Last week I got an email from a teacher at a school I’d run training at recently (which shall remain nameless). We’d had a great day, the school council had come up with a real range of projects and great ways to communicate with the rest of the school. Unfortunately the email was not to tell me how well the students were getting on, but about the negative reactions from school staff. When minutes from the meeting were sent our staff comments ranged from sarcastic to deeply concerned. The posters the school council had put up explaining what they were working on were even taken down.
The school council co-ordinator asked me for advice. I’m sure she’s not the only one facing these problems, so I thought I would share what I told her with you. There isn’t a quick fix of course, but here are three things I suggest:
1. Explain the role of the school council
Make it clear to staff that the minutes are not what is going to happen, but what the students are taking on. In many cases they share the concerns of the staff and want to work with them to sort them out, that’s why their first step is often to meet with the relevant staff member. It’s not for staff members to give a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but to ask the students what the students will do to make this happen. For example, if students want more trips they should be told they need to organise them. They will need help with this and they won’t have access to the money, but it’s not for the staff member to do all the running, the whole point is getting students to make happen those things they are keen on. Students need to be clear in their own minds and especially in anything they commit to paper on the difference between what they are DOING and what they are ASKING FOR. What they are DOING will happen (with their effort) what they are ASKING FOR may not.
2. Minutes detail students’ plans of action
Ensure that what goes into the minutes is what actions the students will take. This way staff (and others) can see that these are issues of concern to students and that they are doing something about it. It helps where the minutes say more than ‘Meet with Ms X’, but also record what students are intending on suggesting, i.e. how they will help. The ‘school council ideas form‘ should help with this – the last section asks what the person filling it out will do to help – make sure no ideas come to the meeting without something here. Ensure those actions are clearly recorded in the minutes.
3. Attach prep work to the minutes
Something else to consider is the detail of the minutes. If either of the staff members mentioned above had seen the whole discussion they would know that the issues they raised were discussed. I suggest these very brief minutes as I think in general most people don’t read long minutes and it’s difficult for the secretary to take part if they are trying to record everything. However they don’t cover the detail of the discussion. Maybe if the ideas forms or project plans were attached to the minutes it would help those not at the meeting to see the thought that had gone into it without increasing the burden on the secretary.
Do you think these ideas might help in your school? Have you done anything else that has worked?