“But why has no one mentioned this before…?”
Anyone who has made the step up from the staffroom to the senior leader’s table will know the feeling of being the last to know. As “the boss”, you can end up losing touch with the teachers under your command.
Staff members who used to confide in you now keep things to themselves, so how can you ensure you’re getting honest feedback from your team?
Why is it so hard to talk?
In a large school or trust, regular and honest conversation between classroom teachers and the leadership team can be rare. This can lead to small issues with wellbeing or workload becoming larger ones, eventually escalating to something serious.
However difficult it is, feedback and an open dialogue between a headteacher and the teaching staff is absolutely necessary, according to Patrick Ottley-O’Connor, executive principal at North Liverpool Academy, Northern Schools Trust.
“You have to listen to your staff. You can’t make your school better without finding out from your teachers what is and what isn’t working,” Ottley-O'Connor says.
In addition to this, Ofsted specifically looks for how schools respond to feedback from their staff.
In the Ofsted Inspection Handbook, it states that inspectors “should consider any evidence the school has from regularly surveying the staff, and how leaders and managers have responded to concerns raised by staff”, as an example of what schools can use to show their effectiveness of leadership and management.
But how can you obtain honest feedback when workloads are already fit to burst? And how can you ensure the feedback you do get is honest and valuable?
Survey your staff on their opinions
Regular, short surveys can give you a good taste of what teaching staff think of specific issues in your school, and allow an overview of general opinions on behaviour, CPD and the upkeep of the school building.
“We survey staff three times a year,” Ottley-O’Connor says. “We have the standard Ofsted-style questions, and then specific questions about the school. It’s through these questionnaires we discovered which of our changes have been the best for improving staff wellbeing.
“We made quite a few changes one year, and then in the survey it transpired that a small change to the building work in the hall had made the biggest impact on wellbeing.”
It can also be a good idea to make surveys anonymous. By doing so, you allow staff who may be reluctant the chance to speak honestly and give everyone a platform to express any concerns.
Use staff discussion forums
Putting staff together in groups to discuss curriculum issues can prove useful to leaders who are looking for feedback on existing practices.
“I introduced discussion forums in my department when the new GCSEs began,” explains Lynsey Izatt, an English teacher in Essex. “It allowed all teachers and support staff – from learning support assistants to trainees, to those who held teaching and learning responsibilities – to voice their opinion.
“I then passed on the key messages from our discussions to the senior leadership team and, during my line management [meeting], we worked out a way to implement their ideas into our long-term plans.”
Not only is this approach a useful way to gather feedback, it also gives teachers the opportunity to discuss subject changes and provides teaching staff with a sense of satisfaction that they’re shaping the curriculum that they will deliver.
Make sure briefings aren’t just one-way traffic
As well as traditional briefings where staff receive the notices for the week, some schools are introducing weekly sessions in which staff can share good things that are happening in the school.
“It could be something as simple as a video clip from a PE lesson, or sharing a story about how a visitor has been in to speak to a year group,” Ottley-O’Connor says. “We come together and celebrate all of the good things happening in our school.”
From a headteacher’s perspective, this gives a unique overview of what is happening in your school, and what parts of your operation are working well among your teaching staff.
Deal with issues in an empathetic way
If you invite feedback, you need to be prepared for the negative. This may spark a more in-depth discussion in which empathy is important.
According to Jeswald Salacuse, writing for Harvard Law School, “if your style of listening isn’t sufficiently empathetic, it won’t elicit honest responses”. Salacuse therefore urges leaders to “work to foster a strong connection, because effective leadership truly depends on it”.
Speaking to Tes, Salacuse suggests that conversation is key to allowing staff to speak openly about their concerns.
"I would recommend some conversation before negotiation, (provided it is not done in a perfunctory way) since it can assist you both in understanding what the other needs from the situation," he says.
Getting honest feedback from your teachers can help you create a better teaching and learning environment. Find out how our Staff Pulse product can help put you in touch with your team.