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  • Aubrey Patterson

We Talked About This Last Year, Right?


Intellectual Capital is the most crucial, yet easily discarded resource in Education. The universe seems to challenge us by surfacing the best new ideas at the most inopportune times.



The Staff Meeting: Meritocracy vs Efficiency


Here’s a scenario that many will recognize:

The agenda item is very familiar to the veterans in the staff meeting who had lived it 10-12 times before: End of Year BBQ. They are confident it will take only a few minutes to sign up for tasks. But Mike is new. He innocently and cautiously puts the efficiency of this well-worn item in peril, wondering aloud about the Start of the Year BBQ that would follow in a couple months.


“Just a question and I know I am new here, but given we do the same kind of event to start and end the year--which I’m totally good with, it’s so cool--um, could we prepare the set-up of the non-food materials once for both events? We could even purchase the food in the spring for both June and August and freeze autumn food. It might save us a lot of work in August. I’d be willing to jump in on this if you need me.”


After a brief scan of the room and with no attention paid to the risks of whiplash, most heads are returned to forward-facing and carefully nodding.


The kid had a point.


Julie is a generally well-liked principal and takes pride in running a good meeting. She cares about her school and getting people home on time and she certainly doesn’t want to discourage Mike. She considers him a good kid and knows he isn’t trying to mess up her meeting.


She doesn’t hate the idea, but there just isn’t time today and Julie knows her staff. Opening this can of worms might risk Tom and Cathy falling back into that awful argument about Tom’s purchase of the expensive BBQ six years ago, a decision that all but sealed the fate of Cathy’s Year End Talent Fair. So Julie smiles and does her best not to discourage her eager new teacher: “Thank you for the idea, Mike. Can you remind me of this idea closer to the date?”


Susan is caught up in déjà vu. Mike isn’t the first to bring this up this BBQ option and Susan wonders if Julie remembers her bringing this up two years ago. Susan is pretty sure that others remember, though, because she is the recipient of the teacher wide-eyes during the head-swivel portion of Mike’s question.


Mike nods. The show must go on. Strangely or maybe not so strangely, almost everyone nods. Duties are delegated for the End of Year BBQ in less than 3 minutes and it is on to Please Put Your Dishes in the Dishwasher.


As Julie listens to a bit of rant from someone about the mess in the sink, she is having a bit of difficulty with sacrificing Mike’s excitement. When she was an assistant principal, she used to dream of the day she would develop the perfect school meritocracy, where the best ideas would always rule the day and her main job would be clearing obstacles in a room full of leaders. Julie starts to feel even a bit sick looking at Susan and wondering what she thinks; afterall, Susan had offered up much the same invitation to lead just a few years ago. Something needed to change.


Harnessing Intellectual Capital: Meeting Templates and Some TLC


Intellectual Capital is the most crucial, yet easily discarded resource in Education. The universe seems to challenge us by surfacing the best new ideas at the most inopportune times. It can be an exercise in patience to mine the gold from such moments, but the value in a great idea doesn’t depreciate simply by being delayed a little.


In isolation, ideas swirling around BBQ set-ups aren’t all that critical but they do illustrate a point - all eagerly-offered items offer an opportunity to build a positive collaborative culture. What if Julie had a different approach?


“Mike, thank you for sharing this. I think there’s something here but we don’t really have much time today to go into it more deeply. Hey everyone, by a nod of your heads, how many people would like me to allocate 15-20 minutes of our March meeting to Mike’s idea? Mike, if we put your name beside the item, will you speak to it just as you did today and we will keep the discussion only to the opportunities of one set-up? “


Mike smiles and of course, answers, “sure.” Julie knows she has a month to figure out how to keep Tom and Cathy from back-sliding. She then continues to positively reinforce Mike and asks the school secretary, Jade, to open the current year meeting templates folder. Very happy to be called upon, Jade proudly gets to show her organizational talents. She opens a series of folders, drills down to the March Staff Meeting document and inserts Mike’s idea in full view of the staff: End of Year and Start of Year BBQ Efficiencies (Mike)


Little wins lead to big wins. In time, BBQ questions turn into Common Assessment Schedule or RTI Review questions from teachers. How Mike’s idea is handled will impact how freely teachers raise their hands in the future. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to populate future agendas, transparently and positively, with items mostly offered by teachers?


Let’s take this a step further. For all official school meetings, like staff meetings and professional learning team meetings, let’s create a school have-to that 12 months of future agenda templates will always be available and maintained in the school office. For example, if there’s a meeting in April of 2020, there will be agendas ready for items, easily accessible until at least April 2021.


Let’s not stop here. There is just so much more we can do to improve our ability to capture great ideas and provide clarity and efficiency to our meetings. The district office can adopt the same structure for district principal meetings, grade-a-likes, student services meetings and so on. Assistants or secretaries can put last year’s agenda at the bottom of the upcoming agendas so we can more easily build our agendas: copying, pasting and referencing old decisions. School principals can collaborate with each other and share agendas--that are of course stripped of confidential matters--sparking new ideas and synergy. District and school agendas can be examined by school and district leaders to seek better alignment of goals and services. They can even decide on one font to make it easier for people to copy and paste items! (OK, maybe I’m pushing things too far. Does it surprise you that Monica is my favorite character in Friends?)


An easily-implemented structural piece like pairing agenda templates with a little positive reinforcement can safeguard and liberate our best ideas, build an engaging meritocracy, and amplify our leadership.



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Canada ~ Lloydminster ~ Alberta

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