“What makes a school a place where teachers want to work?” We posed this question to our faculty three years ago. The feedback we received was the catalyst for changes that would improve our school culture. To be completely transparent, the school I serve in has a history of success and good culture, so the changes we’ve made are not worthy of a complete “school turnaround” story. However, I do think they moved the needle into greatness.
One of my goals is to help make a school where teachers want to work. When we surveyed our faculty with this one open-ended question, we received a long list of things that varied from very specific complaints (sometimes harsh and hard to read) to broad areas needing improvement. However, we were able to take this long list of feedback and classify it into the following seven categories:
- Great Teachers
- Great Students
- Staff Culture
- Good Communication
- Awareness of Student Needs
- Shared Decision Making
The Follow Up
What we did next, I feel, was the most successful decision. We shared these categories, with all the feedback classified under them, with the faculty. We divided them into groups and asked them to help us develop solutions. Essentially, instead of a group of administrators sitting in a room and stressing over how “to fix” all these things, we asked the faculty to help us make improvements for the school. We took a risk and asked them to take ownership of the improvements. The results were outstanding!
Each group of teachers came up with a list of practical solutions to improve the school in all categories. They asked to classify committees, define their purpose, and improve the way they communicate their work to the rest of the school. They asked for improved communication of meetings, agendas, and professional development. They asked to be included in more building decisions and came up with ideas to ensure this happened. They suggested ways to increase support for our fast-growing population of students with special needs. They asked for more recognition of all staff members. The group’s solutions were specific and realistic. The staff was empowered to take complete ownership and leadership to improve our school.
The Follow Through
We immediately made some easy, practical changes. We also set the ball in motion to make some changes that would take a lot longer, such as developing new ways to include faculty members in leading professional development sessions (This year over 30% of faculty did so). Each year, we’ve made changes and have continued to survey our teachers, asking the faculty to respond to survey statements and rate each of the areas we categorized.
We have found continued improvement in all categories, including staff culture. The tone of the feedback has shifted from focusing on complaints to focusing on ideas and improvements. Each year, we share the results with our faculty. Our teacher leadership team reviews the data and feedback, and generates recommendations to improve our building.
This summer a group of teachers is creating a “welcome package” for our new hires, including a school t-shirt, mug, and a new, teacher-created, “Survival Guide.” Our faculty never ceases to amaze me with their leadership and commitment to taking ownership of their school and making it the best place it can be.
It’s amazing what results from asking just one question. What questions do you ask?