“It’s such a long day. No one wants to be there.”
“I think they just hear the ‘Charlie Brown teacher’ voice when I talk.”
“We’ve covered the same topics so many times already.”
“We have to do this training to be in compliance.”
Can you relate? If so, you’re not alone. It’s not uncommon for staff meetings to become a less than desirable task on a manager’s to-do list. Fortunately, you can make your meetings more engaging for everyone involved, simply by applying what you already know about young children. Yep, that’s right – what you know about how children learn applies to how adults learn too. You can elevate the quality of your staff meeting by increasing engagement with five simple steps:
- Make it clear that you want to be there.
As the saying goes, “if Mama isn’t happy, nobody is happy” – and as your program’s leader, you’re Mama! If you’re dreading the staff meeting, your staff knows it. Speak positively about staff meetings to send the message that you’re excited about training and value spending time together.
Simple ways to elevate the experience (and make it obvious that you are an enthusiastic host) include:
- Sending an invitation, rather a memo or an “official reminder.”
- Mentioning (frequently!) that you are looking forward to the meeting.
- Planning ahead so you can share the agenda topic(s) in advance. This demonstrates that you’re thoughtful and intentional because you value your staff’s time.(Bonus: This makes it easy to say things like, “Oooooh Kathy, I think you’re really going to like one of the activities I planned for this month’s meeting.” or “Hey, Kyle, can you please take a few photos of your art center? I want to share them at our next staff meeting.”)
…and on the day of the meeting, smile so much that your face hurts. Your smile says, “I am glad you’re here… and I’m happy to be here, too.”
- Feed them.
You know that children can’t learn when they are hungry. The same holds true for adults, so every meeting should include refreshments. Aim for a full meal if the meeting is held at a typical mealtime, noting that it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. You’re not only ensuring that your staff’s physical needs are met, but you’re also showing them that you care.
- Use visual cues.
Think about some of the ways you prepare the learning environment for children: appropriate seating arrangements; a clean, uncluttered space; visually interesting and aesthetically appealing materials, and a posted schedule/routine are all essentials in early childhood classrooms. Each and every one of these elements is important to adult learners, too.
The meeting environment sends a message, so think carefully about what you want to communicate:
- To establish a warm, comfortable tone that encourages conversation, arrange seating in small groups or clusters. Consider adding a vase filled with flowers (or another centerpiece) at each table.
- To encourage a positive mindset, post relevant, inspirational quotes around the room and/or display them on tables.
- To reiterate that this is a professional learning environment, use a sign-in sheet and post a basic agenda.
- Talk less and do more.
People learn best when they are actively engaged in the process, so keep the lecture to a minimum. I was taught that best practice is to plan one interactive experience for every 20 minutes of lecture, but in my experience, that’s not enough. Instead, my “tried and true” format for every hour looks more like this:
- Interactive opening activity. Ideally, this is related to the content you’re presenting, rather than a simple “getting to know you” icebreaker. When time is limited, you want to take advantage of every opportunity to share your key message.
- Presentation of core content. This is the time to outline training objectives and key takeaways, but a dry lecture is not usually well-received. If you use slides, let them serve as an interesting backdrop to the story you’re telling – keep the text to a minimum and don’t read it verbatim.
- Small group, interactive learning experience. Vary this experience to match the complexity of the information you’re sharing – in some circumstances, a simple “pair and share” discussion with a partner might be appropriate, while in other situations participants will benefit from a more structured game/activity that introduces new information that supplements the core content you’ve already shared. This site has several terrific examples of learning experiences for adults.
- Large group debrief. This can be as simple as having participants recap the key points of the previous segment or as complex as one of the large group exercises linked above, but it’s always an opportunity to assess what people are taking away from the session (and to reiterate key concepts as needed).
- Always celebrate something.
Whether it’s a high-five for a job well done, a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” or an open-ended art party in honor of National Scribble Day, celebrations add joy to our early childhood classrooms. Why not extend that joy to staff meetings? Celebrating achievements, no matter how small, not only adds joy to the work day, it help employees to feel noticed and valued. Not surprisingly, when employees feel valued and appreciated, they are more likely to be engaged.
If you’re not sure where to start, celebrating birthdays and work anniversaries is a simple step one. (Bonus: Recognition via celebration also creates a unique opportunity to reinforce desired behaviors – say thank you to the person who came in early or stayed late and give a round of applause to the person who reliably turns all required paperwork in on time!)
When you apply what you know about young children to your interactions with adults, you have the potential to add joy and elevate the learning experience — and that intersection of joy and learning is the sweet spot where the magic (engagement!) occurs.