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Holding chapter meetings

Perhaps the most powerful and dynamic way of two-way communication with a chapter — and also one of the most difficult to perform — is through regularly scheduled chapter meetings. This guide offers you tips on how to run an effective chapter meeting.

How to hold meetings that members want to attend

More and more, unscheduled time during and after the school day is being filled by mandated meetings. Unfortunately, these meetings are often boring and unproductive. Staff members are understandably reluctant to give up time to attend yet another meeting, especially one that is not mandated. Chapter leaders have to be acutely aware of this and plan accordingly. Here are some tips:

Hold a meeting at a time that is most convenient for the members of your chapter. In most schools, that is either before the school day or at lunchtime. Schedule your meetings on a monthly basis — such as the first Wednesday of the month — so that chapter members become accustomed to going to them. Try to plan ahead so that a large number of staff members are not out of the building on the day of your chapter meeting. Try to have the meeting in the same room each time.

Don’t meet at the end of a faculty conference. Although that time is tempting since everyone will be together, it is usually not a good idea. First, if the faculty conference is at the end of the day, members are doubtless tired and eager to leave the building. Second, having one meeting blend into the other confuses the role of the administration and the union and undercuts union identity.

Provide refreshments purchased from your chapter fund. When Napoleon said that an army travels on its stomach, he was onto an eternal truth.This also is an opportunity to involve some chapter members. Have volunteers collect money for the chapter fund and take charge of refreshments.

Announce the meeting in advance. Give sufficient notice so that members can plan to attend, but don’t announce it so far in advance that they will forget; try a one-week notice with a reminder the day before. All members should be aware that a meeting is to take place on the particular date, time and place.

If a chapter member is comfortable creating announcements on a computer or has the ability to use clip-art and press-on letters, he or she can design an attractive announcement; agree to a format so that when members see it, they’ll recognize what it is even before they read the date and time.

Place a copy of the announcement in members’ letterboxes, on the UFT bulletin board and in any other location where members will see it. (Because this will be seen by the administration and, perhaps, parents, exercise discretion about what you put in writing.)

Develop an agenda with the help of your chapter committee. Make it timely and include items of interest and importance to the chapter membership. The agenda should contain a mix of topics that are current in the school as well as in the union. If the agenda is relevant, members will attend; if it is not, they won’t. It is as simple as that.Whether or not you include the agenda on the notice of the meeting is a decision that you and your chapter committee should make.

Invite guest speakers to chapter meetings. From time to time, you might want to have a guest speaker address your chapter. The UFT has all sorts of experts who can speak to issues that are of interest to your members. They include speakers on pension, health and safety, security, grievances, corporal punishment, new teacher licensing, classroom management, the new standards, etc. The topics should be selected based on the needs and interests of your members. Although it is good to add spice by occasionally having guests at your meetings, not every meeting should have an outside speaker. See more about guest speakers who are available to attend chapter meetings »

How to plan for a chapter meeting

Good meetings do not just happen — they must be planned.

Although it is your responsibility as chapter leader to conduct the meeting, you should have help in planning the agenda and in keeping the meeting moving.

This means calling together the members of the chapter committee prior to the meeting to discuss the agenda. (Effective chapter leaders develop a committee composed of a cross-section of the staff to help run the chapter. This group has different names in different schools — chapter committee, consultation committee, executive board etc.).

The chapter leader and chapter committee should discuss issues that are current in the school. They might take a position on a particular issue and formulate a resolution to be presented at the meeting for discussion and vote. Union matters also should be reviewed and discussed in preparation for the meeting (e.g., Circular 6R, C-30 elections, resolutions to be discussed by the Delegate Assembly, negotiations, legislative matters, etc.). If a report is to be given at the meeting, the person giving the report should discuss it with the committee.

Your meeting agenda will evolve from these discussions. The agenda both structures and limits the meeting (the next section describes some important agenda items). Announce the agenda, simple or complex, to the chapter prior to the meeting or at the beginning of the meeting. If done prior to the meeting, it can be included on the notice calling for the meeting. If done at the beginning of the meeting, it can be done in writing or orally. Either way, the chapter members must be aware of the subjects to be discussed so that an orderly meeting can ensue. (Again, exercise discretion about what you put in writing.)

How to establish a format for the meeting

It is wise to have a set format for the meeting. For example, you can open with the approval of minutes from the previous meeting, then move to a report or announcements that you want to make.

This could be followed by a report from others, e.g., the delegate, the school leadership team representative, the treasurer or social committee chair, etc. Reports should be kept as brief as possible.

Then you can turn to the business of the meeting.

There is great value to having people other than the chapter leader speak. It keeps the meeting lively and gets others involved.

The role of the chair at the meeting

Once you have planned the agenda with your committee and sent out a meeting notice, half your work is completed. The actual meeting will run smoothly if you keep in mind these suggestions:

Start the meeting on time. It is important for you to arrive on time and start the meeting on time. The members will respond to the fact that they might miss important information if they are not there when the meeting begins.

Follow the agenda. The chapter members are coming to listen to and participate in discussion on the agenda. Establish a routine and keep to it.

Keep the meeting moving. The best way to keep the meeting moving is to establish rules of decorum which support order and give everyone a chance to participate.

Follow basic rules of order. Although no one expects the chapter leader to be a parliamentarian, it is helpful to know some of the basic rules of order. Following the rules of order also prevents one or more members from monopolizing the discussion and gives others a chance to speak. The UFT constitution requires that Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised be followed. We've provided a list of common motions at the bottom of this page to assist you. It also is helpful if a member of the chapter committee is familiar with the rules of order so that he or she can come to the rescue, if necessary.

Summarize frequently during the meeting. Keep the meeting on track. Bring the group back to the focus of the agenda item at hand as discussion proceeds. EXPEDITE BUSINESS. Use every courteous way possible and protect the members from dilatory arguments.

Set time limits. Put a limit on the meeting as a whole and on discussion of specific agenda items in particular. This will ensure that all the material is covered during the allocated time.

How to establish order and decorum

Technically, motions form the basis of all actions at a meeting. They are needed to accept reports, introduce new business, open discussion on a motion, close discussion on a motion and adjourn.

Many of our chapter meetings have become somewhat informal and predominantly informational. However, in order to ensure an orderly meeting and participation of the members, the chapter should recognize the importance of abiding by rules of order and the chapter leader, as chair of the meeting, should operate within their framework.

How motions are made

  • Recognition
    A member who wishes to make a motion or speak to an item under discussion must be recognized by the chair. No one should call out or begin to speak without being called upon by the chair.
  • Seconding
    No motion can come before the body unless it has received a second from another member.
  • Restating the motion
    The chair should repeat the motion so that all present understand the issue to be discussed.
  • Discussion
    The maker of the motion has a right to speak in its favor. The chair can recognize others who wish to speak for or against the motion or to amend it.
  • Closing discussion
    A motion to close discussion effectively ends debate on the issue. Discussion on the motion, however, should not be closed until there is a speaker for and a speaker against it. If a motion to close discussion has been made before there has been a speaker against it, the chair must ask the members if anyone wishes to speak against the motion. If no one wishes to, then a vote can be taken to close discussion.
  • Restating the motion and voting
    Once discussion has been closed, the chair should restate the motion and then ask, "All those in favor of the motion, say ‘Aye’... All those opposed say, ‘No.’" If the chair is in, he or she can ask for a show of hands.
  • Announce the results of the vote
    At the conclusion of the vote, the chair should say whether the motion has passed or has failed to receive the number of votes necessary.

Motions that maintain order

There are a number of motions that help to maintain order at a meeting. They are:

  • Call for division
    This technique — which is useful when it is unclear whether a voice vote is decisive — requires the chair to redo the vote by asking for members to raise their hands or to stand when they vote. It can be done only before a new item of business is introduced.
  • Point of information
    This is a question to the chair seeking to clarify an issue. A true point of information must be an actual request for information, not debate disguised as an inquiry.
  • Point of order
    This is a statement to the chair that there has been a violation of rules or a ruling on procedure that a member considers to be incorrect. Again, it should not be used to interrupt a speaker or as an excuse to make a speech.
  • Appeal from the decision of the chair
    This is an appeal from a member who considers a ruling of the chair to be in violation of procedure. It can be made only immediately after the chair has ruled. The chair then steps down and turns the meeting over to the chapter delegate or someone else whom the chair designates until the issue is decided. The maker of the appeal has a right to state the reason for the appeal. The chair has a right to respond. The issue is debatable, except if it refers to disorderly conduct. However, a motion which arises during a vote is not debatable. No one can speak more than once except the chair, who has the final statement. The designee then puts the matter to a vote; at its conclusion, the chair resumes control of the meeting.
  • Point of personal privilege
    This point must be directed to something that affects the welfare of one member or a number of members in the meeting. There are a number of motions that should be ruled out of order. They may be improper in that they are in conflict with the union’s constitution or policy; or they may be motions which have been decided upon earlier in the meeting. They could be dilatory in that they obstruct the business of the meeting. For example, motions to request a count when the vote is clear, or repeated appeals from the decision of the chair are dilatory. They could be frivolous in that they are irrational or lead to irrational results.

Motions at a glance

Motion Second? Debatable? Amend? Vote?
To change order of business Yes No No 2/3
To introduce a special order of business Yes No No 2/3
To refer to committee Yes Yes Yes Majority
To amend Yes Yes Yes Majority
To table Yes No No Majority
To close debate Yes No No 2/3
To appeal a decision of the chair Yes Yes No Majority (tie vote sustains chair)
To reconsider Yes Yes (if the original motion was debatable) No Majority
To divide the house No No No One member calling for division. Requires a show of hands or a vote by members standing.
To count the vote Yes No Yes Majority
To adjourn Yes No No Majority
To extend time Yes No No Majority