July 10th, 2015

A Tool for Keeping Faculty Meetings Collegial

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faculty meeting

If your faculty meetings have turned into what feels like an excerpt from the Hunger Games, we have something that might help. When faculty meetings turn into a great big giant nasty-fest, where the aggressors walk away feeling self-satisfied, while the less fortunate (or non-tenured) walk away licking their wounds, it’s time to be proactive toward building a culture of civility. Without a plan, even the boldest faculty members can be shocked into silence by unexpected comments meant to target and degrade specific individuals. In some departments, passive-aggressiveness rules the day, where personal agendas are hidden within the safety of veiled insults that should not go unanswered.

The reason for the nastiness may very well be due to the fact that higher education fosters a culture where we are consistently needing to prove our worthiness, to the point where we actually start to believe the self-glorifying compositions that we write in our reappointment binders, and tenure and promotion materials. Let’s face it, sometimes we all act like children trying to outdo each other in the playground of life.

When it comes to the good of your department, silence is not golden. It can erode the mission of your department, and can negatively affect the quality of education that your students receive. Speak up for yourself, because the way you let people treat you is how they will treat you. Speak up for others, because it will come back to you in the form of self-respect, as well as in the form of respect from others.

We recognize, from experience, that quick comebacks don’t come easy, and even though you may want to express yourself and voice your concerns, you may not feel as though you have the tools to do so. The Civility Bounce Card might be just the tool to help make your faculty meetings a little bit happier, or at least more collegial.

What is a Bounce Card?

In our book, Total Participation Techniques, we introduce Bounce Cards as a tool to help K-12 students engage in meaningful content-driven conversations. We call them bounce cards, because healthy conversations involve back and forth discussion where you bounce comments and ideas off of what your peers have said. In other words, healthy conversations function as a dialogue rather than a monologue, and bounce cards provide prompts that facilitate that dialogue.

In this piece, we’ve adapted bounce cards to be a tool to help you deal with the incivility that can dominate during faculty meetings. The bounce card is meant to give you something to say when your natural inclination is to remain silent or escalate the situation with an equally snide comment. It can give you time to compose a calm response, and allow the aggressor to either explain any misunderstandings, back off, or claim the nastiness, which will then allow it to be dealt with in the open. Bring bounce cards to faculty meetings, and let them be a conduit for spreading civility and expectations regarding accountability toward what is said. Don’t be embarrassed about needing to pull a card out during a meeting, or about sharing it with faculty as an expectation for civil discussions. And, may the odds be ever in your collective favor.

Sample Civility Bounce Cards

Prompts for clarifying intent, maintaining civility, and defining boundaries during faculty meetings.

Clarifying Intent:

  • “I sense a negative undertone. Please elaborate.”
  • “I sense a note of condescension. Please elaborate.”
  • “I hear you saying that…”
Maintaining Civility:

  • “For the sake of everyone, it’s important that we refrain from personal attacks.”
  • “For the sake of everyone, it’s important that we treat others the way we’d want to be treated.”
  • “For the sake of everyone, it’s important that we choose to be kind.”
Defining Boundaries:

  • “It’s important that we be careful not to overstep our boundaries.”
    • Follow up: “Is it your place to decide or evaluate that?”
  • “Have you discussed that personally with him/her?”
  • “Is this the proper place to discuss that?”

Permission to duplicate or adapt, for personal or departmental use, with credit given to the authors.

 

Drs. Pérsida & William Himmele are associate professors in the Early, Middle, and Exceptional Education Department at Millersville University.