Time for Teachers: Agile Meetings and Short Pulse Surveys as Systemic Solutions

Educators often cite a lack of time as one of their most significant stressors. How can we help teachers find the balance necessary to feel satisfied in their jobs and meet their social and emotional needs? This second post in the Time for Teachers blog series will discuss two possible solutions that can help all educators save time while addressing needs to serve students and communities: agile meetings and short pulse surveys.
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Recap: Systemic vs. Individual Problems and Solutions

In the first Time for Teachers blog, a distinction was made between systemic and individual problems and solutions. Systemic problems require organization- or system-wide approaches that impact a broader group and address biases and/or system limitations.

Systemic solutions often need significant coordination among many people after carefully considering modification(s) to policies and procedures. Individual solutions involve people taking personal responsibility for locating resources to address the problems they face in their immediate environment.

This blog post will discuss two possible systemic solutions that can help all educators save time while addressing needs to serve students and communities: agile meetings and short pulse surveys.

The Power of Short, Focused Agile Meetings

A common joke in the workplace is that a required meeting could have been an email. Although meetings provide an opportunity for staff or teams to check in and touch base, having an excessive number of meetings, holding meetings for meetings’ sake, or holding meetings without focus can be frustrating and feel like an inefficient use of time for everyone involved.

Given that meetings are a significant time commitment for teachers that pull them from their tight schedule, how can meetings be scheduled and organized more effectively? One solution is to implement what is called agile meetings.

Coming from the world of software development, agile is a framework that emphasizes close collaboration, clear communication, transparent expectations, and thoughtful efficiency–all of which will help an organization meet strategic goals and impact stakeholders positively.

Although schools aren’t composed of teams of software developers in Silicon Valley, the principles of agile meetings can be applied in schools to avoid ineffective aspects of meetings that can sap up valuable time and resources for teachers.

In short, agile meetings should have a clear purpose, be as short as possible, and include only the necessary and relevant team members for a given topic or issue. This means that meetings should have a concise and focused agenda, be very limited in time (e.g., 15 or 20 minutes), and have a targeted invitation list. 

Organizing agile meetings may require some advanced work or reading on the part of attendees (e.g., the part of the meeting that could have been an email should be sent in advance). If an all-staff meeting is required, having a focused meeting in terms of scope and time can still be implemented. Drawing from the advice of a communications efficacy firm, Table 1 provides a summary of what to do in order to run agile meetings.

Table 1. Recommendations on how to run agile meetings that are more focused and efficient (adapted from a blog by Status Hero).

DoDon’t
Understand the purpose of the meeting type

Have the right people at the meeting

Run the meeting because it brings value to your team and its work

Make room for every voice and encourage all to contribute, including those who tend to prefer to be quiet

Choose the proper setup, methods, and practices

End the meeting when the work is done, even if it’s early

Support the team in moving forward

Use visualizations as often as possible

Ensure everyone comes prepared
Run a meeting just because “everyone is doing it

Mix up different meeting types

Follow the rules without flexibility

Run a meeting without any outcome (e.g., decisions, further questions)

In the end, a systemic solution for a school to help everyone maximize the time available to them during the day is to develop a set of agile meeting rules to which everyone agrees to adhere. By instituting an agile meeting framework, a school will naturally develop a culture of mutual respect for each other’s time that focuses on the most essential goal of everyone involved–serving the needs of students, families, and communities.

Insights from Short, Focused Pulse Surveys

A recent survey of teachers about their job satisfaction has revealed that their perspectives and ideas are not always taken into consideration as much as they would like. In order to identify and address any systemic problems or solutions found in classrooms, it is necessary to include teachers.

However, given that teachers’ time is limited, holding long meetings or in-depth focus groups may not be the best route to go. One way to overcome this obstacle is to have teachers complete short surveys capturing their “pulse” about targeted topics about their work. Some common online survey platforms that are easy to access and use include Google Forms and SurveyMonkey.

Just like agile meetings call for short, targeted meetings only involving those who are needed, pulse surveys should also be agile. Surveys should be clear and limited in length. This requires questions to be short and concise (with closed-ended questions being preferred).

For example, if you were trying to capture teachers’ self-assessments of their social and emotional learning, you could provide the following statements that teachers evaluate on a Likert scale (e.g., Strong disagree, Disagree, Agree, Strongly agree):

  • I can identify my social and emotional needs.
  • I pursue self-care.
  • I show compassion toward myself.
  • I ask for help when I need it.
  • I can achieve work-life balance.
  • I have ways to minimize my stress and anxiety.
  • I feel I can express my emotions with trusted adults/colleagues.

By capturing teachers’ self-assessments based on these statements, administrators, lead teachers, and mentors can take appropriate action to design training or provide resources to help teachers with their social and emotional learning.

Also, surveys should only be sent to relevant parties, otherwise, data may be overwhelming and possibly not completely relevant. If a particular issue impacts only a certain subset of teachers, a short online survey could be developed and sent to them rather than the entire staff. 

Caution should be exercised, though, when designing and sending pulse surveys. If too many surveys are sent, not enough time is given to complete surveys, or careful thought isn’t put into who should complete a survey (i.e., one should make sure people don’t feel left out), pulse surveys can backfire. It is also recommended that a pulse survey takes the place of an existing time commitment to free up and not add to a teacher’s or administrator’s already full plate. 

Table 2 provides an overview of some advice about designing pulse surveys.

Table 2. An overview of some suggestions for designing pulse surveys.

DoDon’t
Clear purpose and goal for survey

Short duration to complete (5-10 minutes maximum)

Concise, targeted questions

Each question asks one thing

Targeted group of survey participants

An easy mechanism for participants to take the survey (e.g., online survey format if flexibility is needed or a paper format if immediate responses are needed by people in an in-person meeting)

Offering ample time for teachers to take a survey

Ensuring privacy and anonymity, as necessary (and being clear how privacy will be maintained)
Survey has unclear purpose or goal

Sending many pulse surveys at one time

Long survey that takes a lot of time to complete

Complex questions with many parts

Complex or wordy questions that may be difficult to understanding

Sending survey in a scattershot way; not targeting necessary participants

Using a mechanism to administer the survey that most benefits those sending the survey

Making people complete an “urgent” survey when the survey is not urgent

Sharing personalized survey results without permission

When designed, distributed, and evaluated effectively, pulse surveys can provide targeted snapshots of what problems teachers face as well as ideas they might have on how to solve them. By regularly gauging and sharing teachers’ thoughts and experiences about targeted issues, communities of practice based on mutual understanding and problem-solving can form. Moreover, time-saving solutions can be identified to help find time for teachers.

Final Thoughts

There are only so many hours in a day. Teachers want to do as much as they can to support and inspire students. By implementing an agile culture that streamlines meetings, teachers can find ways to still connect with their colleagues and focus more time on tasks that they find meaningful to run effective classrooms. When everyone is on the same page about being mindful of how meetings are run, an environment of respectful efficiency is created. 

Additionally, when teachers are given opportunities to complete targeted surveys regularly about aspects of their job (but not too many!), problems and solutions can emerge that help keep the system of a school running smoothly. Teachers are also left with a sense of being listened to and cared for in their essential roles of educating our communities’ children.    

The next article in the Time for Teachers blog series will discuss individual problems and solutions and advice on working with teachers to optimize their time.

Stay up to date on future blogs in this series by signing up for email notifications!

Acknowledgments

The author would like to thank Christa Green, Kristen DeBruler, and Tracy Gieseking from the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute for their contributions and advice in writing this blog post.

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Ed Timke

Ed Timke

Dr. Ed Timke is a research specialist for Michigan Virtual. Although he specializes in qualitative research — such as interviews, focus groups, ethnographies, and textual and visual analyses — he was trained in mixed methods research while in his doctoral program in communication and media at the University of Michigan. Ed has taught online and face-to-face courses on writing, research methods, global media and communication, the role of advertising in society, and intercultural communication at American University, Duke University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan.

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