by Ann Marie Quinlan and Anna J. Small Roseboro
The challenge of being in the middle is one faced by English Language Arts leaders. One on-going task is to use meeting times efficiently while sustaining morale as one mediates, delegates and sometimes even evaluates. We’re pleased to share some of the strategies you may find useful as you consider ways to maximize meetings and maintain morale with and among those with whom you work.
Leading from the Middle
What do we mean about being in the middle? Most department chairs and literacy leaders are charged with relaying to their teachers and staff the goals, objective and guidelines required of their educational institution whether that be the federal and state governments or the district and school site policies. On the other hand, these chairs and leaders represent to their administration the needs, wants, ideas and skills of their department, committee or team. Often, these leaders have risen through the ranks and now feel the pressure to carry out the tasks incumbent upon t them in their new role without losing the comradery of their former peers. How can one make the adjustment smoothly and achieve the goals of both – those to whom and for whom we are responsible.
It probably seems like a given, but it takes diligence to keep in mind the golden rule as one leads. In terms of meetings, honor the time of your staff or team. One can begin by starting and ending meetings on time and go on to use the meeting time efficiently. Three strategies can help. First, send out and stick to a consent agenda. Serve light refreshments. Avoid bringing up for discussion topics for which there is no choice. Just announce them. On topics on which those present have input, during discussion time acknowledge those who wish to speak by nodding to the person, writing their names on a list, and then calling on them in order. In this way, the contributor is more likely to listen knowing he or she will be able to add their thoughts to conversation in a timely manner. And, save your comments for last. This will reduce the tendency for discussants to think the decision already has been made. And, it will give you an opportunity to evaluate your thoughts in light of views raised during the meeting.
Refreshments should be kept simple and need not always be supplied by you. We recommend something wet and something dry. Bottled water and a simple snack food can suffice. At the beginning of the school year, invite members to sign up to bring refreshments for one of the meetings. If you have a large group, pairs or triads can sign up for the same day. Include their names on the reminder you send out about the meeting. You don’t want them to be embarrassed for having forgotten, nor do you want the meeting to begin with attendees disappointed there is no snack.
Occasionally, to stay on time, it will be prudent to announce ahead of time that the floor will be open for discussion for a specific length of time. When the time is up, but the discussion isn’t, firmly, but courteously close the conversation by inviting someone to make a motion to table the discussion or to send the topic to an ad hoc committee who will be charged to return to the next meeting with their recommendations. Honor the time of your staff or team.
Maintaining the morale of this staff or team takes effort, too. One way to begin is to share the opportunity to host meetings with others on your staff or team. If you are working in the same building, at the same school site or campus, invite different members to hold the meeting in their room, work site, or campus. Three benefits will accrue. First, you will not have the weight on you to host. Sharing the privilege of hosting can be a team builder. Attendees can see the setting in which others work and can view student work displayed in the workspaces of their peers. The meeting host may choose to provide refreshments at this time or partner with a peer to bring them for that meeting.
Foster regular no-cost professional enrichment in three ways. First, invite members to present teaching strategies during department or team meetings. Allotting five to seven minutes should suffice. This, too, can be a contribution for which your staff or team can sign up for ahead of time. Include their names in the note you send to remind all of the upcoming meeting. Second, encourage members to visit the classroom or school site of others in the department or team. We all can learn something from those doing similar work. Encourage members to go to conferences, conventions, seminars, or to continue their education through summer workshops. Regularly post such opportunities and along with sources of funding. NCTE and CEL offer such funding to applicants who are chosen.
Everyone appreciates being valued. You can do that for those you lead by letting them know you see them and understand their contribution to the success of your department or team. When you attend conferences or conventions, take back and share freebies or modest priced gifts. Regularly, at least twice a year, send personalized note to each one highlighting something you’ve noticed each has done well. If you look for something good, you will find it.
As often as possible, say “Yes”, even if the answer has a qualifying clause. Yes, you may teach that new book as long as you’ve allotted time to teach the skills outlined in the grade level curriculum standards. Yes, you may hold an after school poetry showcase once you’ve obtained the endorsement of the administration. Yes, you may take your class to see a live performance of that play once you’ve raised the funds to pay for tickets. Here are a couple community groups who may subsidize the cost. Yes, I will cover your last period class so you can go to parent-teacher conference for your child. Will you do the same for Joe who wants to see his son compete in the district basketball finals next week?
You recall what you most appreciated or sought in your leaders. Be that kind of leader. One who honors the time and shows you know and encourage the work of those you now are leading. Yes, apply the golden rule to your work as a leader.
Letting your staff you are willing to listen and assist where possible is another way of keeping communications open. Inviting them to put their requests in writing gives them an opportunity to think about what they would like and how best to ask. Here’s a way to end your meetings or add a line to agenda emails.
What can I do for you? Name_______________________________
Ann Marie Quinlan and Anna J. Small Roseboro Current CEL Members
Past Members-at-Large and Secondary Section Liaisons to CEL Board