The Minimalist Educator Podcast

Episode 024: Effective Team Meetings with Team Awesome (Tammy, Christine, Gemma Cass and Megan Kemp)

February 20, 2024 Tammy Musiowsky-Borneman
The Minimalist Educator Podcast
Episode 024: Effective Team Meetings with Team Awesome (Tammy, Christine, Gemma Cass and Megan Kemp)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Are your team meetings more of a time-suck than a productive gathering? Ever wondered how to turn them into fruitful sessions that not only get more done but also foster better relationships? You're not alone, and thankfully, we've got you covered. Joined by our dear friends and former colleagues, Gemma Kass and Megan Kemp, we delve into the world of effective planning meetings - the strategies to keep them focused, the art of debriefing, and the undervalued power of check-ins. As we fondly recall our teaching journey together in Singapore, we're excited to share the lessons we've learned to make team meetings a success.

But that's not all. We also take on the often daunting terrain of collaboration in these meetings. How do you maintain the delicate balance between tasks and professional dialogue? How do you navigate the varied comfort levels of team members while fostering a culture of mutual respect? And most importantly, how do you build relationships that enhance collaboration and meeting effectiveness? We share our thoughts, experiences, and some helpful tips, all the while reinforcing the importance of being prepared and modeling good meeting behavior. Because we believe, if we can get this right as adults, we could positively influence how our students learn to collaborate. So, come join us as we turn the spotlight on relationship-building and being prepared in our meetings.

Today's episode was brought to you by Plan Z Professional Learning Services, Forward Thinking Educator Support. Find out more at www.PlanZPLServices.com. Follow us @PlanZPLS on X and Instagram.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to the minimalist educator podcast, a podcast about pairing down to refocus on the purpose and priorities in our roles with co-hosts and co-authors of the minimalist teacher book, tammy Musiowsky-Borniman and Christine Arnold.

Speaker 2:

In today's episode, tammy and I are reunited with our dear friends and former colleagues, gemma Kass and Megan Kemp. Our topic for today is effective planning meetings. Gemma and Megan have both worked as international educators for many years. Megan has worked in the US, germany, singapore and England as a teacher and curriculum leader. Gemma has worked in England, bali and Singapore and is now a primary lecturer at St Mary's College London. Hi everyone and welcome to today's episode of the minimalist educator. Today, tammy and I are here with Gemma Kass and Megan Kemp. Welcome everybody, how are we? Yeah, great.

Speaker 3:

Thank you, happy to be here.

Speaker 4:

Thanks for having us. You're welcome. We are super excited. This is a really special podcast episode. We actually have four people recording together in one room and the four of us met while teaching in Singapore together, our classrooms all in a row, and we formed this lovely bond. And now here we are, in the location of England, recording a special episode of the minimalist educator. So thank you again for being with us today.

Speaker 5:

No, and it's not been since 2017 that we've all been in the same room together, so that's lovely.

Speaker 2:

Yes, very special, so we wanted to pick your brains today about team meetings and what are some effective strategies that we can utilize for our team meetings.

Speaker 4:

Gemma. Megan and I teach on a grade two team in our school in Singapore, and so we used to often have, you know, our weekly collaborative meetings together, and one of the things that I really valued about our teaching time together was those meetings, because we had a lot of. We got things done, we were effective with our time use, we came up with great teaching experiences for our students, and so that's what we're going to talk about today. So, megan, maybe you can start us off with. You know you've been in other schools since our time in Singapore as well, and so maybe you have some ideas to share with our listeners about some effective meeting strategies or tips for just keeping people on track in meetings, something like that.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think I think we lucked out. And I think, depending on your team, I think we lucked out in that our personalities were quite similar and the way we worked and process things and plans was quite similar, and that always helps if you're kind of on the same page as your teammates, but that's not always the case and it's not always the case with the people you work with. So I think a huge kind of well, just something that works is to have an agenda and how to start with an agenda, have people adding to it so you know it's not just one person's agenda but you can refer to it. Maybe as the week goes on you can add things to it, so you know, kind of what you're, what you're coming into or what it helps to if you refer to it and then you can think about it and then you're able to come prepared, or a little bit prepared, to those meetings. That kind of gets you off on a good start.

Speaker 5:

So I think having an agenda is an item that is quite useful, yeah, and I guess to sort of build on that, I think, our friendship and our working relationship. You know, it could potentially be a blessing and a curse, because obviously you've got the agenda, which is great, but I suppose it's making sure that you're not going off-peast and talking about sort of non-work related things during those times and staying focused and staying with what you've got on the agenda, because I think you know it's so tempting just to be checking in and oh gosh, what are we doing later and having those conversations. But making sure that that sort of that protected time to focus on the work things which you got to be quite disciplined in.

Speaker 5:

But I think, we've managed that really well.

Speaker 4:

I agree, and I think you mentioned the check-ins and like not kind of getting stuck in that I think it is important to have that in your agenda, though, right? So, like a five minute check-in, you do have to recognize how everybody's feeling at the time, because you know usually the meetings are in the daytime or after school, and you've been through whatever the day has held for you, and so you want to stay true to a check-in, to check in with each other personally, but then move on with what you've got to do. Yeah, jen.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, I was just going to say when you said about how people got on with their day and where they're at the end of the day, I definitely remember going into some of those meetings and Tammy and Megan and when Christine joined us for some of them as well to be everyone being really focused and ready to go start planning for next semester or next term, and I would be like, oh, we've just got through the day like doing really big things in your head, but actually, again, it's having those really good relationships, working relationships and shared values of actually we all do want the best and you were all very good at getting you back on track. Okay, let's go, We've had our check-in and we can get this done. So, yeah, that was good.

Speaker 3:

I think too, sometimes kind of just seeing how the going with, how the day is, like if you've all had just one of those days and you just need that time to debrief, but then being like, okay, well, we didn't get this done or this done, let's divide and conquer or let's, you know, you all take on something to get done and bring back together you know, the next day or so it's not a complete not that it was a waste, because you need that debrief time and that's really important but that you also are looking at okay, well, this is what needs to happen, this is what we were going to do.

Speaker 3:

Can we kind of divvy that up, get that done and then and following through, because it's one thing to say, oh yeah, I'm going to do that, but when your team teammates are counting on it, you know it is important to follow through and then to come prepared. So maybe it's well we're, we're going to be doing this or looking at this next unit at our next meeting, and it just it's so frustrating when your teammates or when the people that you're meeting with, your colleagues, aren't prepared or I get frustrated with myself if I haven't come prepared. It it feels like you've let the rest of the group down. So, coming prepared, it's only going to help you move forward in those next, that next step, I guess.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, and it makes good use of your time as well, rather than say wasting people's time, but you know we know as educators, time is precious and if you're not prepared, it is going to eat into that.

Speaker 2:

Exactly back to what you were saying before, megan, about everyone having access to the agenda and can add to the agenda. I think that's really key too, because if it's just one person the team lead or your coordinator or so on who is taking on responsibility for that, other people don't feel like they have ownership over what's going on or they're not really as keyed into what's going on. So I think that's a really important part making sure that everyone is contributing to that agenda and filling it in.

Speaker 4:

You mentioned something key too, I think, megan, about the accountability to each other. So having those pieces where you might not use your meeting time to just sit and meet and plan or whatever, but you're going to come back with something to your next meeting that you're going to contribute. And I know that we used to do that where it's like, okay, we're doing this part of the inquiry cycle or something and we'll try this out. Let's try this kind of activity and I'll let you know how it went in my classroom, things like that, and I think that can help an effectiveness in the team as well, because then everybody's contributing. Then it's not just, like Christine said, here's our agenda, we're just going to like someone else has dictated it to you. It's more collaborative.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, rather than we're doing this meeting to you, right, we're all working together.

Speaker 5:

I guess as well, thinking about the purpose of meetings, I know there's always that saying like, oh, it could have been an email. Like, if we're thinking about what we're putting on those agenda items, are they always a tick list of things that you've just got to go through, got to conflict, this paperwork? Or do you get those opportunities to engage in that professional dialogue and learn from each other? Because, as you were saying there about, okay, if we're going to try and do this as part of our inquiry cycle, how did it go when you tried it, just reflecting on that and sharing those practices and learning from each other? And I think we had a really good balance of, yes, there's important stuff that we just have to get through and we have to do, but also to learn from each other's areas of expertise and what everyone else was bringing to the table. So, yeah, I think we have quite a good mix about.

Speaker 3:

It kind of reminds me what you're saying, just that, the difference between collaboration and cooperation. Sometimes that tick list of okay, we can all cooperate together and get these bits done, that need to get done, and that's fine. But actually really using our time together to collaborate and talk through the planning, and you might as well use that time together and put your brains together and bash out ideas and talk through that. I mean, that's the fun stuff when you get to sit around and talk about new units and lesson plans and all the other stuff you can cooperate on and divide and conquer and say, yeah, we'll make those copies or get this ready or take that list off or do the spreadsheet. But the fun bit is when you want to sit down and have those conversations and think about those creative lessons and that's the good bit. You want to be there for.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, I'm wondering about collaboration and meetings. So have you experienced, you know, because some people plan better independently and have a harder time in a collaborative, like being collaborative in a team, but there are times when we just really need to gather together and brainstorm and be creative. And so what would you suggest? If teachers are working in teams and there is some challenge in getting people to actually collaborate, because it is different from being cooperative, like you said like yeah, we're getting along, we're getting things done, but let's put our brains together, because that's not a fun bit for everyone. Like I love that, we love that, yeah, but it's not everybody's cup of tea.

Speaker 2:

It really depends on what the challenge is. I think you know, is it a dynamic where you've worked in situations where you're trying to brainstorm and come up with ideas and there's just one person kind of stonewalling?

Speaker 1:

every idea.

Speaker 2:

Right, and then you've got other people who just have such different pedagogies about how things should be done. So I guess it really depends, doesn't it, on what kind of trouble you're having in collaborating.

Speaker 5:

I think it also depends on the culture within your school, because if you're in a school where collaboration is just part of the everyday, everything that you do and you're used to doing it, then you're going to find it a little bit easier than if you're a new teacher who's just joined that school and that hasn't been something that you've been a part of.

Speaker 5:

That's quite tricky because just as we teach the children those skills of how to work with others and how to share ideas and how to take turns with contributing and how to resolve conflict and come to agreement, actually as adults especially because we are more opinionated, as you say people are coming with different experiences, different levels of expertise and then actually having to share and if it's something that you fundamentally disagree with, that's really difficult to then say, well, I've got to collaborate on something. So I don't think it can be something that we just expect people to know how to do and do well. It's almost like the same if it's built in within the culture of the school this is how we do it and you learn and there's opportunities to practice that. I think that's when it happens more successfully.

Speaker 3:

And building off of that. I think by having an agenda, if somebody's not comfortable or confident, or they don't like collaborating as much or they need more time, more time to think or process, or they like thinking about it on their own. First, if you're working in a group, sometimes I like to do my own research and come up with my own ideas so that I feel like I've got enough to contribute. So by having that agenda and you know, okay, well, next week we're going to be talking about this or at our next meeting we're going to be looking at new ideas for this then I might go away and do my own research and think through some things and come prepared and come with ideas, rather than coming kind of called to that meeting and then having to throw things out. I think I would. If I hadn't thought about it at the time, I think I'd kind of just sit back and see what people had to say.

Speaker 5:

So, yeah, and it's easy for people to jump to the conclusion, or make assumptions, that perhaps, if you're not ready in that moment to collaborate, are you not much of a team player or is it not something that you want to be involved in. But actually I guess it's about recognizing that there are going to be different levels of comfort and sometimes people are not wanting to share their ideas. Is it because they haven't got them? But perhaps they are not confident and concerned that people aren't going to appreciate their ideas, or that they think they might be silly, or they haven't done their research and are ready to share them yet. And I guess you know when we're talking.

Speaker 5:

My point about the culture is it's not about jumping to those conclusions that people aren't able to, but it's recognizing there's going to be various levels of comfort and maybe that's what you work on developing. How do you help and support people to feel more comfortable with that collaboration?

Speaker 2:

So it's got to be that level of trust right, Absolutely Like I feel okay putting an idea out there and maybe you won't go with my idea and that's okay. And it's not that people hate me and disrespect me, but it's I can trust and feel respected enough to put those ideas out there and maybe have them rejected, and that's okay.

Speaker 5:

Yeah, and it's non-judgmental, yeah, and it's a supportive environment that appreciates ideas, whatever they are Exactly.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, yeah, thinking about it's a rejection of an idea, or getting feedback or some critical feedback I hate that To your point, right.

Speaker 4:

Like, sometimes teaching is very personal to people, right, and so it is hard to get. If you're in a meeting, how do we get teachers to open up who might not feel that comfort yet to share ideas because the fear of being judged about an idea but, like you know, it takes a while sometimes to like get past. Like teaching is personal, yes, because you're pouring yourself in, but idea sharing is not really personal. Like you're trying to create these great learning experiences for students, and not all experiences are great ideas, but once you talk them through they could become really good ideas. So, like, how can we I guess it's how do we build that trust, right, if there's people that are a little bit reluctant to share the ideas and or are afraid of the feedback, and build that into the team dynamic or the team meeting time? You know what I?

Speaker 2:

mean, yeah, I think it's really valuable to get to know people outside of just the school, the classroom environment, because if you have a little bit more social capital with the people you're working with I know it's not always going to work that way, but I think it really does help if you've had a coffee or a meal with people and had a chat about life outside of work, you've got a little bit more empathy for each other and each other's situation. So you might not be as as judgy.

Speaker 5:

Definitely.

Speaker 5:

That was something I found. So my current role I'm a lecturer in primary education and when I joined it was during the pandemic and I spent my first year meeting my new colleagues by Zoom and I certainly felt in those meetings that we'd have, we'd go through the agenda and there was that fear. I suppose it's part of joining a new workplace anyway. There was you sort of starting to understand, understand the procedures and who everybody is, etc. So it takes you a bit of time to warm up anyway. But I definitely felt that what I was missing were those face-to-face interactions where you'd go and make a cup of tea in the staff room and you check in like, hey, how are you, How's your day been? And none of that was happening because you're on Zoom and other would be like hi, hello, everyone. But if I haven't first of all met someone in real life to get to know them, it's unlikely. I'm going to be completely open about my life. I'll be like, oh yes, I'm fine, thank you, and then off you get go on to the agenda.

Speaker 5:

And as much as everybody was absolutely lovely, those relationships beyond the meeting, those relations beyond the classroom hadn't been built because it was all through a screen. So it was something that I really thought about during that time the importance of those relationships beyond the meetings.

Speaker 3:

And that just connects to the relationships we build with our students. And if we want our students to feel comfortable and confident to share their ideas and work collaboratively and cooperatively with each other and us, then it's the same thing, isn't it? You're building those relationships where they're not going to feel comfortable talking to us or sharing with us. So why would it be any different with adults? But I think sometimes we forget about these things with adults, just like you were going back to that, talking about that collaborating doesn't come naturally and that we have to learn how to do that, and children need that guidance and support and they have to learn how to collaborate as well. So I think sometimes as adults, we forget that we need to build those relationships as well, and that's really important. That's a very good point.

Speaker 5:

It's valuable the investment in time to get to know people beyond a meeting agenda I think is incredibly valuable and I think it increases effectiveness over time and that time is really worth it.

Speaker 2:

It does make me think, though, about, as adults, how much we prefer choosing our groups that we work in rather than being told and yet we do that to kids all the time, don't we?

Speaker 4:

This is your group today. Yeah, I think to what you're saying, meg, about we have to allow the practice of the skill of collaboration, and if we aren't modeling good team meetings as adults, we shouldn't really expect that in our classrooms. It's kind of like we're being a little bit hypocritical here if we're not allowing some trust to be built or allowing time to skill build. But I've been in some meetings in the past not recently, but just where I was like I would never want this to happen in my classroom. So why is this happening in our meeting?

Speaker 4:

right now and it doesn't feel good, and so I know that happens a lot, happens, a lot Thoughts about that.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah, absolutely so. Yeah, so much of the interactions between adults. Well, not so much, but there's interactions between adults that we would not allow our students to carry on like that without having a word with them. So, yeah, we definitely should be striving to always be the model of that ourselves, personally.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think something that in not my teacher role but as a PYP coordinator role, coming into team meetings, something I found valuable was just to ask the teams how can I help you? What do you feel we need to focus on? You know we, yes, we need to do our agenda or go through our agenda. We need to fill in the planners, but how? What else can I do to help you? Would it be helpful if we talk through it and I type it? Would it be helpful for us to have you know to talk through 15 minutes of our meeting and then you guys want to go and work on this or that, but just to find out where they were? I guess that goes back to the building relationships and it's not just my agenda, it's our whole team, because ultimately we're working towards the same goal.

Speaker 4:

I think too, like that clarity right. Doesn't Renee Brown say clear is kind. And so in your agenda, if your expectations are very clear about what your objectives are, and that might be collaboratively or otherwise, you want you know same thing with our kids. We want it to be mirrored in both places.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely so, megan and Gemma. What we like to do before we wrap up the end of our podcast episode is ask for a pair down pointer to leave our audience with. So it could be something to do with what we talked about today with team meetings, or it could be any sort of tip, strategy pointer that you may have about how we can pair down, focus on a priority, make life easier for ourselves. I'm going to start, yeah, because I'm going to link back to a conversation that we had recently about how important it is to put a timeline on agenda items. Yes, and I think that's a good point to bring up today as well, is that if you can put a timeline, we agree to have this finished by this date or this time. I think that is a really good point to have to to pair down and keep things prioritized.

Speaker 3:

Excellent. I think I might steal this one from you, gem. But building relationships, I think that can, that can just. There's so much that you can gain from that, so many positives, so I think that helps. Worth the effort, yeah, worth the effort, yeah, and Gem.

Speaker 5:

OK, it might sound incredibly obvious and simple. They're the best ones, but I think, if you have a meeting and you've got various things that you need to show or share, to already have those open on your, on your screen, so that you're not cutting into time Trying to find them and waiting for them to open, and I just think all those moments that are lost whilst people are trying to find documents, and if people could turn up to meetings with those ready to go it. Just if we're thinking about valuing time, that's just something that makes a bit of a difference.

Speaker 2:

Oh, there's nothing worse than those virtual meetings where you're watching someone faff around with their different tabs and what's working and why can't you hear anything?

Speaker 5:

And it's a file inside a file inside a file, inside a file, and then the wheel spins while you wait for it to open. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 4:

Thank you, Gem. That wraps up today's episode of the minimalist educator. Thank you for joining us today and thank you, Megan and Gemma.

Speaker 2:

Today's episode was brought to you by Plan Z Professional Learning Services Forward Thinking Educator Support. Find out more at PlanZPLServicescom.

Speaker 1:

Be sure to join Tammy and Christine and guests for more episodes of the minimalist educator podcast. They would love to hear about your journey with minimalism. Connect with them at Plan Z PLS on Twitter or Instagram. The music for the podcast has been written and performed by Gaya Moretti.

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Collaboration in Team Meetings
Importance of Building Relationships in Meetings