How to Listen to Your Teachers: Tips and Thoughts for School Leaders Who Want to Lean into Feedback
By Lisa Diaz, Lumen Impact Group
97% of teachers “wish decision-makers would listen to teachers’ opinions and perspectives,” according to a recent poll of more than 1200 pre-k-12 teachers (Listen to Your Teacher!). Teachers are telling us loud and clear that in this time of unprecedented teacher shortages, they have feedback to give, and they want their voices to be heard. But are we listening?
I have to admit that I was not surprised by these findings. I’ve worked with hundreds of school leaders and leadership teams, and almost always hear the same thing from them: asking for feedback can be challenging. Teacher and family input enters many of the coaching conversations that I have with school leaders and their teams. In this conversation, there is almost always the desire to seek input; however, it can be overshadowed by apprehension.
The apprehension often centers around thoughts like…
- What if I can’t do what they want?
- They don’t have the full picture so how can they give me/us feedback?
- I/we don’t have time to slow our process down and getting feedback takes time.
Even with questions or feelings of unease, feedback is essential, and I think it’s important to remember a couple of things about it when those feelings pop up. First, if we as leaders took every bit of feedback that we were given, our heads would be spinning in circles, and our schools would be continually chasing shiny things. There are lots of ideas out there, that doesn’t mean that every one of them is right for the time, space, people, etc. in your building. Second, feedback will always help us to improve in some way. Whether it changes how something is implemented or gives us insight into how individuals or stakeholder groups view something, more information brings us a fuller picture. Without feedback, we are more vulnerable to jumping into something without having the whole picture which risks us putting time and energy into something that won’t hit the target we intended or potentially even alienating individuals or groups that we intended to help.
So, how do we make asking for feedback not so hard?
Here are the “how tos” that I live by when it comes to feedback:
- Don’t go into it with the thought that there has to be action on all feedback suggestions. What is necessary is to PAUSE and really LISTEN to ALL feedback. This means quieting your “I” voice and thinking to yourself “the stakeholder thinks xyz” not “I think xyz about this feedback.” Listening without judgment is the key to actually hearing what someone has to say.
- Look for THEMES in the feedback. Gathering the bigger themes that arise from feedback will help shine light on the KEY AREAS that should be CONSIDERED. This does not mean the “one hit wonders” are not important, but to start, focus on the bigger themes.
- CLOSE the FEEDBACK LOOP. How many times have you completed a survey and heard nothing back? Does it make you want to spend your time providing feedback again? Does it make you feel like your thoughts were actually heard? For me, the answer to that would be a big no. In fact, I get far more frustrated from never hearing back after my thoughts have been solicited than I ever care about whether my individual feedback was taken and used for a decision. When you close the feedback loop, you are saying to your stakeholders “we heard you, we thank you, and here is our next step(s).” With this, you have to be transparent. If 51% of your teachers said x and 49% of your teacher said y, share those results. If these results have left you unsure of your next steps, but you are going to keep working with the staff to find the right path forward, say that. If the results have led you to make a decision, then tell them the decision, and why you made it. And most importantly THANK them for their feedback.
The bottom line is this: Leaders need to lean into feedback.
So, this week, consider starting small—maybe do a two question exist survey following your staff meeting or back to school session. Get some feedback from your staff, and don’t forget to report the result, even if you are not yet sure what if anything will be adjusted. More information and more perspective give you the opportunity to put energy into the right moves for your school, and it gives your teachers the voice they crave.
PS. Next up, we will address the time feedback gathering takes. Spoiler alert: It involves your change management process.
Lisa Diaz is the Founder of Lumen Impact Group