One of the disadvantages of climbing up the greasy pole of leadership is that leaders can become increasingly disconnected from the staff they are there to serve.
The staffroom banter that you were once a part of is now a distant memory, and even when staff do speak to you at social gatherings, you rarely get to know what they really think. It can feel difficult to get past the more choreographed version of themselves that they present to you.
So, how can you find out what your staff are really thinking? Follow these four steps to improve feedback loops at your school.
1. Become a great listener
There is a simple way to understand what your staff think: become a great listener. That means not only hearing what they have to say, but also acting on their comments.
Perhaps you could have a section on the proforma for the minutes of departmental meetings for middle leaders to record ideas from different members of their team.
Simple staff questionnaires gauging staff opinions at key times of the year or immediately following key events are also quick wins.
The key part is to demonstrate that you are listening to what is being said by acting on the reasonable suggestions that your staff make. If your team can see there is a point to giving feedback, they will be much more willing to give it.
2. Put wellbeing first
Similarly, staff will always be reluctant to engage with requests for feedback if they are too stressed and overworked to even consider their own opinions.
Likewise, you are unlikely to get useful feedback if staff view your questionnaire as little more than the perfect opportunity to vent.
Remember that people should always come before projects. If you look after the health of your staff, everything else takes care of itself.
A good question to ask yourself is: how much of my CPD budget is devoted to helping staff with their wellbeing? If your answer is "not much", it might be time to either consider buying in an external speaker (there are some good ones out there) or, better still, ring-fence some money to help you design something in house.
Either way, make sure wellbeing is on the agenda. The more it becomes part of the school vocabulary, the more staff will engage with feedback requests and the more open they will be with you.
3. Don't make it a chore
Many things in education require a commitment to the long haul, and if we don’t enjoy it, we’ll quit. Find out what works for you and your team.
Make the whole feedback process something effective and low maintenance, not arduous and cringe inducing. Make the gathering of feedback easy and the sharing of the result engaging.
For instance, a short, anonymous survey that can be completed in a few minutes will take the pressure off teachers with already large workloads. Sharing the most interesting results through simple infographics at the start of a morning staff meeting will likewise be an easy way to communicate your findings without causing your staff too much bother.
4. Lose the bias
We all have biases and blind spots, which can hinder our ability to listen. Unfortunately, biases are notoriously difficult to spot in yourself.
The best way to make sure that you aren't inadvertently dismissing feedback that falls outside of your usual brand of communication is to engage another pair of ears.
Having someone who sits outside of your immediate team to act as a sounding board will give you some valuable perspective and might help you hear those voices that might not have made it through to you before, but which still have very valid points to make.