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On Meetings and Teaching
November 10, 2011 - 8:35pm

I think I love running meetings because I love teaching. The skills to run a good meeting and run a good classroom are related. The experience of keeping a class full of students all together is great preparation for doing the same with colleagues in a meeting. Good teaching, even lecturing, is about conversation. So are good meetings.

7 Teaching Things I Try to Do In Meetings:

1 - Prep:  Students should always come into the classroom knowing what the goals of the class are, having been given the materials to adequately prepare to participate and contribute. A draft meeting agenda, sent out ahead of time with enough space for feedback and revision, makes sure that everyone is on the same page going into the discussion.   

2 - Management:  In my experience, classes run best when the time is planned. The class-time schedule does not have to be minute-by-minute, but it is important to know about how much time you plan to spend on each section of the lecture and discussion. A meeting agenda should also include time estimates for how long the group will spend on each topic. Whoever is running the meeting should be willing and able to move the group along - to stick with the schedule.  Classes and meetings should always start and end on time, respecting people's time and the need for the next class/meeting to start on time.

3 - Flexible:  While it is important to have a plan when teaching and running a meeting, it is equally necessary to be flexible and change things up mid-course. The class or meeting that you are running is really not about you, it is about our students and your colleagues. It is important to constantly monitor that participants needs are being met. Being "in the moment" with your class or meeting means that you are highly attuned to non-verbal cues, and that you know the subject well enough to pivot when necessary.

4 - Inclusive:  Everyone in a class or a meeting should be included in the conversation. If the class or meeting is too large for everyone to speak, than the class or meeting is probably too large. Don't be afraid to go around the room, to cold call people, and to solicit input from the quiet folks. Your job is to make sure that one or two people don't dominate the conversation.  

5 - High Energy:  I was always exhausted after teaching, and I feel the same way now after running an important meeting. Being in the moment and listening hard takes lots of work. Maintaining a high level of positive energy in the room is critical, and can only be done by modeling the attitudes and behaviors you hope everyone exhibits.

6 - Relaxed and Safe:  A necessary component of a good class and a good meeting is that the participants feel that they are in a safe place. That their ideas will be listened to and taken seriously. That they will get a chance to speak and respond. That the class or meeting has a purpose and a plan, and that you have given thought and put work into building the experience.  If people do not feel safe they will slip from truly communicating and sharing to performing.  Or they will say nothing, or be afraid to disagree and say what they really think. Classes and meetings have tons of unspoken collaborations being forged, alliances being cemented, and status hierarchies being re-affirmed. It is your job to be aware of the sub-text and the agendas that everyone brings to classes and meetings, and to create an environment that allows for authentic learning and communication.

7 - Follow-Up:  Classes and meetings should be about both process and goals. A great meeting or class is wasted if it does not result in an action or a deliverable.  It is up to you to help the participants in the class or meeting discover what the outcome should be, and then to follow-up after the class / meeting to bring the deliverable home.

What meeting advice do you have?

How does your teaching experience cross-over into other parts of your work (or vice-versa)?


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