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Advisory Advice

Most of my Head for the Edge columns, updated and edited, can be found in my latest book. Buy it and I might be able to afford a nicer nursing home one day. Thank you.

Advisory Advice
Head for the Edge, October 1997

No, this month’s column is not sponsored by the Department of Redundancy Department. I am advising you to form an advisory committee if you don’t already have one.

Such a group can be a great help for the media specialist or technology coordinator at either the building or the district level. My advisory committees have given me terrific ideas, huge challenges, and timely warnings over the years. The first group I formed was just a few teachers and a couple of parents from the high school where I was the media specialist. For a little wine and cheese, these wise folks would leave their families and far more interesting activities to come to my house and talk about libraries and computers and how adolescents learn best. We hammered out an articulated vision of what a media program should do. They helped me set my professional goals, and then listened when I reported my trials and triumphs. It was the best deal I ever made. My advisory committees have become larger and more formal since that time, but they still serve very much the same purpose: to help me make better decisions.

After having been served by and served on a number of these groups, I offer some advisory advice:

1) Keep your group small. Any committee much larger than a dozen is difficult to get together and difficult to bring to consensus. If you need a much larger representation, keep your full meetings few and do most of your work in sub-committees.

2) Work for a wide representation of stake holders who serve limited terms. My current committee is comprised of teachers, students, board members and administrators, of course. But parents, business people, a multi-type library representative, and post-secondary educators also serve. Our computer coordinator and network manager are permanent members. Next year I would like to add a representative from community education. As our schools work to become more of a whole community asset, this person will be important. We don’t have a set selection process for membership, but no one serves for more than 3 years.

Remember when selecting your members, that communication is a two-way street. What your representatives learn at your meetings will be taken back and shared with that person’s colleagues. Great public relations.

3) Have few, but important, meetings. Advisory committees only need to meet 3 to 4 time a year. A fall meeting is a good time to establish working subcommittees and refine the year’s goals. One or two meetings to work on budget or policy issues in the winter and a final spring meeting to review the year’s work and set objectives for the coming school year are usually enough. Setting our meeting dates for the year at our first meeting makes them a priority for many members. Take attendance, and include who is there in your minutes.

There are several guides to running effective meetings on the market. Buy one and read it. Your committee will thank you, and it beats trying to remember Roberts Rules of Order.

4) Send out good agendas and write clear, concise minutes which are quickly distributed. If members see agenda items which they think are important (how the budget to be divided up this year, for example), they’ll be more likely to attend. All my advisory group members use e-mail and we rarely send hard copies of anything through the mail. I e-mail myself a copy of all agendas and minutes for easy filing and retrieval.

5) Finally, give your group well-defined responsibilities. A committee should not be making your professional decisions for you, but it should have the power to shape the direction of the media/technology program. And well it should, since these folks, as well as you, will be held responsible for the program’s weaknesses as well as its strengths. My advisory committee works on:

  • long range planning and goals
  • setting my department’s yearly objectives
  • creating budgeting formulas and procedures, and reviewing building technology plans
  • policy making

And that’s about all the work we can do.

Ours can be a professionally lonely profession. In all but the largest schools, there is rarely more than a single media specialist or tech coordinator. We are outnumbered by kindergarten teachers, custodians, coaches, special education aides, and administrators. An advisory committee is one way of giving ownership of the media technology program to a body of stake holders in the building. If the goals, the budget, the assessments, the long range plan are known to be important to more than just a single person, when they are presented to decision-makers they will carry more weight. And if your advisory group includes parents, community members and students, it will be seen as a very important body indeed.


Posted on Wednesday, July 4, 2007 at 11:18AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

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