6 Protocols To Help You Run Better Meetings

One of the most effective strategies to run better meetings and development sessions is to establish a set of protocols at the start. These working working norms should be discussed and shared before you begin and even used to help you debrief.

We have all probably experienced these in some form or another – no technology, come with an open mind, somebody to take minutes. The usual stuff – here I present a range of alternative protocols I know work from years of application.

Collective Responsibility

Use this protocol to encourage everyone to step up

Although one person may have convened a session or be running the meeting it is always beneficial to discuss how every participant can contribute. I often couple this with a Step Up Step Back protocol – which emphasises the need for everyone to contribute. Participants are not attending to simply warm the seats. Sessions are more effective when there is a shared and collective responsibility to work successfully together and not just be on the shoulders of one person.

Approve or Improve

Use this protocol to improve giving feedback

Develop the expectation that feedback is done under the protocol of approving an idea or helping to improve and develop it further. Feedback should not be so the giver has air time. Critique should help move an idea forward.

Hold your Ideas Lightly

Use this protocol to improve receiving feedback

How we receive feedback is probably more important than how we give it. To help you when inviting feedback think about Holding Your Ideas Lightly so that others can offer critique. Avoid clutching your idea so tightly that others can’t help. Effective feedback needs an open disposition

W.A.I.T – Why Am I Talking?

Use this protocol to develop meta-cognition

Before you contribute take some moments to pause and reflect on why you are contributing. Get into the habit of asking some simple questions: What is my intention behind what I am about to say? Is there a question I could ask that would help me better understand what the other person is saying and perceiving? How might I simply listen and let go of my urge to talk in this moment?

Write stuff down and create artifacts

Use this protocol to make your thinking visible

Such a simple protocol and something that is often overlooked as everyone starts up their laptops as they settle into the session. Make room for materials in the middle of the table and describe how making your thinking more visible and tangible will aid development. Use index cards or post-it notes to scribe ideas and jot down themes from discussions. Get into the habit as a team of writing stuff down.

Talk about the Talking

Use this protocol to better transition into the meeting

All too often we jump headlong into the agenda. With no intentional transition we are often left reeling with our mind still caught up with the work you just left or from the meeting you have just walked out of. By making time to deliberately Talk About the Talking you address the change and shift in pace and allow participants time to settle in. As a team gets into the habit of exploring what the work will require of us, will it be creative or analytical thinking? Will we be unpacking something or exploring new concepts? Taking a few moments to prime everyone and transition well invariably leads to a better meeting.

Protocols are expectations that you make explicit and that shape and guide the experience you have with others. Over time and with consistency these expectations become common practice and a normal part of your successful meetings.

These five ideas are an extension to the core protocols that I have been using for years – let me know what protocols and structures work for you.

from The Curious Creative


Closest to the Synapse Wins! – More thoughts on proxies for learning

I had the opportunity to work with a primary school leadership team in Sydney today. The team at St Christopher’s in Panania are a partner school of mine and I support in a critical friend type role.

We spent some time today exploring the concepts associated with “proxies for learning” using my recent blog post about it as a starting point.

In short the concept of a proxy is that we focus on a representation of learning – we are not looking at learning itself.

Again the discussion centred on the idea of creating better proxies and what the limits are. We had a range of questions that helped to explore this topic:

  • How might we design better proxies for learning?
  • Can we describe the proxies we have been using in our own practice?
  • If we were observing learning taking place what would we actually be looking at?
  • How might we design a proxy that is closest to the location of learning?
  • What is the evidence of learning?
  • Is this evidence of performance or learning?
  • How might we recognise when learning is taking place?

An interesting challenge to me from the team was that an example I used to explain a proxy was in fact a proxy. I have heard myself say something like “We might only look at learning if we could scan the brain or have a mobile MRI or CT scanner.”

But of course the results of such scans are just proxies for the real thing. Peeling back the skull and directly observing the neuro-chemical process is the truth. Everything else is a proxy.

So when we consider that everything we do is a proxy for learning at a neuro-chemical level, we must shift our energy to the quality of the proxy.

You might also describe it in terms of the fidelity of the proxy – the quality , authenticity and standard of the representation of learning.

My friend Chris also suggested that self reflection and a learner’s self proclamation is the highest standard:


But I am not sure if greater proximity to a synapse is best? There seems to be lots of bias associated with the self-assessment of learning.

David Didau offers a reminder about the complexity of learning and a list of ideas for better proxies:

Obviously, we don’t really know how, when or why learning happens, but we do have some guides about what might make it more or less likely.

So, here I tentatively offer a list of other possible ‘good proxies’ for learning which may help teachers plan and look for opportunities to increase students’ mastery of curriculum content.

Learning may happen when students:

  • concentrate on relevant examples and non-examples

  • retrieve what they have been taught in previous lessons

  • apply concepts to new examples

  • engage in practice drills (which may involve repetition or formulas and procedures)

  • answer questions without cues or prompts

What do you think about this list? What do you consider a high quality, high fidelity or just a good proxy?

This exploration has also led me to wonder more and more about retrieval over time. Sometimes learning might not occur in the timeframe we expect it to and only after a shift in time. More to ponder.


Photo by Hannah Tasker on Unsplash

from The Curious Creative

Problem Framing

When you are participating in a Design Thinking process a crucial phase is the time when your team begins to define the problem you are attempting to solve.

This method outlined by Design Kit refers to framing the problem and is a powerful process you can use to increase the quality of the problem statements you are generating.

You may already know that once we have defined the problem we move into generating ideas. This is a critical transition and one we all have a tendency to rush.

We all enjoy the energy lift and change of pace of generating and developing ideas. In fact many teams can’t help themselves and skip over the definition of the problem too quickly.

So the issue is often that we bounce too quickly onto ideation and we do not spend long enough in the problem state. Then we are left with ill defined problems – too broad, too narrow, not worthwhile, are all characteristics you might look out for when reviewing your  problem statements.

The framing and re-framing process forces us to loop back into the process of defining the problem a little longer. It slows us a little and checks our enthusiasm to rush ahead and ensures we have carefully crafted our problem statement and it is an accurate reflection of a worthwhile issue.

I have adapted some of the Design Kit steps below and have a HMW Framing template you can //static.leadpages.net/leadboxes/current/embed.js download here (just sign up to my newsletter to gain access)

  1. Describe the problem or issue
  2. List the stakeholders
  3. Re-frame the issue as a How Might We statement
  4. Describe the impact you are attempting to have.
  5. Why needs your help the most?
  6. What are some possible solutions to your problem?
  7. Describe the context and constraints you have to your future ideas.
  8. Re-write a different version of your original HMW statement.

Download the template //static.leadpages.net/leadboxes/current/embed.js here.

A clearly focused problem statement invariably yields both greater quantity and higher quality solutions (Stanford d.school, 2011)

//static.leadpages.net/leadboxes/current/embed.js //


Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

from The Curious Creative

Blessed by the suns of home

I am not with my son anymore. The last time I was here in Sydney I was with George. It was the final few weeks of his time in Year 6, last year, and I brought him on a work trip.

We had some great father-son time together and he got out into the world!

This is my first trip of 2018, I have been working in Melbourne over the last few weeks so that I could be around, as he settles into a new pattern of life and learning at high school. More on that in future posts.

It is always tough being away from home. Travelling for work has no silver lining.

The only sliver of a glint of a glimpse of such decadent lining is in the relationships and friendships I have with the people I work with in Sydney. Friends and colleagues who make me welcome and who know my family are not far from my thoughts.

It is no real surprise that relationships are at the centre of so much great learning in our schools. It is the very same for my work. I have been working with schools in Sydney, and especially in the Catholic Diocese, in different ways for nearly 6 or 7 years.

Long standing partnerships and friendships are the foundations for my work.

How is your work different when you are collaborating with colleagues and friends you have known for a long time?

How does familiarity breed higher quality?


Photo by Daniel Jacobs on Unsplash

[No I didn’t know where I was going with this blog post either – I just started typing and this is what was in my keyboard]

from The Curious Creative

Are you transfixed by a proxy for learning?

This is an exploration of a few emerging ideas from my work today. During a coaching session I was exploring the idea of the “proxy”.

The word proxy means “agency of one who acts instead of another; letter of power of attorney”. In fact a contraction of procuracie (c. 1300) a word meaning administration or management.

A model I have been using with leadership groups over the last year (blog post on the wau) is the idea of alignment. One part of this is the alignment between the Actual Learning Experience and Learning.

This might also be called the alignment (or difference) between Performance and Learning. David Didau refers to some work by Nicholas C. Soderstrom and Robert A. Bjork,

  • We can only infer learning from performance
  • Performance during instruction is a poor indicator of learning
  • Reducing performance might actually increase learning.

Soderstrom & Bjork (2013)

Many different sources refer to some other work by Professor Robert and the slide below from his presentation What Makes Great Teaching?

The “Curriculum is covered” is one that resonates as I hear that language a great deal. A poor proxy for learning.

There is a lot more to explore and for me to learn about some of these ideas but I enjoyed this insightful take on proxies from Seth Godin in his post Avoiding the False Proxy Trap:

Sometimes, we can’t measure what we need, so we invent a proxy, something that’s much easier to measure and stands in as an approximation.

This helped me get a clear sense of how we might create poor representations or flawed proxies for learning. It also made me think more about assessment and the design of assessment in schools.

Godin concludes by saying:

You’ve already guessed the problem. Once you find the simple proxy and decide to make it go up, there are lots of available tactics that have nothing at all to do with improving the very thing you set out to achieve in the first place. When we fall in love with a proxy, we spend our time improving the proxy instead of focusing on our original (more important) goal instead.

Gaming the system is never the goal. The goal is the goal.

A good provocation to think through if he, for example, is referring to learning. It would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


Photo by Bianca Isofache on Unsplash

from The Curious Creative

How do you create the ideal conditions for dialogue, creativity and feedback?

If you are interested in this you should come along to my session at TeachTechPlay on the 13th April in Melbourne. I will be running a workshop style session exploring some of the different things we can do to positively impact on these topics.

I thought I would share in a little more detail about some of the concepts behind it all.

Creativity Can Be Blocked

One of the most interesting areas to read about is the disposition it takes to be able to be creative.

In this context I refer to creativity as the generation of novel ideas that add value. Much of the time we face a range of blocks that get in the way of this endeavour.

These can often be our own approach and self-censoring, even self-sabotaging. Or the environment around us sometimes has a negative impact through exuberant judgement or too much pace.

During the session we will have a look at the different types of blocks and explore the ideal conditions for ideas to thrive.

Speak up!

Dialogue is no different and it can be a delicate experience, swayed and influenced by dominant voices or even culled by assumptions and an underlying threat.

Of course we can control much of these issues through deliberate protocols and practices. Long term it is about establishing a core set of habits that work for you.

Dialogue is different to discussion, the former being much more akin to building and developing ideas together in a highly supportive environment. Certain conditions will encourage this and some will detract from it.

Feedback, up, down, forward

Getting feedback right has been a focus for thousands of teachers the world over for many years now. And yet we still seem to spend too much time exploring how to give feedback.

Ultimately we might all be expert feedback givers, but unless the recipient is an expert receiver of feedback, and it is done in a supportive and encouraging space – little may change.

In the workshop we will explore practical tools and activities for providing and receiving feedback effectively.

We will pay close attention to how we might design the ideal conditions for feedback conversations to take place and what we might do to ensure it is heard and acted upon in the most positive way.

Imagine each of these – Creativity, Dialogue and Feedback as three little seedlings, each ready to burst forth – we just need to carefully surround them with the ideal conditions to thrive and grow.

Join me on the 13th April in Melbourne for my keynote and workshop at TeachTechPlay.


Photo by Neslihan Gunaydin on Unsplash

from The Curious Creative

Find a Doorway That Fits Us Both

I grew up reading Stephen King and I recently stumbled on some of his advice and tips for writing.

He has authored over 100 books and one piece of wisdom that resonated strongly with me was to write a compelling first line, but not just as advice for writing.

“There are all sorts of theories,” he says, “it’s a tricky thing.” “But there’s one thing” he’s sure about: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”

[From Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers]

Stories are like worlds that we are invited into – they possess their own rules and laws, in the same way games draw you in. Stories are part of play and maybe an instigator of it or an extension.

[Children] negotiate and choose and build together under what seem to be a silent set of rules encoded deep inside them. The social aspect of immersive physical play just feeds the imaginations at work and you see worlds evolve and collapse, characters develop and disappear in quick succession.

[From In A World of Their Own – the features of immersive play]

As King suggests the first line is an invitation. As a teacher this might be the first interaction in a school day, or the opening activity of a period of learning. Crucial moments to draw learners in and engage their curiosity.

But Stephen King also states how important it is for the writer to orientate themselves, as it would be for the teacher – finding places where we can start learning together.

We’ve talked so much about the reader, but you can’t forget that the opening line is important to the writer, too. To the person who’s actually boots-on-the-ground. Because it’s not just the reader’s way in, it’s the writer’s way in also, and you’ve got to find a doorway that fits us both.


from The Curious Creative