Don't Skip Celebrations When Beginning Any Team Meeting!

When first introducing the collaborative team meeting as a structure in our school (long before we know it would become an essential component of something to be later named Collaborative Response), we knew it would be important to start the collaborative conversation about students on a positive note. Taking a few minutes to celebrate our students would not only reinforce a strengths-based approach when focusing on our students, but also provide a verbal “pat on the back” for the team when recognizing what are the successes happening for our students. It also frequently focused on our highest-need students, which really helped to reinforce we are making progress!

The first five minutes of the collaborative team meeting often sounded like this:

Kurtis – “Alright, any students to celebrate since the last time we met?”
Team Member A – “I would really like to celebrate the grade three’s. They’ve all made such progress in their reading!”
Kurtis – “That’s awesome! So great to see, as we were certainly concerned about progress being made a few months ago. Great job team! Any other celebrations?”

Although potentially uplifting, this response to celebrations lacks two considerations that can really have tremendous impact:

  1. Identify individuals or small groups of students – although it may feel uplifting to recognize the group’s progress, it does not ensure team members are looking for individual growth and improvement, which is essential for the second consideration. Responding with “That’s great! Is there any one student that has really shown significant growth or has stood out in their improvement?” leads to a teacher not only needing to reflect on individual progress, but also seeking explicit evidence for substantial gains.
  2. Identify what specific practices led to that success – this next step is absolutely critical for connecting student success to our specific practices or actions. When a student celebration is identified, responding with “That’s great! What do you think you or we did that led to that success?” helps to articulate the specific practices we are engaging in that are potentially leading to those student gains.

This does two things. First, it helps us to potentially articulate effective supports that are making a difference for students, that could be considered when discussing subsequent students (a conversation that works to add potential ideas to everyone’s instructional toolbox). I have observed a principal ensure that post-it note pads were available on the table when in a collaborative team meeting. When a successful support or practice was identified, the team ensured someone wrote it down on a post-it, to be collected at the end and then added to the school’s continuum of supports.

Secondly, it helps to reinforce what we explicitly do is making an impact for students. This practice, over time, can help to reinforce and grow the collective efficacy of the team, the reinforced belief that we can make a difference for students.

As you can see in the example of a collaborative team meeting agenda and notes template below, having a portion of the agenda that is specifically designed to note a student celebration and what we did that led to that success really helps to reinforce the process we are trying to following when initiating this team meeting.

However, we have discovered that beginning with celebrations is not only critical to the success of the collaborative team meeting - it has a tremendous impact on the success of ANY team meeting. Whether conducting one of the four layers of meeting essential within any school, or team meetings in other industries, identifying celebrations and then asking what we did individually or collectively that led to that success is a powerful process. In our own Jigsaw Learning organization, we have adopted that process for many of our team meetings when discussing the support we are providing schools and school districts. When a team member shares "I've really seen some positive growth happening in a current division I'm working with", not only do we ask for specifics regarding which division in particular, we then ask the team member what they did that led to that growth they are observing. It promotes reflection, understanding that what we are doing is contributing to that success, and shares potential strategies and efforts that could spark ideas for others in the room. Essentially, it voices ideas that could be considerations for others. When consistently repeated over time, this is a powerful process that continues to build the strength of the overall team.

In your next team meeting, give it a try! Start by taking a few minutes to voice the specific celebrations that are being experienced, but then being explicit to tease out the actions and efforts that led to that particular success. I would love to hear how it works for you (email me comments at kurtis.hewson(at)

Join the discussion in the Facebook Group The Collaborative Leader! It's a great place to engage with other leaders trying enhance the collaborative structures, processes and efforts in their organization

Related Content

  • The Psychology Behind Collaborative Team Meetings - In this episode of the Leading Collaborative Response Podcast, Kurtis addresses the contradictory statement "support the student by not focusing on them during the collaborative team meeting" as well as a number of collaborative structures and processes that are implemented intentionally to create psychological safety for staff as they build their collective efficacy.
  • Focus on Pre-Meeting Organizers - this blog post shares how a pre-meeting organizer can include a space for identifying a student celebration and what led to that success, and how engaging in that reflection before a collaborative team meeting can have a tremendous impact of the success of the meeting.

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Author: Kurtis Hewson