A guest blog from Tes News wellbeing columnist Jo Steer
As talk of wellbeing, mental fitness and emotional intelligence makes its way into staff rooms – and classrooms – across the UK, you’d be forgiven for thinking that "staff voice" is just another set of educational buzz words. Another bullet point for the wellbeing action plan. Another fad destined for the initiative graveyard in a few short years.
Indeed, it might well be, if it's only approached as such. But it can also count for so much more.
Where staff are given the means to communicate safely, openly and honestly – to have a say in what affects them, their students and the school overall – it will lead to a lot more than just increased morale.
So whether it’s practised through surveys or meetings, drop-ins or drop-boxes, here are some of the benefits of giving your staff a voice.
It ensures that school priorities are meaningful and worthwhile
Picture two schools. In one, there’s a culture of "us and them" between staff and school leaders, the latter being solely responsible for policy, priorities, decision-making and the day-to-day running of the school.
In another, senior leaders make decisions upon a foundation of honest, up-to-date feedback from staff, as well as involving them in the processes needed to move the school forward.
Which school has the more realistic and meaningful directives? Which school is likely to make tangible, long-lasting progress for staff, students and the school as a whole?
Which school will spot the early warning signs of problems and react accordingly? Which school may miss them entirely and waste countless hours mopping up problems that could have been foreseen, or plugging ineffective initiatives that don’t benefit anyone?
It empowers staff
Of course, it’s not just the school that benefits from listening to its staff, but the staff themselves. When people feel that their opinions are valued, they'll be more open to sharing, speaking and collaborating.
When opportunities are created for organised, consistent feedback – and staff voice becomes a normalised part of school culture – it empowers even the most introverted, inexperienced or low-ranking members of staff to break through their self-doubt and contribute.
And if staff suggestions and feedback lead to actual action or change? Well, there’s no better way to boost job fulfilment, self-worth and create positive momentum.
It creates opportunities for innovation and creativity
What's more, the morale of teams will likely increase at the same time, alongside the quality of their output, as people who feel valued and listened to are undoubtedly going to share more ideas than people who don’t.
By creating a climate of openness and equality, by structuring and scheduling opportunities for staff to speak, we welcome creativity, innovation and drive better results all around.
It promotes a sense of fairness
Fairness and equality are also key to this process, as people are much more likely to feel a sense of impartiality whereby everyone is given opportunities to be heard.
How fair or unfair a senior leadership team is perceived to be really matters – in terms of loyalty, job commitment and the level of good will afforded throughout school. If a person feels that only certain people’s opinions are valued, they’re probably not going to bend over backwards to do any favours.
It builds relationships
This in turn, along with everything else we’ve covered, has the added benefit of strengthening relationships between school leaders and staff, and between staff and each other.
Ultimately, that leads to a culture of respect, compassion and empathy that has far-reaching benefits for all involved.
Jo Steer is a wellbeing consultant working with schools. She is also a former teacher and Tes News columnist.