How Thanksgiving Dinner Can Improve Your Staff Meetings

Next week, millions of Americans across our great country, who are blessed and fortunate enough to have the family, tradition, and the means, will sit down with loved ones and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.  As I prepare for my own Thanksgiving festivities, I was reflecting on what makes the dinner at Thanksgiving so wonderful.  The opportunity you have as a family to gather together, to laugh, to catch up, to talk, to bond; the quality of the food and the care and the attention that it took to make; pulling off a Thanksgiving dinner is truly a group effort; the variety of offerings from bread, to fixings, to desserts – so many choices, where everyone is sure to find ample options for their liking; the values and traditions that make the day and dinner so special – the idea of sharing and giving to others, being thankful of what we have and what others bring to us, being connected across generations and differences, yet sharing a common, communal experience.

So what does Thanksgiving Dinner and improving your staff meetings have in common?  Besides the obvious unfortunate commonality that they often have the same effect on people…think Seinfeld…tryptophan…feeling sleepy…see the connection?!?!? 🙂

In all seriousness, I believe if we compare the reasons why Thanksgiving Dinner can be so special (as identified above) with elements that are too often lacking from staff meetings, you will see the obvious connection – that Thanksgiving Dinner has a lot to teach us.  REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Are your staff meetings a place/opportunity for staff bonding? Has the meeting been planned with care and attention? Are your staff meetings ‘pulled off’ because a team of people are working on and leading it or is there one person ‘doing all of the cooking’? Do your staff meetings offer choice, where people can select exactly what they want and need? Do your staff meetings provide people the opportunity to share their gifts/offerings with others?

I fear the far too common response to these questions is NO.

But fear not, there is a potential simple solution to making your staff meetings as satisfying as Thanksgiving Dinner – implement a ‘conference style’ approach.  Professional conferences often are highly effective learning opportunities because they bring people together. They are attended and led by a community of colleagues. They offer tremendous choice and they allow colleagues to share and learn from one another.  I am here to tell you, you can replicate that same experience in your building/district during staff meetings.


Originally called Tech Fest; now called EduFest. Pictured here is my son Ed who was also excited about ‘Ed’uFest. 🙂

Over the past few years our school, Bay View Middle School, has instituted several conference-like staff meetings. We call it EduFest.  The process is very simple:

  1. We begin by soliciting insight and ideas from our staff: What do they want to learn more about?; What areas of growth do they need?; What new areas do they want to be exposed to? AND What ideas/areas/tools/approaches can they teach and lead others in?; What are they willing to share with their colleagues about?
  2. Based on that feedback, we then determine the format for the roughly 90 minute ‘conference’ staff meeting time.  For example at one EduFest, we have offered 4 – 15 minute sessions during our 90 minute staff meeting.  This EduFest (originally called Tech Fest) had a focus on various tools, apps, and technologies (again picked by teachers).  We have done another EduFest where we offered 5 – 10 minute sessions, where staff were exposed to innovative practices their colleagues were currently doing in their own classrooms/with their students.  Or we have done expanded 30 minute sessions where staff can pick 2 sessions to attend on a deeper dive, collaborating and even creating with their colleagues on a particular topic of interest.
  3. Utilizing a Google form and the ideas that staff generated and volunteered to lead in step #1, create a ‘conference schedule’ where staff can sign up to attend the session of their liking.  The form will then create the session rosters that can be communicated to the presenters and the attendees.
  4. TAKING IT UP A NOTCH – If you want your ‘conference style’ staff meeting be even better, consider some of the follow-up that we have tried:
    1. Create ‘name badges’ on lanyards for the conference attendees
    2. Have some small, free available ‘conference swag’ for all attendees
    3. Have snacks and beverages available for attendees to have before and during sessions
    4. Buy small ‘thank you gifts’ for your presenters
    5. Take pictures and promote the conference and the sessions through social media – develop a twitter hashtag that you and all attendees/presenters use during the ‘conference.’
    6. Play music before, during and after the ‘conference.’
  5. Have fun!
    1. ADMINISTRATORS – Make sure you attend the sessions, even offer to present on a topic or two.  But be a participant, don’t supervise.  You will enjoy the conference, you will be impressed with what a wonderful group of teachers, leaders, and learners that make up your school and you will learn!

The implementation of this simple idea of a ‘conference style’ professional learning staff meeting format can produce a significant, positive impact on your staff and school. Conference style staff meetings, like EduFest, will create opportunities for staff bonding. Teachers will be highly engaged and satisfied because they had choice and could personalize their experience based on their interests and needs.  They will also be engaged and will have buy-in because they are sharing in the leadership responsibilities and will enjoy working with and learning from their colleagues.  The staff meeting will be well designed and planned, with a direct focus on the learner (i.e. the teachers).

Like a good Thanksgiving Dinner, when you bring people together, working and helping each other, where there is choice and an effort to make things special – the results, memories, and impact of conference style staff meetings will be significant.  Please consider implementing a conference style staff meeting approach with your staff soon.  Happy Thanksgiving!


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