Thoughts on the Abuse of Time

I have recently been doing a lot of thinking about how we use time in schools, and I have come to the sobering conclusion that we don’t use time – we abuse time.

One way that we abuse time is meetings. Many times, in my 7 years of teaching, I have attended meetings that have blatantly abused the time of everybody in the room. I believe that anyone proposing to hold a meeting should go through the following thought-process:

I am about to take time away from people.

Do I really need to take time away from people?

Are there alternative, more “time-smart” methods of doing what I hoped to do in a meeting?

If I do need to hold a meeting, how will I make sure the time I take away from people is time well-spent?

I think this simple process would help, what do you think? Do you know any schools that are trying to do something along these lines?

Image from http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/w/waste_of_time_gifts.asp

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4 comments

  1. Clint H

    Like you, the vast majority of the meetings that I have attended in my 10+ years of teaching have been both well-intentioned and an abuse of time.

    Part of that reason is that the people who are running the meetings usually have little or no managerial training. I believe that running an effective meeting is a skill that can and should be taught to all teachers (or administrators at least). It includes: publishing a thoughtful agenda, including time allotted; sticking to that agenda; facilitating the discussion; keeping and publishing minutes; and starting and finishing on time.

    Another part of the reason is that the people attending the meetings. Most meetings are not designed to be personal gripe sessions. More often than not with teachers that I have worked with, however, that is exactly what they devolve into. Part of this is due to the lack of facilitation skills referenced above, but part of it is also due to a lack of professional expectations on the part of schools when it comes to attending meetings. It is a culture that needs to be developed, encouraged and to some extent enforced.

    A third part of the reason is that meetings are being held when they no longer need to be! I am currently working on a way to use our school CMS (Microsoft Sharepoint) to create a ‘virtual meeting space’ for counselors and learning support teachers to a) gather information on specific concerns that have been raised about particular students and b) propose actions/interventions for those specific concerns and collect feedback on their effectiveness. Not only does this relieve the bottleneck of information that normally happens around the counselor, it also creates a record for teachers to reference easily. It’s also one less meeting that has to be called!

    • Mr. Sam

      Thanks, Clint. Three big things here:

      Knowing how to set up and run effective meetings.
      Knowing that meetings are not “gripe sessions”.
      Knowing that you don’t have to have meetings and using alternative methods.

  2. Neal Watkin

    Sam,

    I totally agree with your coments and which that more schools were brave enough to try something different.

    One of the main problems is that meetings are ingrained in the culture of schools, regardless of whether they ae needed or not, and people hold them because it is what has always been done. It is a way of asserting authority: you can ignore an email or memo, but many leaders would argue that the same can’t be done in a meeting.

    I am currently working with a new Headteacher in a neighbouring school in Suffolk. He attended two Middle Leader meetings and then banned them – on the grounds that they were not a good use of time and were not improving teaching and learning. Instead he has set up working triads (three people working together to improve learning along a single focus). The triads are fluid and so far the results have been incredible.

    It does need strong leaderrs tyo change the culture and try something different.

    • Mr. Sam

      I love the idea of schools being “brave enough” to do something about this culture of meetings. It reminds me of discussions I’ve had with a guy called Julian Weekes who calls upon schools to be “brave enough” to get rid of reports, either partially or completely.

      It is a bravery that is needed, though, in these situations in which everybody can see the problem, everybody displikes the problem, but nobody sticks their neck out and tries to fix the problem.

      I’d love to hear more about the methods being adopted in the school in Suffolk… and other schools that are “being brave”!!!

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