Meeting Déjà Vu: We Talked About This Last Year, Right?

communication constructive impact tips meetings

by Aubrey Patterson


The Faculty Meeting: Meritocracy vs Efficiency

Here’s a scenario that many will recognize ... 

It's 4:23 PM. Seven minutes before the faculty meeting is scheduled to end.

The agenda item is very familiar to the veterans in the faculty meeting who had lived it many times before: End of Year BBQ.

Everyone is confident it will take only a few minutes to sign up for tasks and get out with a few minutes to spare.


But Mike is new. He innocently and cautiously puts the efficiency of this well-worn item in peril, wondering aloud about the Start of the Year BBQ that would follow in a couple months.

Just a question and I know I am new here, but given we do the same kind of event to start and end the year--which I’m totally good with, it’s so cool--um, could we prepare the set-up of the non-food materials once for both events? We could even purchase the food in the spring for both June and August. It might save us a lot of work in August. I’d be willing to do this if you need me.

After a brief scan of the room and with no attention paid to the risks of whiplash, most heads are returned to forward-facing and carefully nodding.

The kid had a point.


Julie is a generally well-liked principal and takes pride in running a good meeting. She cares about her school and getting people home on time and she certainly doesn’t want to discourage Mike.

Julie considers Mike a good kid and knows he isn’t trying to mess up her meeting.She doesn’t hate the idea, but there just isn’t time today and Julie knows her staff.

Opening this can of worms might risk Tom and Cathy falling back into that awful argument about Tom’s purchase of the expensive BBQ six years ago, a decision that all but sealed the fate of Cathy’s Year End Talent Fair.

So Julie smiles and does her best not to discourage her eager new teacher:

Thank you for the idea, Mike. Can you pull me by the sleeve and remind me of this idea closer to the date?

Susan is caught up in déjà vu.

Mike isn’t the first to bring this up this BBQ option and Susan wonders if Julie remembers her bringing this up two years ago. She's is pretty sure that others remember, though, because she is the recipient of teacher wide-eyes during the head-swivel portion of Mike’s question.

She forgot to pull Julie by the sleeve back then. 

Mike nods. The show must go on. Strangely or maybe not so strangely, almost everyone nods.

Duties are delegated for the End of Year BBQ in less than 3 minutes and the race to the parking lot begins.

As Julie listens to a bit of rant from someone about the mess in the faculty room, she is having a bit of difficulty with sacrificing Mike’s excitement.

When she was an assistant principal, Julie used to dream of the day she would develop the perfect school meritocracy, where the best ideas would always rule the day and her main job would be clearing obstacles in a room full of leaders.

Julie starts to feel even worse looking at Susan and wondering what she thinks; after all, Susan had offered up much the same invitation to lead just a few years ago.

Something needed to change.

The Best Ideas Come at the Most Inopportune Times

Intellectual capital is the most crucial, yet easily discarded resource in Education.

The universe seems to challenge us by surfacing the best new ideas at the most inopportune times. It can be an exercise in patience to mine the gold from such moments, but the value in a great idea doesn’t depreciate simply by being delayed a little.

In isolation, ideas swirling around BBQ set-ups aren’t all that critical but they do illustrate a point - all eagerly-offered items offer an opportunity to build a positive collaborative culture.

What if Julie had a different approach?

Mike, thank you for sharing this.

I think there’s something here but we don’t really have much time today to go into it more deeply.

Hey everyone, by a nod of your heads, how many people would like me to allocate 15-20 minutes of our March meeting to Mike’s idea?

Mike, if we put your name beside the item, will you speak to it just as you did today and we will keep the discussion only to the opportunities of one set-up? 

Mike smiles and he nods happily.

Julie knows she has a month to figure out how to keep Tom and Cathy from back-sliding. She then continues to positively reinforce Mike and asks the school secretary, Jade, to open the current year meeting templates tab.

Very happy to be called upon, Jade proudly gets to show her organizational talents. She opens the March Faculty Meeting tab and inserts Mike’s idea in full view of the staff: End of Year and Start of Year BBQ Efficiencies (Mike)

Little wins lead to big wins. Consistency is a prerequisite for momentum.

In time, BBQ questions turn into Common Assessment Schedule or RTI Review questions from teachers. How Mike’s idea is handled will impact how freely teachers raise their hands in the future when the stakes are higher. 

Pairing one-stop shopping agenda templates with specific positive reinforcement can capture inopportune ideas, amplify the voices in the room, and eliminate meeting déjà vu.



We're experienced administrators and understand your time is valuable, so we'll just focus on your questions and problems you're trying to solve. 

We'll take it from here and arrange a time to talk!