Some helpful hints on effective meetings
Running a school council meeting can be as formal or as informal as your council decides, but even informal meetings require some ground rules to help people work together and reach good decisions. A set of operating bylaws will help your council work effectively. Your council will have to make many decisions. Deciding how decisions will be made is the first order of business for a new school council. There are two basic ways of making decisions: the less formal way is by reaching consensus; the more formal way is by voting (e.g., following Robert’s Rules of Order). Each process is described below.
In trying to reach consensus, members have to put much effort into trying to find alternatives to which everyone can agree. Because everyone helps reach, and must agree to, the final decision, all members have the chance to influence and understand the decision. As a result, the final decision may be reached with less conflict than with a formal vote
and should receive everyone’s support.
One caution: the chair should ensure that everyone is heard equally and that quieter or less assertive members are not overshadowed by more vocal or assertive members. Consensus: gives all council members an effective voice in decisions; builds on differing perspectives and values; allows for flexibility in arriving at solutions; can result in better-informed, more creative, balanced, and enduring decisions; ensures that final decisions have the support of
everyone, thus promoting a sense of commitment to and ownership of the decisions; creates a sense of common purpose; allows all council members to maintain the integrity of their personal values while agreeing to a new solution.
The following are the basic steps to take to arrive at consensus:
- Identify the issue or problem.
- Relate the issue to goals.
- List the alternatives or solutions.
- Explore and weigh the solutions in terms of meeting agreed-on goals.
- Choose the solution that best meets the goals.
- Plan to implement the solution.
- Arriving at a decision that everyone can support requires time, a clear process, skill, and the full participation of all members.
Here are some suggested phrases for the chair to use as council members try to reach consensus:
- Let’s begin by getting a reaction from everyone in the group.
- Let me summarize what I hear you saying.
- Let me repeat what I think I heard you say.
- Let me ask you. . . .
- Has everyone had the opportunity to express an opinion?
- Let me see if I can pull together a recommendation.
- Is anyone uncomfortable with this recommendation?
- Let’s take five minutes to re-evaluate our positions and prepare statements to share with others.
- Do you want to table this question and discuss it again at the next meeting?
Once a decision is reached by consensus, your council may choose to formalize it through a motion.
The result of the vote should be unanimous. Consensus takes time, commitment, patience, and persistence. As a process, it will strengthen your team by building trust, valuing the diversity of opinions, and energizing and involving all members as equal participants.
Decisions by consensus that are null and void
Any decisions that contradict provincial laws and regulations, local policy, or school council bylaws are out of order and invalid.
Decisions reached by voting often expedite the business of a meeting as they usually take less time to reach.
If your council chooses to reach decisions by majority vote, everyone on the council should be well informed, and the council as a group should discuss all of the implications before a vote is called by the chair. If your council decides to make decisions by majority vote formally, some simple rules of order can be followed. The following simplified rules of order may be useful:
Making a motion
- An individual must be recognized by the chair before “obtaining the floor” to make a motion. This means that the chair must let a person know that it is his or her turn before that person can speak to the council and formally propose a course of action.
- Once an individual has the floor, he or she may make a formal proposal, or motion, beginning with the statement “I move that . . . ”.
- Before the motion can be considered, another individual must second the motion by saying “I second the motion”. This does not necessarily indicate that he or she agrees with the proposal, only that he or she believes that it is worthy of discussion.
- Once a motion has been made and seconded, the chair restates the motion (“states the question”) so that everyone clearly understands what is being proposed. From this point on, until the motion is voted on, all discussion must focus solely on the question.
- If members of the group wish to discuss the motion, the chair opens debate. Each participant may speak to the question twice, but no one may speak a second time until everyone has had the chance to speak once.
- If no one wants to speak further to the issue, the chair may ask the council if it is ready for “the question” (ready to vote on the proposal). The chair then repeats the motion and conducts the vote by asking for those in favour and those opposed. (The vote may be conducted by a show of hands, by standing, or by secret ballot.)
- The majority needed to pass a motion should be stated in the school council bylaws. In case of a tie, the motion is defeated.
Amending a motion
Until the chair states the question (repeats the motion) for a final vote, the person who made the motion may change it, although the original seconder may wish to withdraw, requiring another seconder. Once the question has been stated, however, the motion can be amended in one of the following ways:
1. The person making the motion may ask to change the original wording. The chair will ask if anyone objects. If no one objects, the wording of the motion is changed. Debate continues on the motion as amended.
2. If someone does object, the question of whether to allow a change in the wording of the motion is put to a vote. If the group consents to the change, debate continues on the motion as amended.
3. Someone else may move to amend the motion by saying, “I move to amend the motion by.. . ”. If so, the normal process for a motion, as outlined above in the “Making a Motion” section, is followed.
4. An amendment to the amendment may also be proposed, but a third amendment is out of order.
5. If the amendment has been defeated, discussion returns to the original motion.
Withdrawing a motion
1. At any time before a vote, the person making the original motion may ask to withdraw it. The motion to withdraw does not require a seconder. Once the question is withdrawn, it is as if it never existed.
2. If the chair has already stated the question and a request to withdraw the motion is made, the chair asks if there is any objection. If there is none, the motion is withdrawn.
If someone objects, the request to withdraw the motion is
put to a vote.
Tabling a motion
A motion to table a motion means to set it aside for discussion at another time so that more pressing business can be discussed or more information about the issues can be obtained. The following rules apply to tabling a motion:
- The motion to table a motion takes precedence over the discussion of the motion.
- The motion to table a motion requires a seconder.
- There can be no debate on a motion to table.
Motions that are null and void
Any motions that contradict provincial laws and regulations, local policy, or school council bylaws are out of order and invalid, even if voted on and passed by a majority vote.
Effective Meeting Strategies
You will know that a council meeting has been effective when all participants feel that:
- the meeting had a purpose
- they have a sense of accomplishment; they contributed to the discussion
- they were valued by others; creative ideas, alternatives, or solutions were generated
- they were able to share different points of view; they are committed to the decisions made and the actions taken
- they are willing to work together again.
School councils should have the opportunity to fully discuss every agenda issue. Generally speaking, the chair is responsible for facilitating this process. Meetings are most successful and productive when council members listen and present their ideas effectively. The key to understanding is listening to and really hearing what others are saying. A major barrier to effective communication is a tendency to evaluate without listening first to what others have to say. The following will help you listen to and really understand what others are saying: Give your full attention to the speaker. Think about what the speaker is saying and take notes, if you find that helpful Ask questions or paraphrase to clarify meaning (e.g., “Do you mean . . . ?”, “What I hear you saying is . . .”, “Let me see if I understand what you are saying . . .”). Council members should make every effort to present and convey information, opinions, and feelings clearly and succinctly. Doing so will promote good communication within the council. The following will help you present your point of view clearly: Think about what you want to say.
Jot down key points. Avoid using jargon that others may not understand. Ask for feedback to ensure that everyone understands your position. The next three sections provide some suggestions to help the chair/co-chairs facilitate meetings. The techniques presented can be used to help participants express their views and solve problems.
Methods for Stimulating Discussion
Chair initiation. The chair invites a wide range of people to speak, and all who wish to speak are given the opportunity, with time limits given to each speaker.
Pairing. People are randomly paired off to discuss an issue and then report back to the group.
Table-go-round. The chair invites each person around the table, in order, to speak to an issue (if he or she chooses), with a time limit given for each speaker.
Absolute quiet. School council members are given a specific amount of time to think, read, or make notes relating to the issue being discussed.
Methods for Generating Ideas
Brainstorming. The following ground rules help brainstorming become an effective problem-solving tool:
Work with the whole council. Ensure that everyone is clear on the issue to be brainstormed. Invite ideas from council members, recording them on a chalkboard or flipchart. Accept all ideas without either positive or negative comment. Encourage quantity, not quality – the more ideas the better. Modify and combine ideas.
Finally, ask school council members to rank the ideas they feel are the best.
Round table. This process is similar to brainstorming, but with the group subdivided into small groups of four to six people. Give each group a time limit.
Record all ideas on flipcharts and report back to the main group after the time limit has been reached.
Brain writing. This is similar to a round table, but with more individual participation. Give index cards to each group and ask each group member to write down one idea on each card. The cards are then exchanged and new ideas or comments are added by other members of the group. A facilitator summarizes and groups the ideas and comments.
Methods for Facilitating Decision Making and Priority Setting
After ideas have been generated by one of the methods described above, the following strategies can be used to help the council make decisions and set priorities:
Pro/con analysis. In this process, participants develop possible solutions for an important issue that needs to be resolved, and focus on the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives developed. It is best that members complete this process before a motion is put forward and the issue is voted on or before members try to reach a decision by consensus.
Voting. After all ideas have been listed, each member votes on what he or she considers the three or four best ideas by putting a coloured sticker or a coloured check mark beside the ideas he or she thinks are best. The number of stickers or check marks beside each idea will determine the ranking (i.e., the idea with the most stickers beside it is first, etc.). The recorder then lists the ideas in the order of their ranking.
Value voting. This method is useful for obtaining feedback when time is limited. The chair/co-chairs task each member to take a position on each idea (e.g., strongly agree, agree, or strongly disagree). Each position category is then tallied to arrive at a direction, rather than a decision.
Multi-voting. This variation of brainstorming allows the group to narrow down the number of ideas presented.
After brainstorming, the ideas are numbered and similar ideas are combined. Each member then writes down the numbers of those that he or she feels should be discussed. No more than one-quarter of the ideas on the master list should be chosen. After getting feedback from members, those ideas in which few were interested are eliminated and the remaining ideas are kept for further discussion.