan the progress of meetings so they end promptly at the agreed time. Weighty or contentious issues which are unexpectedly introduced can cause a late finish, to the detriment of those who have other commitments or who are already tired after a long day.

You may have responsibility for a subject area, and others will come to rely on you as their source of expertise, particularly for such specialisms as art, music and information technology. Make it your business to know your subject thoroughly and have your copy of the national curriculum handy so that, eventually, you can help them concerning resources, lesson ideas, the scheme of work, assessment etc. But though you may be very talented at what you do don't be a know-all. There is always room for improvement and even the most experienced staff are still learners.

If the staff share the job of recording the minutes of each meeting be ready to take your turn. There's a skill in listening to what is said and noting it down at the same time, but it is important to be accurate. Key words and phrases help - you can join them together later.

Sometimes matters are voted on formally. There are those who second proposals without much thought because they fancy seeing their names in the minute book. It would be responsible if they took the role more seriously. When you vote try to take a balanced view and remember that you can abstain.

There are formal and informal staff meetings at different times of the day, of different length and frequency. They are essential for short, medium and long-term planning as well as for information. You can anticipate attending at least one per week.

However they are organised, if you treat staff meetings conscientiously as part of your professional development and as an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the well-being of the children, you won't go far wrong.

CHECKLIST FOR PARENTS' EVENING:

* Listen as well as talk

* Aim for a co-operative rather than confrontational dialogue

* Think in advance about what you want to discuss

* Always find something good to say

* Don't waste time on irrelevant conversation

* End on an up-beat note

* Remember privacy is the preferred setting

* Allow time for a break

* Be aware of your body language, and dress suitably

* Be honest and plain

* Don't flannel and don't use jargon

* Don't criticise colleagues or other families

* Remember not all parents are married or are attending the meeting together

* Partnership is the key

DO'S AND DON'TS FOR STAFF MEETINGS: * Don't underestimate your ability to contribute

* Do learn by listening

* Don't chat privately while the meeting is in progress

* Do be punctual and if you are late or miss a meeting find out what went on

* Expect to offer ideas, and to ask and answer questions

* Do advise the chairman in advance if you want to speak under under Any Other Business

* Do make your own expertise available. But don't show off

* Do take your turn at taking the minutes

* Do use your opportunity to vote thoughtfully

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