For most educators, your day-to-day has been a highly in-person and social experience. You probably rely heavily on nonverbal cues during meetings and feel comfortable with leading meetings or professional development in front of your staff. You enjoy being around people and are energized by the community that surrounds you.
Now, you’ve been abruptly asked to completely shift your approach to educating students and changing the methods you use to lead your school. You are being asked to quickly equip teachers with online or remote teaching, find creative ways to communicate with parents, and try to stay calm through all the unknowns. What an enormous task that has been placed on your shoulders. We are here to support you and walk with you through these changes.
To facilitate these changes and continue getting in front of your staff, you’ve probably already had or are planning on hosting virtual meetings with staff members. Here at Possip, online meetings are a normal part of our work as we meet with over 100 schools around the country. We wanted to share some tips we’ve picked up on how to facilitate virtual meetings if you find yourself questioning where to start.
Practice with the Technology
If this is your first time using an online video conference platform like zoom or webex, make sure to practice using the technology before your first meeting. You could even host a practice run-through with another trusted colleague or family member to make sure video, audio, invite links, and tech tools are all working properly. Not only will this help create a smooth meeting, but it will help increase your confidence.
Also, a few “bewares”. Beware of what is on your computer during screen shares. Believe me, without going into detail, over the years from various workplaces our team has literally seen it all. While the big shocker can be as simple as the number of tabs open on a person’s screen, guard against your personal life being more on display than you may be comfortable.
Create a Google Doc Agenda
Just like an in-person meeting, having an agenda will create a smooth flow to your meeting, keep you on track, and get everything done that you need in one meeting. The best meetings I’ve been a part of include the agenda on a google doc that everyone can sign in and follow along. This is also a great tool for team collaboration and allowing everyone to participate and share their thoughts in the google doc during different times of the meeting.
Even better than creating an agenda, sending it out before the meeting so your team can do some pre-thinking and lessen any anxieties about the content of the meeting during this stressful time is a best practice.
One quick tip on virtual meeting time length–when creating your agenda, make sure it does not go over 90 minutes. Virtual meetings can be more difficult to keep people’s attention for more than an hour and a half, so if you have more to go through than 90 minutes allows, chunk it into separate two meetings. Your meetings will be more efficient and purposeful so participants can stay focused and attentive.
Ask Participants to Keep Video On
Similar to having agreed upon “norms” in an in-person team meeting or PD session, have “norms” in your virtual meetings. One important norm is to have everyone log onto their video. Not only does this allow people to feel like they’re in the same room gathering together, it allows you to see facial expressions or reactions to meeting topics, and prevents people trying to multitask or “check-out” during the meeting.
Also, working from home can be a bit complicated. That is to say what people like to do versus what makes people feel best about themselves can be different. People may like to wake up, roll out of bed, and hop on a call where they aren’t seen. People don’t tend to feel best about themselves over the long-term with this practice (though trust us, we do reserve the right for a pajama jammy meeting from time-to-time).
Pre-Work is Good for Your Team and You
In order to keep the virtual meeting on time and to keep participants from rambling while sharing on the call, send out pre-work in advance if team members are going to be asked to share out progress. You can also just send out the google doc in advance and have participants type in their “share-outs” or ideas and have the team read the google doc during the meeting. This also is a huge time-saver!
Additionally, pre-work is great for the facilitator! Are there topics that you think might be more controversial? Shop those topics around to a few team members to get their perspective early. Or if a topic is one that you think will have lots of opinions, give every team member a chance to do an offline meeting with you first so you know where they all stand – but then bring them all together so they can see where they each stand.
Create More Specific Meeting Cues
In-person meetings have the benefit of social cues. If folks suddenly take restroom breaks, begin yawning a lot, or begin standing, you typically know it’s time to wrap it up. Virtual meetings can be tougher. Folks turn off their video for a moment – and you don’t know if they are bored or got an unexpected knock at the door.
That’s why we encourage more specific meeting cues. One of our favorites is from a school in Nashville. They use the ELMO strategy (Everyone Let’s Move On). While their strategy is actually for in-person meetings, any team can designate someone as the ELMO holder. Their job is to hold up ELMO in the screen when it is time for everyone to move on.
Similarly, you may find it helpful to create more clarity around meeting roles – timekeeper, secretary, sergeant at arms, etc.
Whiparounds for Virtual Meetings
Folks have a love-hate relationship with whiparounds. The reality is while they are cheesy and forced, they also work! Whiparounds are basically where you force participation by everyone – and ideally for a “get to know you” topic.
We have a few standard whiparounds for weekly meetings:
– wins of the week
– barriers or challenges
– goals or priorities for the week
We also love coming up with whiparound questions that are social in nature. Your whiparounds should really depend on the comfort and culture of your team. If your culture is more formal or newer, keep topics safer. Those could be topics like:
– what is your favorite vacation?
– do you have a favorite book?
– what is your favorite movie?
If you know each other a little better, of course push the boundaries!
– craziest vacation mishap
– book character you are most like and why
– movie you are embarrassed to admit you love
The reality is, being virutal is no excuse for a bad culture or for not knowing each other. Whiparounds may be cheesy but they can help!
Recap the Meeting and Action Items
Make sure to leave the meeting with a clear recap of any action items for your team. Accountability can be more difficult when working with remote staff members, so being extremely clear on next steps will make follow-up and checking in easier as a leader.
Don’t End With the Meeting
Again, virtual meetings more than in-person meetings might leave a lot unsaid. As the leader of the meeting, you’ll want to be in touch with what went said – and what went unsaid. Was someone quiet in the meeting? Reach out to them to get their additional ideas. Was their tension in the meeting? Name it at the end of the meeting and create a plan for following up or allowing voices to be heard. Or was it a great and fun meeting? Keep the momentum going outside of the meeting!
Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss this topic further or learn more about Possip!