Memory As Momentum (Meetings As the Medium)

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We recently spent an afternoon at my father’s childhood home, where my uncle and aunt now live – a place I visited virtually every summer until I was in high school. It was the first time my daughters had been there; the first time they touched the cool, gentle water of the lake, the first steps they took down the dirt trail from the house to the shore, which passes through a dense stand of pine trees and ferns – the dust and shade radiating smells of blueberry and sap, like many woods in the Northwest.

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They have a picture on the refrigerator from the year I turned 7 – just a bit younger than my oldest daughter is now. She and her cousins are now the fifth generation in our family to swim these waters, to watch fledgling hawks practice flying with a watchful parent, to pull blackberry thorns out of the soles of our feet from walking barefoot down to the lake.

Memory is a current that flows through our body as much as our mind (sometimes it feels like a breath of air; sometimes a weight); I can swim in that lake without touching it (and I often have in dreams). I ask the reader to please close your eyes now without reading further (in fact, if you read no more, that will be just fine) and imagine yourself in a place that was special to you as a child – even if it is not a place you have revisited, or that you plan to ever visit again. Why is it so powerful for you? What are the sensations you feel, and why have they stayed with you for so long?

(Of course, we are all bubbling masses of newly fusing synapses – and constantly living the experiences that will shape our own uniquely tinted adult lenses – throughout childhood…)

Visiting Grandma’s lake in the summer was a ritual of my childhood; swimming in the morning (the mist still on the water), afternoon and twilight (the water warmer than the air temperature) all integral parts of that ritual. Shifting our focus to the places we work, we can agree that one ritual in particular is a defining characteristic of our organization, and our experience of it: the meeting. If you are still reading, then I will pose one more question: How can we create meetings that instill (and inspire) deeply formative memories in our organizations?

How can the culture of meetings in our organizations generate a current of energy – a vibrant momentum forward – whose tremors are felt through five generations of workers? Five generations of people who will build upon each other’s efforts, bound across time by a mutual commitment to the purpose of the organization. Five generations of people who will not all know each other, yet will swim the same deep waters and tiptoe the same dusty paths.

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How does your organization’s space support different kinds of meetings – from intimate to public? At RemindHQ.

Let’s first shed our easy conception of what a meeting is (at least at a school): an administrator standing in the front, following a pre-established agenda, and doing most of the talking. I am not suggesting that a meeting following this framework is a bad one necessarily; however, if that is our predominant experience and memory of what meetings are, then we are falling short of the possibilities in play when people bound by a common purpose come together in a place or space.

What kind of momentum forward are we generating when most of the people present sit inert – and often inattentive?

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How would your next staff meeting feel if it were here? At RemindHQ.

Meetings are often maligned, for myriad reasons; not productive, unclear on outcomes, poorly facilitated, too exhausting after a long day of teaching, few opportunities for interaction…Often, teachers enjoy their department/grade level/team meetings (smaller, more agile, a place where you can see the results of your effort, where your input counts, where you experience a sense of family) while struggling to see the value in all-faculty gatherings. In larger schools, with anywhere from 80-120 teachers, it can be challenging to nourish a sense of intimacy, vulnerability, closeness, trust; the notion of common purpose grows vague, a memory we have difficulty recalling (a place we only visited once, briefly).

How does that legacy of disconnectedness affect (dictate) our daily working experience five generations on?

Individually, and in small groups, we can move quickly – or at least move in a way that feels responsive to the ideas and needs of the moment. We’ve found our cadre of like-minded folks that resonate with the same ideas that drive us. Great things can come out of these small, agile teams – but I would have each of those teams ask themselves: How has our work made an impression on the school/organization as a whole? Where is the stage to share it?

We don’t need to meet less – we need to meet more. In different settings and combinations, in varying time signatures (from 10 minutes to all day – or multi-day), facilitated (or hosted) by different people. We need to create new memories in which meetings are places of community building, creative foment and loving struggle. We need to mutually generate a climate where people seek to meet because in not doing so they are falling short of their own potential; they are not feeling the deeper connectedness that can make work a joyful and creative act.

To further expand our notion of what a meeting is, I offer the following ideas (which are also goals of my own for this upcoming year):

Go watch your students practicing after school

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I like these as agreements for any kind of meeting (courtesy of Girls’ JV Basketball, American Canyon HS).

Observe them at their daily meeting. Watch their interactions, their body language. Listen to how they talk to each other, to their coach or drama teacher. What do you see them feeling throughout this experience? What memories are they in the process of making?

Be each others’ fan base – watch each other at work

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If you haven’t observed your colleagues teaching in recent memory, then you are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to learn while building community – personal and professional. The outfielder stands in one spot for the better part of three hours, and 40,000+ people come out to watch. The teacher creates little acts of performance art all day – with rarely an adult presence to bear witness.

The meeting? The coffee you have with that colleague afterwards to talk about it.

Food (and setting)

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A meal is a meeting. Agenda for your next faculty meeting: potluck – and prizes for most original dishes.

Meetings with movement

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How many historic decisions and singular ideas have come about during walks?

Retreat (Training Camp)

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What quality of conversation would this setting inspire, compared to your Faculty Lounge?

When is the last time you gathered with your organization somewhere other than your campus? When everyone inhabits a new physical space far away from their office/classroom, suddenly it becomes easier to be present, engaged and vulnerable. Yes, this does cost money in most cases – yet it represents an investment in helping a staff become a team. If this only happens sporadically (at best), there is no collective memory of it; it feels strange, scary, or even worse – touchy-feely. If it becomes a ritual, however, practiced often, then the feelings are quite different.

The day of your first all-staff gathering approaches. What memories will you draw upon, and generate?

What feelings will the participants hold in their bodies and spirits when the meeting adjourns?

What momentum will carry over into the next day as a result of this gathering?

4 thoughts on “Memory As Momentum (Meetings As the Medium)

  1. Love the layout at Remind, so many ways and areas to meet. I’ve seen the same at Google, Twitter and Facebook. A lot of places to run into people in social settings. Creativity Inc Author and Pixar creator Ed Catmull writes about this when designing Pixar’s new building. My frustration is the inefficiency of meetings, lack of planning, and inability to define a goal. At the same time, in a school setting, how meetings tie into school and staff goals versus feeling like a mandate of what must be done.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing this thought – I think you’ve touched on something really critical! We have to find that middle place between structured and loose, directive and free-form in our meeting practices. I think one element often missing is the broader share-out from the small teams – the accountability to the bigger group, how we are making progress (or not) on shared goals. Cheers!

  2. Hi Eric,
    I like your notion that teachers create “acts of performance art all day”. Multiple opportunities to galvanise once linked – through feedback – to impact on students’ learning. Shared conversations around that synergy, as you emphasise, have potential to forge powerful memories.
    Distinctions drawn between team/department vs. campus meetings are sadly accurate (energy seems to dissipate – perceived lack of autonomy?).
    Then the provocation to seize the stage makes me wonder about scaling cultural practices of the team…
    Engineering flow of learning for the ecosystem?
    Thanks for this illumination of practices 🙂
    Sam

    1. Sam – I enjoy your responses/insights as much as the I do the process of composing these posts. The image you conjure of an ecosystem is the correct one – all of us interconnected (actions, attitudes). Perhaps that is the framework we begin with when establishing/augmenting our meeting rituals: what part do we each play in creating something self-sustaining? Cheers, Sam!

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