Death by Committee
One of the reasons people hesitate to volunteer for committees is that they are afraid they’ll become “lifers.” If you’ve been involved in schools for any length of time, you know that some committees never seem to accomplish anything. They meet every few weeks, attendance varies, the goal isn’t clear, there are turf issues, people jockey for position – in short, it’s more fun to have plaque removed from your teeth. These kinds of committees are often called “standing” committees, and that’s a good name for them because that’s what they do: stand.
There are, however, ways to avoid death by committee. Some administrators have had success by announcing up front the problem the committee is to address and the number of meetings that will be scheduled. At the end of that time, the group will decide whether to continue or not.
It’s best to state the problem in a question and limit the scope. “What can we do to improve nutrition in the cafeteria?” is a death by committee question. “How can we limit or improve snacks that kids buy after lunch?” is not.
A hard and fast committee rule is the work expands to fill the time. If committee members realize that they will only meet 4 times, they are less likely to waste time on extraneous chatter or unrelated topics. Also, the chair of the committee must begin on time and end on time. If committee members ask for 5 or 10 minutes more, that’s fine – but it’s at the committee’s request.
Time in schools is a precious commodity. Not only do teachers have other professional obligations, but they have personal ones as well. Committee work after school may require that the teachers’ kids spend more time at after-school care at additional cost, for example. Teachers with personal obligations are unlikely to want to volunteer for committee work even if they’re interested in the topic, leaving you with the usual suspects for every committee. However, by setting time limits and sticking to them, you may entice a broader range of people with more diversity of opinion to participate and even solve some chronic school problems.