4 golden rules for getting teachers to speak openly

It's vital school leaders create a culture where teachers can speak freely about their concerns, writes Sadie Hollins
25th January 2021, 11:12am
Sadie Hollins

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4 golden rules for getting teachers to speak openly

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archived/4-golden-rules-getting-teachers-speak-openly
Teacher Wellbeing: How Schools Can Encourage Teachers To Talk Openly About Their Concerns

It's good to talk, as the old adage goes.

In schools, this is certainly true. Indeed, one of the most important things schools can do to support staff is to make them feel they can talk to colleagues or their managers whenever they need to.

This may sound simple but when staff at all levels are facing numerous pressures on their time, it is quite possible that the chance to raise concerns - from their own wellbeing to concerns for a student - is lost.

After all, if staff perceive there are barriers preventing them from speaking to management, the chances are they won't speak to someone unless they reach a crisis point - when the chance to stop something occurring has already passed.

As such, it is vital that schools make staff feel comfortable and confident raising concerns: here are four ways to do just that.

Encouraging teachers to talk about their concerns

1. Talk to staff on the same level

Staff need to feel that, whatever the power dynamic between them and the person they are talking to, there is no "us and them" division.  

When a staff member comes to you with a concern - whether for themselves or for a pupil - there might just be times when you have to leave your "leadership" hat at the door and be prepared to just listen as a human being. 

You can return to the leadership role afterwards to fix the problem as appropriate, but the key thing is that in that first initial moment, you are approachable and respond as the situation dictates so staff know they can raise a concern.

2. Recognise staff for bringing concerns to you 

Teachers are on the front line. They see students the most and they can pick up when pupils are not themselves. 

If a teacher brings a concern to you, be thankful that they know their students well enough to identify that something is off.

Similarly, if they tell you about something relating to themselves, take the time to show that you have heard and understood the concern, and explain what support you can offer.

It may be that in either instance simply talking about the concern is enough.

The key, though, is that you let staff know that you would rather they "over-worry" and bring their concerns directly to you than decide not to bother you at all, resulting in a student to staff member failing to get the support they need. 

3. Demonstrate that concerns will be taken seriously

Of course, you don't have to exaggerate how "seriously" you will take a concern when it is brought to you, but staff want to know that they have been heard and action - if required - will be taken.

Sometimes no course of action is necessary, but, ideally, you should communicate what steps you will take, and let teachers know when you've taken them. 

The chances are that once a teacher has got a concern off their chest, their worries won't end there.

Let teachers know what you plan to do (if you can), or even ask and consider their ideas on the best way to proceed (if it's applicable) so they have a sense of agency in the process.

4. Have clear communication channels

Again, this sounds simple, but it's really important for staff to know who they can talk to with the different types of concerns that they have.

If a staff member comes to you about something that doesn't fall within your role, perhaps rather than redirecting them immediately, take it as a compliment that they feel that they can trust you and look at how you can take the issue forward together.

And even if you do pass the issue to someone else in the correct role, stay engaged in the process to show you care - not that it was something you quickly passed to someone else and forgot about.

None of this is rocket science but that's half the point: sometimes the "small stuff" is what gets easily overlooked - but it's often the small stuff that matters most.

Sadie Hollins is head of sixth form at a British-curriculum school in Thailand, and has been teaching internationally for two years

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