Let’s face it: For our students, meeting skills are not the most exciting thing to learn. However, at the middle level, those skills are fundamental to what we do in student organizations. Meetings may seem easy, but it takes soft skills and effectual techniques to lead meetings that matter—meetings that teach, meetings that accomplish things, and meetings that are meaningful. Although student organizations themselves at the middle level do not inherently possess a lot of power and authority, they are very important in facilitating a learning environment that’s relatively low risk for our young grasshoppers.
I believe the best way to learn something is to do it. Middle level is the time for students to begin planning and holding meetings with adult supervision, but the adult certainly does not need to conduct the meeting. It won’t always go smoothly, but planning and conducting a meeting are the best methods to actually teach our students these skills. Still, there are things we can do to give our students the skills they need to jump in and run a meeting effectively.
Show Them the ‘Why’
An interesting exercise I find effective is to give your group an objective to accomplish. Give them a time limit and no other instructions. Then just stand back and observe. They will soon find out that without a procedure or direction, their meeting will end up in a tangled mess. What an eye-opener! Once students understand the “why” behind the process, everything will begin to fall into place.
Attend a Workshop
Workshops offer invaluable opportunities for our students to learn and practice many skills. Your leadership team begins to merge and gel into a team that works together to make your organization successful. A summer workshop can teach lessons in meeting skills (among many other things).
In workshops that I conduct, students are divided into groups that, for the duration of the workshop, run their group just like a student organization at school. They elect officers, appoint committees, and tend to the business of student activities. In general sessions, we talk about and demonstrate the skills needed to run their meetings. Then, the students split up into their respective workshop groups and practice those skills and concepts. It’s role-playing at its finest, and students are able to participate in a true organization meeting environment for an authentic experience.
Review Basic Parliamentary Procedure
If you are new to advising a student organization, parliamentary procedure—affectionately known as “parli-pro” at the middle level—can seem daunting. Unless you yourself had experience in using it as a student (or an adult), it seems confusing and maybe even overwhelming. However, the purpose is to set the norms for the group so that business can be conducted quickly and efficiently. Adhering to a basic set of rules allows participants an opportunity to brainstorm, submit, and develop ideas, and converse systematically—even if conflict arises.
Parliamentary procedures at the middle level need not be strict and formal. In fact, for younger people, a relaxed version helps students develop these skills in a nonthreatening way. Later school years can be a time to focus on vernacular; laying a foundation for the procedure is what is important now. Feel free to adapt the procedure to fit the needs and tone of your group. If that makes you feel uneasy, you can explain that you are working on basic procedure and students can expect to take a deeper dive later on.
Prepare an Agenda
The basic documents for meetings are important as well. An agenda, minutes, and reports are all part of a well-organized package. First and foremost, always prepare an agenda and stick to it. The agenda serves as the outline for the meeting and gives your officers a structure they can rely on.
The agenda can be as loose or detailed as you prefer. I prefer a more detailed agenda so that it can be referred back to as the minutes are taken and prepared. It can also serve as a report to students’ constituents and to administration and staff. Members can take it with them and use it to give their report to their class or member organization.
Follow a Script
For the first meeting of the year, I often use the agenda prepared by students to develop a script so that they can practice parliamentary procedure in the correct order and without omitting important points. This gives students the model they need that is uniform and correct and stresses the need for accuracy in their delivery. I like to make sure that their agenda includes all the official reports and an actual decision of some type that the group can discuss and vote on.
Evaluate and Reflect
Once the meeting is over, be sure students participate in reflection and evaluation. One of my favorite ways to evaluate with students is to have each student say one thing they liked about the meeting and one thing they think could be improved. It’s important that everyone gives their reflection.
The important thing to remember is to show enthusiasm and passion for teaching and learning meeting skills. Again, you do not need to be staunchly formal, but simply stress the need for a procedure that is civically inclusive and fair. Students will take the reins that you give them and practice the skills that will continue to grow as they themselves develop as effective leaders.
Lisa Gilbert is the adviser of the Irons Middle School student council in Lubbock, TX. She is a leadership consultant for Texas Association of Student Councils’ middle level workshops and was recently named Region 8 Adviser of the Year.
Check out the Adviser Resource Center at www.njhs.us/arc for more tips on planning meetings, found under “Working With Members & Officers.”