Moving away from meeting for meetings’ sake: Getting the most out of departmental meetings

In September, upon joining a new school (and thus a new department) I decided to give myself a target: to make sure that departmental meetings were meaningful, insightful and valued. In short, I wanted to ensure that our Geography departmental meetings were more than just a discussion of admin or a list of discussion points that, quite frankly, could have been laid out in an email.

We are lucky enough to have a timetabled departmental meeting every two weeks and this makes a huge difference. There is an hour set aside for us to work together, reflect as a team and have some genuine discussion that isn’t possible in our busy teaching days.  Whilst this isn’t possible in all departments, this blog details four ideas on how to ensure that any meeting you do have, however regular or long, is one of value.

1. Using exam board resources

In a recent departmental meeting, we watched a recorded feedback session about the 2018 exams from our exam board. This session discussed in detail the common areas of success and pitfalls for students. Whilst we could have read the examiners’ report independently, it was fantastic to sit together and discuss what we are doing in our lessons to ensure we’ve learnt from last year’s exams. We answered the questions together, critiqued model answers and most importantly, learnt a lot from each other’s knowledge.

2. Educational blogs

With a huge variety of educational blogs being posted each week, I’m never short of pieces to discuss with the department! My usual approach is to pick a blog post or article that coincides with our current departmental focus and give it out to the team to read in advance. One recent example was a blog post on feedback and improving students’ work by the fantastic Mark Enser. Once again, it was the opportunity to hear the varying opinions of colleagues and critically reflect on our approach as a department that added huge value to our meeting.

3. TED Talks

Another approach that I’ve loved employing this year is to share a particularly interesting, relevant or thought-provoking TED Talk with the team and to discuss our responses. More often than not, we watch the TED Talk ahead of the meeting- to make sure we have plenty of time to discuss. Before teaching Development to our Year 8 Geographers for example, we watched the TED Talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled ‘The danger of a single story’. This thought-provoking speech warns about the danger of critical misunderstanding if we teach only ‘a single story’ or a single narrative about a country or group of people. As a result, we reflected on our forthcoming lessons and what would need to change to ensure we were not failing victim to ‘single storyism’.

4. Test-running teaching ideas

The final idea for a departmental meeting is to, as a team, become the students and trial a teaching idea that you plan to use in lessons. Earlier in the year, I knew that I wanted to achieve two things in our meeting: firstly, I wanted to introduce the two NQTs to the idea of using inference and source analysis in lessons and secondly, I wanted to analyse our Year 11 mock results. So, an idea was born to kill two birds with one stone! We analysed the mock results through an inference grid that we were going to use in a forthcoming Year 9 lesson. The result? A series of clear tasks (as per the worksheet) that each of us had to do in order to analyse the mock results AND an informed discussion about how the activity could work with our students. Importantly, all this was well-informed because we’d just done it ourselves.

If you have any other ideas of how to use departmental meetings productively, I’d love to hear them below!

Kate Stockings is Head of Geography at The Hampstead School having completed her PGCE at the University of Cambridge 2014-2015. She is an author for OUP and has just completed her Masters in Education.