By Michelle Livesley
Oxley Park Academy is an outstanding primary school in Milton Keynes that has always been ahead of its time, so it should have been no surprise that the school wanted to train its teachers and pupils in the art of conducting positive and productive meetings. I had never done this type of training with children before – and I’m not sure anyone else has either. Could this be a world first for a Positive and Productive Meetings training session?
Both pupils and staff benefited from the training and during one particular exercise, much to the amusement of the teachers, the children showed the adults how things should be done.
The objective of a Positive and Productive Meetings training session is to make sure meetings become thinking environments, where everyone’s voice is heard, where good information is shared and where outcomes are agreed. Staff at the school had been experiencing some pretty typical problems during key stage staff
meetings and management meetings. Year six teacher Corinna said, “In many meetings we felt we were having information passed to us but no opportunity to discuss it. And time wasn’t used effectively. We had all these things we wanted to talk about but ended up using the whole time talking about one thing. People would end up leaving the meeting disappointed because their burning issue wasn’t even addressed.”
The teachers needed to improve their meetings skills, but the pupils, who had no prior experience of meetings at all, needed to learn these skills from scratch. The school decided that the eight pupil ambassadors on the Peace Council – children who had received special anti-bullying training provided by the Diana Award – should attend my session. The idea was that these pupils would then pass on their training to pupil members of the School Council and Eco Council.We started by examining what was working and not working during meetings, then I divided the staff and pupils into teams and asked them to create visuals showing the purpose of a meeting. This was where the pupils shone. Whilst the teachers were still debating what to do, the children used glitter and coloured pens to create a wonderful graphic that showed they were crystal clear about the purpose of their Peace Council meetings. Another teacher, Dawn, said, “They put the adults to shame, I’m proud to say!”
As the agenda is the tool that ensures a successful meeting outcome, we spent some time learning how to construct one correctly. We also learned how everyone in a meeting should have a defined role, from facilitator to time-keeper, and how simple techniques like thinking rounds can ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
We used the ‘not working’ items as the basis for a mini meeting agenda and Corrina commented that a great deal of honesty came out during that particular session. “It really helped seeing everything from everyone’s perspective,” she said. Corrina reported that since the training staff are now preparing agendas in advance of key stage meetings and are far more efficient at time keeping – and that thinking rounds are even being used in lessons.
Staff felt that, far from being a hindrance, it was a joy to have the children included in the training, especially when they spoke up for themselves in this new and challenging environment. But whilst they responded well to the creative tasks given, it was clear that some of the more structured processes would need to be introduced gradually, as the children became more confident in the meeting environment. Perhaps it is best to start with easier concepts like thinking rounds and then introduce more rigorous ideas gradually.
One important thing that the pupils learned from the process, though, was that meetings should be run democratically. Dawn said, “A big lesson learned by the pupils is that everyone around the table is an equal and has a right to an opinion.”