After the state of Texas relaxed Open Meetings Act (OMA) rules for local governments, school boards joined the ranks of companies, classrooms, and even medical and mental health providers that are finding new ways to connect and get things done with remote meeting technology.
Here are some expert guidelines for great virtual meetings that are effective, secure, and let you come away with what you need.
Finding the right technology
As leaders, your main focus is to make sure that you’re meeting the needs of the community and the requirements of the law, and getting business done.
“What about the technology?” is often the first thing people ask.
Expect it to generate a lot of strong opinions. You’ll hear Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, and more.
There’s not a right or wrong tool. There will, however, be a tool that’s a best fit for your board and your community. This best fit will depend on the technology and expertise you have in place in your district now, how solidly you need it to perform for your purpose, and what you need to do with the results when the live meeting is over.
To get this going fast, pause, take a breath, and get guidance.
Let your superintendent and staff reach out to a technology partner with daily experience in remote tools. That person can help you choose the most effective tool. Remote meetings technology for school board meetings needs to meet your board’s needs, community needs, and the legal requirements for the types of meetings you might hold.
- Open meetings need to be widely accessible and support many attendees.
- Closed meetings need to be secure, with access limited to authorized participants. Consider using a tool that allows for password protection.
Those situations require special settings in the technology. The good news is, the most robust remote meeting tools are flexible enough to support those requirements.
Starting the meeting
Use these start-up guidelines to help conduct meetings that are technically, ethically, and legally sound. These guides can also make the event pleasant to attend!
A tech moderator will get things going before the meeting is officially called to order. As the meeting leader, the board president can open with TASB’s sample script for suspended OMA meeting rules for remote meetings (pdf).
During the meeting the tech moderator can help attendees remember to do things like mute their microphones.
Record the session, unless there is a legal reason not to. Things go fast online, and there will be more distractions online than in person. It’s easy to miss something that will be important later.
Here is how the dance between meeting leader and tech moderator will go.
The tech moderator can be anyone who has practiced a bit to help things run smoothly.
- Build in 10 minutes to get the technology up and running.
- Share the basic etiquette “ground rules.” (You’ll find these in the next section.)
- Tell everyone when you are about to record, and that they may leave the session if they don’t want to be recorded.
- Start the recording.
- Be prepared to manually mute the microphones of participants, if needed.
It’s critical that these steps are handled before the call to order, so that the recording captures all necessary requirements to meet rules and regulations.
You will shine in your usual role with your tech moderator working in the background. Treat this event with the same gravity that you would an in-person meeting, sprinkled with some good humor and a willingness to pause for a moment when people or technology hand you a surprise.
To meet your specific requirements:
- Read aloud TASB’s sample script for suspended OMA meeting rules for remote meetings (pdf).
- Begin and conduct the meeting applying the usual rules of order.
For public meetings you’ll need to support both your board and your community attendees. Your tech partner will help you choose and select the best settings and describe to public attendees how to participate using the particular technology your district employs.
Public comments and statements can be supported using:
- Video and voice interaction
- Voice-only interaction
- Built-in technology “comment” features
A quick strategy session with your board, someone from TASB, and your tech partner can get you up to speed on the settings and clear on the ground rules your district has for participants. Doing this groundwork can help your district make wide participation possible and enjoyable and meet all the requirements.
During the meeting: Simple ground rules and etiquette
Here are some basic ground rules to heed and to share during your meeting.
- Turn off all other technology.
- Other programs that are open and running can interfere with tech quality and performance during the meeting.
- It’s easy to lose attention and take a quick look at Facebook or email when at a distance. Eliminate the distractions.
- Keep your video on.
- It’s easier to keep everyone’s attention with live faces on the screen.
- Video-on helps keep everyone accountable for their attention and decorum.
- Mute your microphone, unmute to talk, and then mute again.
- The technology can amplify background noises and even override voices.
- Take turns speaking.
- The technology can cancel out two or more voices at once.
- State your name each time you speak. “This is ….”
- Take your own notes, throughout.
- The discipline of note taking keeps the hands and the mind focused on the task instead of other things.
- Fully step away if you have to go to the bathroom.
- More than one meeting attendee has been the unfortunate broadcaster of things best kept to oneself.
- When something goes wrong, take a breath and let the tech moderator give prompts.
- Even the best technology sometimes goes wrong.
- Even the most skilled remote participants make mistakes.
- Be kind. Next time it might be you.
Bringing it together
After starting with a technology partner, the most important step for great virtual meetings is to have a dry run or two before the big day. Even though OMA laws have been relaxed, they are not gone. Make sure your board does not violate them while testing out your tech.
This dry run, or dress rehearsal, lets you:
- Identify any tool settings that might need adjusting
- Give the tech moderator and attendees a chance to practice
- Avoid sweating the small stuff when you go live with the real meeting
Now go find your partners and move forward with the confidence that virtual meetings happen every day, in the highest circles of corporate, government, and public and private leadership. As you enter this world, you may just discover new skills and ways to serve your communities in the future!
TASB remote meetings resources
TASB is developing additional resources to help you. If you have questions about the legal implications of any COVID-19-related issues your district is facing, or any other legal questions your district has, contact TASB Legal Services at email@example.com or 800.580.5345.
If you have ideas about how TASB can help your board, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guest article by Laura Faulkner, PhD
Head of research at a Texas-based high-tech company.
Other COVID-19 resources for school district leadership
Get more information on how school districts can respond to the coronavirus outbreak on our COVID-19 Resources page.