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Administrators Learn How to Effectively Solicit Feedback
During the monthly staff meeting, the principal delivers some news. “Last month, our focus at the staff meeting was differentiated instruction. Based on your feedback, many of you expressed frustration with the traditional method of delivering information from the front of the room. In response to that, today, I will be sharing the floor.”
The principal gestures towards Jen, who steps forward. “For those who may not know me, I am Jen Green, a math teacher. I will be showcasing a lesson that incorporates some of the differentiated learning ideas discussed last month.”
The principal explains, “I invited Jen here today not only because the feedback indicated a desire for expert strategies, but also because I personally observed this impressive lesson in action.”
Teachers often feel frustrated when they are constantly asked to complete surveys, yet never see any results from their feedback. This can happen because principals go ahead with their decisions without following up, or they may fear negative reactions if they explicitly disregard feedback suggestions.
However, it is important to close the loop on voice data (which includes any information collected from surveys, forms, or questioning) regardless of the outcome. People need to feel that their opinions are being considered. To establish a solid process, leaders should engage in “feedback on feedback,” which prioritizes taking action based on the feedback received. When school leaders request feedback, they should ensure that two conditions are met: an authentic process and a response.
Effective Strategies for Collecting Feedback
Establish an authentic feedback process: When seeking feedback, leaders should genuinely want to understand people’s thoughts in order to make unbiased and informed decisions. In my early days as a school leader, I once asked teachers why the response rate to a survey was so low. The room fell silent until one teacher leaned forward and asked, “Do you really want to know?”
“Of course,” I replied, preparing myself.
“Because no one ever wants to hear our opinion. They’re just checking a box so they can say that teachers provided input. It’s not like anyone actually listens to what we say.”
I could relate to this sentiment from my own experience as a teacher. I often shared feedback with apprehension and sometimes chose not to submit surveys at all after taking the time to provide detailed responses. The visible impact of my feedback was never apparent, so it seemed pointless.
By practicing feedback on feedback with their staff, school leaders can demystify a process that has been stigmatized. To change the perception around providing feedback, trust must be built through a genuine desire not only for gathering information but also for ensuring that it doesn’t fade into oblivion.
In my own practice, I always review voice data as soon as possible, allowing me to respond to teacher feedback at the next opportunity and share which suggestions will influence our future actions and which ones cannot be implemented. Even if an idea cannot be put into practice, I explain the reasoning behind it. This way, teachers not only feel heard but also understand what happened with their feedback and that their ideas were requested in a spirit of collaboration and openness.
Follow up with feedback providers: Several years ago, I eagerly shared my thoughts through what was known as a “parallel survey.” Both teachers and students were asked the same questions about instructional topics, with the expectation that the data would be analyzed and acted upon in the coming weeks. It was disappointing when the survey results were never shared, and neither teachers nor students felt comfortable asking why there was no follow-through from the administration.
Simply reading through feedback or privately taking action is not enough for administrators. It is important to circle back and be transparent about the insights gained from the data. Even when responses defy expectations, it is crucial to determine the appropriate next steps with the help of multiple perspectives. Conversations and decisions rooted in survey data should move out of closed conference rooms and into more public spaces.
If teachers are asked to share their thoughts at the end of each staff meeting, it is essential that the feedback they provided is thoroughly reviewed in a subsequent meeting, preferably at the beginning to set the tone for what will follow. When it comes to the feedback itself, asking open-ended questions tends to yield more insightful responses from teachers. For example:
- What was the most valuable takeaway or learning from this meeting?
- In future meetings, what topics or ideas would you like to see included?
- What can we do to support you in the coming month before the next meeting?
While addressing the answers to these questions may sometimes be challenging, actively listening to people’s concerns and genuinely responding to them can greatly contribute to creating a more functional school community where everyone feels a sense of responsibility for students’ success.
When teachers see the positive outcome of sharing their voices in a safe and supportive environment, they are more likely to feel the benefits of being heard and develop a more positive outlook on their workplace, which in turn improves its overall functionality and fosters a sense of belonging.