Effective Practices : Community Life

Meeting Culture
Community Life Section 6

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1. What meetings take place in your school on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis? List each regularly scheduled meeting, its frequency and the length of the meeting.
2. Which person or group is responsible for setting the agenda for each meeting, facilitating it, and taking notes?
3. How are the individuals/groups responsible for these functions selected in your school? With what frequency are the responsible groups or individuals changed?
4. Does your school have a general approach to meeting management/facilitation that permeates most meetings? If so describe the key elements of the meeting “rules of the road” for your school.
5. Do you provide new faculty and staff members an orientation on meeting culture? If yes describe how this orientation takes place. If written materials are available describing your meeting culture please provide a copy.
6. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to its meeting culture.
7. What about your school’s meeting culture is particularly effective?
8. If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s meeting culture, what would it be and why?

CL 6-1

What meetings take place in your school on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis? List each regularly scheduled meeting, its frequency and the length of the meeting.

There are several meetings that take place on a weekly basis at every Waldorf school. These include:

  • a faculty meeting,
  • a College/pedagogical leadership group meeting,
  • section meetings (lower school, middle school, high school, early childhood and administration),
  • a meeting of the chairs (kindergarten, lower school, high school, college, and administration), and
  • various faculty sponsored committee meetings.

The College meeting is typically 2 to 2 1/2 hours in length. The faculty meeting is typically 2 1/2 to 3 hours in length, including the breakout sessions for the various sections. At most schools the administrative team members split themselves between the various section meetings as needed to advance various issues, and then meet again during the week as an administrative team.

Planning for these weekly meetings takes place at the meeting of the chairs. At this meeting emerging issues are identified and referred to the proper organ of the school for resolution, and follow up is done on items previously delegated. This meeting is usually shorter, typically an hour to 1 1/2 hours in length.

Many of the committees of the school also meet on a weekly basis for anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. Some of these committees are only active seasonally (financial aid, calendar and scheduling, festivals, graduation, etc.) The committee meetings that meet on a weekly basis are typically those with a large number of faculty and staff members on the committee.

There is another group of meetings that typically take place on a monthly basis. These meetings include:

A meeting of the Board of Trustees,

Board executive committee,

the Leadership Team,

a meeting of the Parent Council or Parent Association, and

various Board/administration sponsored committee meetings.

The Board of Trustees in most schools meets monthly for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, although one school reported that its Board has been successful in meeting 4 or 5 times a year for an extended period each time. These meetings are 5 hours in length, with 3 hours focused on business and 2 hours reserved for a more content filled study, conversation or discussion.

Preparation for these Board meetings is frequently done at a meeting of the Board executive committee. This group meets once a month for 1 1/2 hours, handling smaller issues that do not require action by the full Board, setting agendas, and ensuring that all issues delegated by the Board are on track.

The school’s Leadership Team is typically made up of the members of the chairs group described above with the addition of the Board president and Parent Council president. This circle usually meets once a month for about an hour. In many schools this meeting eliminates the need for the chairs meeting during that week.

In most schools there is a monthly meeting of either the full parent association or of the room representatives. More information about the Parent Association and its meetings can be found in the Working with Parents section of Effective Practices (See: Working with Parents menu)

Most Board and administrative committees meet once a month for about 2 hours. These include meetings of the Development Committee, the Finance Committee, the Enrollment Committee and the Long Range or Strategic Planning Committee. An exception to this general rule is the Financial Aid Committee which typically meets weekly during its peak season of the year. Often times a Board committee such as Development will have many sub-committees (annual giving, auction, newsletter, etc.) and these committees meet more frequently during certain periods of the year.

Some meetings take place only 3 or 4 times during the school year. These include general parent evenings sponsored by the Board or the parent association and class meetings which are coordinated by the individual class teachers or sponsors. These meetings are usually 2 to 2 1/2 hours in length.

CL 6-2

Which person or group is responsible for setting the agenda for each meeting, facilitating it, and taking notes?
The Board chair sets the agenda and facilitates the meeting of the Board executive committee, while the Board secretary takes minutes. It is the Board executive committee who sets the agenda for the Board meeting. The Board meeting is usually facilitated by the Board president, although some schools reported that they are using a non-Board member facilitator to chair the meeting. Minutes are taken by the Board secretary.

Meetings of the Leadership Team and the Chairs are chaired by a member selected by the group. The agenda is set in a participatory fashion by the members, and each member takes his or her own notes.

Faculty meetings, College meetings, and section meetings typically have their agendas set by the group’s chair. Often times the faculty and College meetings are chaired by a facilitator, and minutes are taken by a member of the group on a rotating basis. Sections meetings are often attended by a smaller number of people and may be chaired by the section chair or by a facilitator.

Committee meetings are usually led by the committee chair. Minutes are often taken by the key staff member attending the meeting (Enrollment Director for Enrollment Committee meetings, Development Director for the Development meetings, Business Manager for the Finance Committee meetings, etc.) Agendas for these meetings are usually set jointly by the committee chair and the appropriate staff member.

Agendas for Parent Council/Association and Room Rep meetings are usually set by the PA leadership team and facilitated by the Parent Council chair. Minutes are taken by the PA secretary.

Several schools noted the benefit they have derived from using a facilitator to chair meetings, especially those with a larger number of attendees (7 or more). This approach relieves the committee chair by removing the task of running the meeting from the person who has much of the information about the topics that are under consideration. For more information on meeting facilitators see: What is Consensus by Caroline Estes.

CL 6-3

How are the individuals/groups responsible for these functions selected in your school? With what frequency are the responsible groups or individuals changed?
In most schools the Board chair and College chair have specified terms of office. These terms vary from school to school. The Board president is often chosen for a one year term, sometimes renewable for up to three years. The College chair often has a three year term, while section chairs often enjoy two year terms. This consistency in leadership positions helps to ensure a steady hand at the wheel, while the term limits help prevent a community to get “stuck” in doing things the same way they have always been done.

Committee chairs are usually selected by the committee, and are generally individuals who have spent some time on the committee in recent years. Committee members are often chosen by the committee, although several schools have begun the practice of asking the personnel committee to assign faculty members to committees. This practice helps to ensure a good match in skills between the individual and the committee, minimizes the chance of someone joining a committee to advance a personal agenda, and keeps some members of the faculty from over committing while others do less work than is expected.

Many schools report they have a committee for Board development. This committee works to identify and develop possible future Board members, and often proposes a slate of Board officers for the coming year.

In many schools College members are full time faculty and staff members that have been at the school at least a year, who are interested in supporting the school in a broader way, and are committed to the spiritual health of the school.

Facilitators are usually members of the faculty or staff that have undergone formal training in meeting facilitation. Many Waldorf schools send their facilitators for training at the Alpha Institute. For more information on the Alpha Institute, go to their web site.

CL 6-4

Does your school have a general approach to meeting management/facilitation that permeates most meetings? If so describe the key elements of the meeting “rules of the road” for your school.
Waldorf schools tend to make decisions by consensus. This approach to decision making is based on a belief that each participant in a decision has a piece of the truth and that the better a group does at encouraging these various perspectives to be shared the better the quality of the eventual decision will be.

Although Waldorf schools support consensus decision making, the details of this process vary from school to school. Some schools require complete consensus on a few key issues such as hiring, major changes to the educational program, and “life altering” changes for the school, and then require a majority of the people present. Less formal processes are used in small groups and committees, and often times the Board of Trustees will use a simple majority vote to make decisions.

Many schools use a very specific approach to consensus decision making in their faculty and College meetings. This approach to consensus decision making is described in the article What is Consensus by Caroline Estes. (See: What is Consensus). Training in consensus decision making for faculties, and training of meeting facilitators is also available through Ms. Estes and the Alpha Institute, see their web site.

Waldorf schools have developed many helpful guidelines in their approach to meetings. These guidelines, which are fairly universal in Waldorf schools, include the following:

  • There is an emphasis on information being formally presented to the group in the form of a written proposal that is clearly articulated and well documented. These proposals clearly indicate what is included for the readers information, where input is needed, and if the group will be asked to make a decision.
  • Proposals are provided to the group in advance of a meeting as everyone is expected to come to the meeting well prepared to take up the work at hand.
  • Meetings are planned, have written agendas, and expected time amounts assigned to each item on the agenda. Agendas are published in advance and if an item is running long the facilitator will ask the groups permission to either table the item or to continue overtime.
  • There is an environment in meetings that is respectful of each individual, one in which people listen to others, don’t interrupt when others are speaking, and wait to be called on before sharing their perspectives.
  • When people are “stuck” on a particular issue, a Goethean conversation is held. This approach to speaking and listening often helps schools move ahead in difficult times. These conversations often begin with a reading of a portion of Goethean Conversation by Marjorie Spock:
    “One has only to be active and to keep the way clear, knowing that where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of you. The hope for that presence can be strengthened by listening to one another in exactly the way one would listen to the spiritual world, evocatively, with reverence, refraining from any trace of reaction, making one’s own soul a seed bed for others’ germinal ideas.”
  • There is a period of conversation and then a closing with the reading of the same passage. During the conversation there is no reaction, no response to anything anyone says, no laughing, no crying, no reactions of any sort. There is a long pause between each contribution, and rarely does one comment flow directly out of the last.
  • The meeting chair or facilitator has the authority to thank someone who has spoken enough and ask to hear from others who have been silent.
  • Decisions made during the meeting are read at the end of the meeting, and decisions made at the prior meeting are listed on the next meeting’s agenda. This is provided as a courtesy to members who may not have been present and as a reminder to those who were present; it is not an invitation to reopen discussion on decisions that have already been made.

CL 6-5

Do you provide new faculty and staff members an orientation on meeting culture? If yes describe how this orientation takes place. If written materials are available describing your meeting culture please provide a copy.
Most schools provide some sort of orientation or introduction to meeting culture and consensus decision making to their new employees. At some schools the fall in-service meeting has a special segment on meeting process, often for new and returning faculty members. Notes about meeting culture is included in many faculty handbooks, and in most schools each new employee receives a mentor or buddy to help familiarize him with this and many other aspects of school community life.

CL 6-6

Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to its meeting culture.
We work to create a safe environment that is carefully held so that respectful work can be done.

We work to keep to our time and our agenda. We feel that meetings that go beyond 3 hours become unproductive unless they are planned retreats or in-service meetings.

We work to make sure that everyone who wants to can participate.

We start and end most meetings with a verse, encourage study and artistic work even if it is brief, and include a period of silence at the beginning of Faculty Council and Board meetings, so that the right spirit for the work is present.

We cultivate an environment of respect and listening in our meetings.

We work to give space for others’ opinions.

Working in the consensus model is a core philosophical characteristic of our school (and Waldorf schools around the world.)

We try to be to the point in our preparation and discussion.

We have gotten better about telling each other that we have heard this and don’t need to hear it again.

We encourage listening over talking, and ask new colleagues to listen for what lies behind another’s words.

The meetings are reviewed once a year. There is an effort made to do more than just say the meetings are good; the school looks for real ways to improve the meeting experience.

Working with Heinz Zimmerman’s book Speaking. Listening and Understanding has improved the quality of the meetings. Regular artistic work and study also improve the quality of the meeting.

Once a year we try to do some social exercises or meeting exercises that help us understand the role each of us is playing in a meeting. This makes the dynamics of the meeting, both positive and negative, more conscious and can greatly improve the quality of our time together.

Items that are discussed in the meeting are not discussed outside of the meeting. We do not want to have meeting issues permeating the rest of the week, and wish to avoid any sense that someone is lobbying for a particular decision or bullying another colleague.

The meeting is viewed as a work of art. This consciousness raises the quality of what takes place in the meeting.

We strive to remember that we are meeting to serve the children. This means that we need to get our own personalities out of the way.

The school is inclusive, and the committee life of the school is a reflection of this commitment to giving many people a chance to be involved and heard.

Good meetings build community.

The committee life of the school facilitates communication between various parts of the school community, helping to make things transparent to the broader school community.

The meetings are a good example of tolerance between the various parts of the school. This is a model for cooperative working that we consciously strive to model for our students.

CL 6-7

What about your school’s meeting culture is particularly effective?
Meetings happen regularly.

The agendas are well planned so the meetings are both short and effective.

The meetings are effective because the people at these meetings are serious about what they are doing. People prepare and get down to business.

The meetings leave people feeling that they have spent their time well and never exhausted by the experience.

The faculty meeting starts with a study or artistic activity, followed by a meal prepared by two faculty members on a rotating basis. Then the pedagogical portion of the meeting takes place. The combination of artistic activity and the social experience around a meal set a healthy productive tone for the meetings that follow.

It is very effective when the faculty chair really holds the issues under conversation deeply.

People are good at being informed on issues before the meeting, reading documentation and being prepared to take things up.

The school does a good job of addressing issues between colleagues, as these interpersonal tensions can poison a meeting.

We keep to the allotted time. We work through the painful and confrontational aspects of consensus decision making. For the most part we get everything done.

Many people come to their work in a committee out of a real sense of commitment and excitement about a particular area of service. This helps ensure that each committee has plenty of help and that meetings are harmonious and effective.

The school’s common expectation about how people will behave in meetings (listening to others and allowing others to share their opinions) is helpful.

The mandate groups are free to act within their area of responsibility, eliminating the need for conversation in many meetings about whether a group is permitted to act.

Singing together on a regular basis is very helpful. Musical harmony brings harmony in relationships as well. Working together physically is also helpful in building relationships that can contribute to a healthy meeting life.

The parent involvement guide has been very helpful in getting parents involved.

The enrollment director gives an organizational overview as part of the admissions process. This has helped with participation and understanding of how the school works, increasing parent satisfaction.

Our meetings and the processes we use are routine, and people can count on them.

We generally have agendas and reports out a few days before meetings so members can come prepared.

Enough people have been exposed to consensus decision making that we can keep this as a living part of our work.

The school is good about confronting issues and looking for resolutions when meetings seem to breakdown on a regular basis.

We speak often about confidentiality and also about the need to keep the business in the meeting. We actively discourage hallway conversations on meeting matters that could be divisive or very emotionally charged.

We have had school wide opportunities to do training over the years. Consensus training has been provided for the whole faculty and board, and special board development work has been done as well. We also had someone do an organizational audit that affirmed much of the good work underway in the school.

CL 6-8

If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s meeting culture, what would it be and why?
It would be nice if we had more people with good meeting facilitation skills. Additional training needs to be done. This could help manage our discussions and improve the effectiveness of our decision making.

We are working to have yearly calendars for all committees that identify monthly topics for discussion and review. This may streamline reporting to the board and offer a better sense of oversight as well as evaluation. There is a level of stress among our faculty members that there is too much to be done. We are constantly reviewing the meeting schedule to find opportunities to provide balance.

We are working to improve the efficiency and increase the transparency of committee work. Lack of transparency undermines trust. Trust is the foundation of the Mandate system which we need for clarity of responsibility for tasks. It is this lack of transparency which reinforces people’s feeling that they need to be involved in every decision made at the school.

I would love to see the Parent Association and Board take up the challenge of finding the right meeting structure that will accomplish their work while also nourishing their participants. Just approaching the work in a traditional business way does not fully meet the needs of these groups.

Some people would like to shorten the meeting day for faculty members, as it goes until 7:30 or 8 o’clock in the evening. Today those people who cannot commit to the longer day leave after the mandatory pedagogical meeting, and do not stay for the carrying group meeting.

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