The Importance of Grade-Level Meetings

Dr. Rick N. Bolling
Dr. Rick N. Bolling
Elementary/Middle School Principal; Ed.D. in Leadership
Man standing by a table of colleagues explaining his idea.

Most teachers can relate to being in a lengthy meeting with the entire faculty. Many of these meetings center on a crowded agenda with a myriad of topics. The number of items on the agenda normally creates a need to rush through topics with little discussion or reflection. The approach normally is a leader-centered lecture. Further, the crowd of faculty members can make teachers less likely to ask questions and discuss topics. In addition, it is likely that only a few topics on the agenda relate to a given grade level or discipline. As topics that do not pertain to certain groups are presented, these groups are likely to become disengaged and may even start side conversations.

Is there a better way for leaders to meet with faculty members? Could faculty members become engaged in productive and meaningful conversations that would lead to sustained school improvement and professional learning? Grade-level meetings offer an alternative to the traditional faculty meeting that can foster engagement, connection, and meaningful discussion.

What are Grade-Level Meetings?

Grade-level meetings are a variation of traditional faculty meetings. In the classroom, picture the difference between whole-group and small-group instruction. In essence, the picture that just came into your head is the main distinction between faculty meetings and grade-level meetings. Faculty meetings normally involve the entire faculty. Some faculty may not need assistance with an agenda item or all items may not even pertain to certain groups.

With grade-level meetings, school leaders meet with small groups of the faculty in a more intimate setting. In primary, elementary, and middle schools, these groups are normally grade-levels. High schools could consider an alternative to this approach by meeting by academic discipline. These more intimate settings help build reciprocal trusting relationships among school staff. Through these trusting relationships, a positive climate is fostered both in the school and community.

By meeting with a small group, the leader is able to present a more focused agenda with all topics relating to the meeting participants. These meetings often take place around a conference table, which fosters more direct engagement and maximizes time on task.

Why are Grade-Level Meetings Important?

Grade-level meetings are an investment, as these meetings certainly require additional time on the part of the school leaders. What would have been presented in one whole-group faculty meeting will require meeting with each grade level on an individual basis. Yet, leaders must consider the return on investment. Teachers are more likely to fully understand topics and follow through on topics presented and discussed in grade-level meetings. Communication can be clearer in the meetings.

Further, the small-group nature of these meetings makes it more difficult to blend into the crowd and not participate. These considerations are the primary reasons for small-group instruction in the classroom. Leaders need to remember that teachers are, in essence, their students. Also, leaders can learn during grade-level meetings through active listening and follow-up reflection. In addition, future grade-level meetings should include data-based and qualitative follow-up discussion on initiatives presented in these meetings.

These meetings held build a culture in which all faculty members’ ideas can be presented and considered. Effective, timely, and relevant communication is a hallmark of highly effective schools. Grade-level meetings can be a vital piece that leads to productive communication. The grade-level meeting concept can be built upon to create focus groups with other stakeholder groups when needs arise such as community leader and parent meetings during school improvement planning.

As such, school leaders must see and share the value grade-level meetings can bring to the school. Agenda topics can be more personalized. This environment can take the focus away from the whole school and view learning simply in terms of numbers and data to focus on the needs of individual students and student learning. Teachers can share best practices and strategies that are working with students. By focusing and discussing the achievement of individual students, the overall school will see increases in growth and achievement.

The business world has embraced this concept for decades. Rarely does an entire company come together to discuss productivity or a project related to one department. Educators can learn from other sectors. Regardless of the audience, stakeholders appreciate when leaders take time to discuss, listen, and recognize contributions. Through these efforts, leaders set the stage for peers to learn from one another.

All things in life are about balance and prioritizing what matters most with the time available. There will still be times in which a traditional faculty meeting is needed. These needs are likely to only arise a couple of times a year, such as a beginning-of-year introduction, mass professional development, or some crisis team debriefing. Times of celebration and faculty retreats should also bring the entire faculty together but should not be viewed as meetings.

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