A Simple Summer Reflection

Summer here in New York has been hot and humid the last few weeks. It’s sacrilegious, but thoughts about the beginning of a new school year in September have begun to creep into my thoughts intermittently. So let’s keep this post simple.

Let’s examine a simple question:

Why do so many educational committees and teams that start off with high hopes of accomplishing great things, end in failure?

Failure may be too strong a word; but you know what I mean. The committee’s work seems to trail off, members attend sporadically. Serving on the committee begins to feel like a prison sentence. The inital enthusiasm that committee members once had has given way to cynicism. We’ve all heard these dis-affected individuals complain,

“I’ll never serve on another committee again, ever!”

So what’s up?

I like to approach these type of questions from a reflective practice. For example, in this case I simply ask myself,

“Why do I drop out of things ?”

1. No progress is being made. Lot’s of talk and little in the way of outcomes.

2. One person is doing all the work and those of us who are willing to work don’t feel useful.

3. There are bad team dynamics – fighting, arguing, conflicts

4. There is little sense of direction or inspiration. The “for sake of what” we are meeting for, has disappeared.

5. There are no agreed upon group standards: Meetings start late and run overtime. Agendas are non-existent, or if they do exist no one adheres to them. Members attend sporadically and no one seems to care. There is little concern for following up on action items that team members committed to completing.

6. The stronger, more loquacious members of the team completely dominate discussion.

7. There are more relevant activities for me to pursue.

8. I’m bored with what is going on.

When I look back on my bad committee and team experiences, these are the things that caused me to drop out, either physically or mentally. By looking at my own motivations, it provides me with some useful insights into why others may be exhibiting similar behavior. It also allows me to take meaningful action to correct something that may be driving my team or committee towards failure.

Nothing profound. It’s too hot. The summer is approaching the ‘dog days’…and a new school year is around the corner.



3 thoughts on “A Simple Summer Reflection

  1. Pete,

    Thanks for sharing, it helps me again focus on the need for supporting teacher leadership because there are more committees than administrators. This doesn’t mean that I believe all administrator “led” committees are productive, it just reinforces for me the importance of having a facilitation skill set and teaching to it for those in leadership positions.

    We need to approach these meetings as we do the classroom with a learning plan, not an agenda. We need to intentionally align active learning strategies with our meeting goals and ensure that these goals are aligned with the global purpose for our work. Easier said than done, but if we can’t change how we interact with each other, we will not significantly change our outcomes.


  2. Hey Peter, just a thought on your last post. First, schools require a system of shared decision making. Without it, we are top down organizations (I am sure you have written on this). There are at least two teams essential to any elementary school: Literacy Team, Site Based Team. A school like ours also requires a Bilingual Team and a Magnet Team (math-science-technology). Wellness Committees are another venue for shared decision making. In our building these meetings are scheduled once per month, either after school or during the lunch hour. Our Literacy Team meets more often. One hope and dream of any school is that every faculty member will share his or her voice in the decisions that drive a school’s program. If the dials are set properly, every faculty member will volunteer for at least one committee. It is not required, but if there is a critical mass of teachers who give their time and best thinking to issues and decisions that confront an active school building, then it automatically places the non-participants in a strange position. We are never punative, but I do evaluate and assess my colleagues and the spirit of teamwork, support, and volunteerism. This is a way of life in our building, made crystal clear from the summer correspondences to our faculty.

    Once the teams and schedules are in place, the agenda must be developed by the colleagues who participate, with enough guidance from the Principal who attends every committee meeting. Once the goals and objectives are agreed upon and set, we systematically tend to each and report out at every faculty meeting, if there is some success to report.

    Sounds simple, but you know it is not. It is one of a thousand delicasies that the school leader must attend to, because the flip side is either no committee work or being placed in a position where teachers are paid to participate or teachers are freed up from teaching responsibilities and subs are called in. I have been a part of all possible ways to support shared decision making and the spirit and nobility of volunteerism is the very best of all worlds.

    Just a thought for these summer days. Hope you are well. Please look up Choice Literacy. I think you would appreciate the work of Brenda Powers and I know I have asked her to look at your site.


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