Monday, October 22, 2012

The Positives of Protocols

Note: A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on the importance of adding meaning to meetings and a number of steps educational leaders can take to do more of this.  I received a number of comments from readers, and I wanted to build on that post by touching on what is an enormously important part of meeting facilitation: the engagement activity.

Plenty of meetings run like this: Everyone arrives, the meeting organizer speaks, he or she asks for questions, everyone leaves.  While this general structure may be common and may even be a fine way to hold some gatherings, it is missing a necessary piece, the engagement protocol.  As meeting organizers, we can get into the habit of assuming all participants are coming to a meeting with their minds on what we will be discussing.  After all, if we’ve spent the last few days building the agenda and running through the important points, clearly the subject must be on everyone’s mind. 

Of course, while it would be wonderful if that were true, we know deep down that it is far from it.  So, it falls on us to make sure that when we do meet, all of our participants are on the same page.  For that reason alone, the importance of an engagement activity with a meaningful protocol can’t be overstated.  Interestingly, if we think about meetings we’ve facilitated and/or organized recently, those engagement activities may be totally absent.  Paradoxically, we regularly expect our teachers to provide some sort of engagement activity at the start of each meeting with their students.  Shouldn’t we be doing the same?

Protocols and engagement activities are fairly easy to design and with a few key rules in mind, can take meetings from “mindless” to “meaningful.”  Here are a few quick tips for positive protocol production:
  •      Keep engagement activities and the protocols used short and sweet.  Successful activities can be as straightforward as a five minute “pair/share” on the topic of the meeting to a lengthier twenty minute activity such as the protocol I recently created (see picture below).  Make use of the 25% rule: Your engagement activity should last no longer than 25% of the allotted meeting time, and realistically, engagement activities should not last more than thirty minutes.  Beyond that, they become a meeting unto themselves.

  •       The protocol used should take participants from a general state of mind to one that is focused on the meeting topic.  Therefore, strong protocols should begin by focusing on a question, idea, or thought process that can appeal to everyone in the room, regardless of their frame of mind.  The protocol should end by placing all participants in a mindset that prepares them to focus on the meeting’s objective(s).  In the protocol pictured above, I began by asking participants to go to the picture that best represented their personality.  Then I drilled down to having them stand by the picture that best represented their thoughts on the state of contemporary public education.  Finally, they moved to the picture that best represented their thoughts on New York State’s new Professional Evaluation system.  Can you guess what the focus of the meeting was going to be?
  •       Use your objectives to design the “personality” of the engagement activity.  Protocols and the activities they are used for can be incredibly upbeat, intensely reserved, or seriously focused.  The topic of your meeting should set the mood of your engagement activity, and the protocol should direct participants to that state.  By nature of the design of “The Big Picture” protocol, the activity held a light tone despite the seriousness of the topic eventually discussed.  Sometimes, that’s exactly what you want. 
What’s great about engagement activities and their protocols is that there is no downside to incorporating them.  They can only help the flow of your meetings, and though their generation can be challenging, the data gathered from a focused meeting is enough to turn any non-believer into a practicing “protocolist.”  After all, in today’s world of education, we can’t afford to waste anyone’s time.  Every meeting we have has to be meaningful.

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