Let’s be realistic: Too many meetings seem unnecessary, unengaging, and uninspiring to those who are forced to attend them. Believe it or not, meetings do not have to be an inconvenience or an all-out snooze fest. Meetings should be a great opportunity for your group to share camaraderie, build enthusiasm for your purpose, and provide leadership and advocacy opportunities.
Preparation and Purpose
The first step is to figure out why you are having a meeting. Think hard about the items or issues you need to address, and then determine if the meeting is necessary. So many meetings provide information that can be sent in an email. Our NHS meetings at Beechwood High School in Fort Mitchell, KY, are at 7:20 a.m., so if I am just giving members information that can be covered in a quick email, they are not going to be happy with me.
At the beginning of the year just before school starts, I talk to my officers and try to find out what they need and want to do. I try to take the ideas that I have and blend them with the ideas of my officers and NHS members, and then I incorporate these into the four pillars of NHS: character, scholarship, leadership, and service. Consider these ideas that tie into the four pillars of NHS to guide your meeting mission.
Taking a moment to discuss current issues that can impact students is a great way to teach character. My officers did a lesson on this topic at an NHS meeting last semester. They showed a compelling YouTube video and discussed different aspects of character, as well as some of the character issues that can commonly confront students, such as lying and cheating. After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, we watched a video about noticing different people and the warning signs of potential shooters. We then discussed how to prevent school shootings. We thought of something simple, such as saying hello to everyone we passed in the hallway, and we also want to encourage students to talk about being a positive support for those who seem depressed.
Some other simple ideas my chapter uses to promote character are to create a list of reasons to thank someone, pick up trash in the hallway, help someone who dropped their books, etc. Consider taking pictures of service activities to show students at meetings in order to promote both service and character. Set a goal to complete three character-building activities per day.
Typically, NHS, NJHS, and NatStuCo groups attract high-achieving students, but scholarship can come in many forms. I try to focus on a love of learning. My students research different service organizations and how to help them, and the hope is that this research drives a love for scholarship: Students often don’t realize all they’re learning through this exploration, because they enjoy researching organizations they like. My students have also taken the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, a personality assessment that highlights core characteristics and outlines students’ strengths and weaknesses. (Find it at www.viacharacter.org/www/character-strengths-survey.) Once we have those pinpointed, we hold mock interviews so we can work on how to address certain questions regarding college admission and scholarships. I have also brought in counselors and college admissions staff to discuss how to get into college. We look at writing two- to five-sentence descriptions of service so that we can practice talking and writing about what we do comfortably.
First and foremost, allowing the students to take over meetings is a great lesson in leadership. Have them pick a topic for a meeting. We went to a service and leadership workshop—similar to the LEAD Conferences, but local. Each attendee and I talked about different service opportunities. Afterward, students spoke with attendees to learn more.
Literature on leadership can also offer great resources on finding students’ leadership styles. We look at different ways to be a leader (introvert versus extrovert, for example) so that students can lead in the most natural way for them. A guest speaker who can talk about leadership and service is great for the kids as well, because they get to see and interact with a real leader outside of school.
When it comes to service, get students involved—literally. When I had the opportunity to present a workshop on promoting service through NHS meetings, I had the audience do a hands-on activity. To be able to give the kids an opportunity to be actively invested in service projects, plus the knowledge that they made a positive impact on someone’s life, is awesome. You can find numerous ideas on projects that can be done at a variety of costs (check out the National Student Project Database on the NHS, NJHS, and NatStuCo websites).
One inexpensive service activity we do is turning plastic bags into homeless mats. A lady who knits plastic shopping bags into sleeping mats for the homeless visited our school and showed us how to do this. Once we got the hang of it, we made the “plarn” (plastic yarn) for the shopping bags the rest of the meeting. Several kids came after school to continue the project. Don’t hesitate to ask for donations for service projects. That’s how I got 1,500 shopping bags to make the “plarn” for our homeless mats.
Another service activity we performed at a meeting was to make paracord bracelets and write letters of gratitude to veterans for Operation Gratitude. This activity is neat in that it provides myriad options for students. This would be great around Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day.
We’ve also made homeless kits to hand out to those in need. There are many homeless people in our area, and I felt uncomfortable driving past these people day after day without doing something. By creating homeless kits, my students and I can hand these kits out a window quickly without stopping traffic or putting student safety at risk.
Building a Team
While not a pillar of NHS, team building is vital to increasing energy, and it can help add interest to meetings. Have students share an interesting or unknown fact about them. Pick 15–20 facts and put them on a sheet with students’ names. Group students and give them 10 minutes to guess which name goes with which fact. At the end, students reveal themselves as their fact is read. The group with the most matches gets a prize.
Or, have students partner up. One student can talk about their life and service activities for one minute, then the partner talks. Switch partners and have each go for 45 seconds. Switch and go for 30, then 15, then five seconds for fun. “Minute to Win It” games work well.
Meetings at Beechwood usually follow a typical pattern, as I feel that kids enjoy consistency. Students are assigned table groups based on similar service interests. When they come in, they sign in and go to their spot where upcoming service ideas and activity materials will be on the table waiting for them. I greet them at 7:20 a.m., I talk about our volunteer efforts since the last meeting using the best pictures, and invite people there to talk about it. Next, I talk about upcoming ideas using pictures from the past and let students discuss service projects they have coming up. Then comes the why. Whatever the focus of the meeting is (character, scholarship, leadership, service, team building), this is when we do that activity. Allow the officers and/or students you trust to help plan these meetings. Preface the activity with why it is important for the students.
We finish up our meetings with the “Soggy Dolphin Awards.” During a volunteer project, a torrential downpour caused the tent in which we were volunteering to collapse. The Soggy Dolphin was a stuffed animal prize for a game booth we were working, and was found lying in a puddle. We saved it and now give it out with another stuffed animal to members who have excelled in one or more of the pillars. Two students receive this award each meeting, and they pick the next recipient. We start with examples of our group in action, and we finish with acknowledgment of students, from students. With the students having such a significant involvement, they stay focused and want to be a part of it.
Meetings have so much potential for good. Planning and understanding why you are holding a meeting is essential—meetings should be enjoyable and productive. Make the meeting about the kids. Take risks and let students take over. Fair warning: You may have a meeting that does not go well, but you may also have a meeting that is amazing. Some great ideas for service that I never knew about come from these meetings. Take the time to make the meetings something that both you and the students will enjoy, and you’ll be amazed at the results.
Matthew Behrensmeyer is an NHS adviser at Beechwood High School in Fort Mitchell, KY.
Sidebar: Tips for a Successful Meeting
For new advisers, avoid providing information at every meeting. Meetings are an opportunity to build enthusiasm and camaraderie. You should be excited for meetings! If you are not excited, the kids won’t be excited either. If you are struggling with ideas, ask the kids and get them involved. A common mistake is thinking that the adviser has to do everything. Not leading a meeting can feel weird, but this provides great opportunities for the kids. Don’t be afraid to screw up. I have had some awesome meetings where people left inspired and some duds where I totally bombed. Learn from both.
For the veteran advisers, find something that excites you about your group and focus a meeting on that. If you enjoy service, do a service project. Show an inspiring video that you like. You have an established program, so you get to take risks. This can be scary, but it can be thrilling to try new things as well. Allow the kids to help you. Their enthusiasm is contagious. If you are worried or hesitant, ask your students to come up with some easy games to play that can be finished in a minute or two. This helps bring energy into meetings. Students need consistency, but predictability can lead to boredom and them burying their faces in their phones.