Administration & Leadership

5 Ways Feedback From Staff Can Help School Leaders Grow

Among other benefits, asking for and implementing advice from teachers demonstrates and models your willingness to learn.

December 14, 2021
SDI Productions / iStock

Accessing high-quality resources, ongoing professional learning, and time for collaboration is important but not sufficient to be an effective school leader. We need to listen to our staff and involve them in the process of serving them.

We need their feedback, and there are different ways to obtain it. Schedule conferences with trusted colleagues and ask direct questions. Create surveys. Invite teacher leaders to identify target areas for improvement.

Regardless of how you collect feedback, reflect on it, share the results, and make its implementation transparent. While feedback can be hard to swallow, use it to model your commitment to professional growth. Here are five benefits of receiving and implementing feedback.

1. Building Self-Awareness

Experienced executive coaches report in the Harvard Business Review that close to 90 percent of leaders lack self-awareness. Asking for honest feedback is how I learned about my blind spots and began the journey of improving my leadership in support of my colleagues.

Surveys are a useful tool for garnering feedback. Initiate using anonymous ones to afford teachers comfort and a feeling of safety. As trust builds and the staff understands that you value their opinion, they will be candid even if surveys don’t remain anonymous. Reviewing anonymous surveys on your performance can be daunting. Comments about my decisions and actions can at times be mean and difficult to read.

As difficult as it can be to receive less-than-positive feedback, it is so beneficial to how I make decisions. Knowing the differing perspectives of staff members about your management style gives you the ability to be more effective and inclusive in dealing with their needs. If we are not aware of the concerns of staff, we cannot address them.

2. Creating a Culture of Respect

Players that really respect their team’s leader will play harder for them. Allowing our faculty space and access to coach us, in turn, helps us to better coach them. Let’s channel our inner Ted Lasso and find ways to show our team that we care deeply about what they have to say.

Talking about and sharing the feedback you receive demonstrates your respect for coworkers’ input. Taking action to improve your leadership based on such feedback demonstrates your confidence and validation of others’ voices. Next time you ask for feedback, share the results with those who provided it and how you plan to use that specific feedback to make improvements.

3. Modeling Courage

Being vulnerable is not a weakness. As Brené Brown has said, “It’s not the fear that gets in the way of daring leadership. It’s the armor.” Asking for honest feedback can be uncomfortable, but allowing yourself to be vulnerable is a strength. If we do not ask for feedback from our teachers, it is not reasonable for them to willingly accept it from us or their students.

One year I decided that it would be an innovative idea to change the format of the fall open house. I didn’t have any real data about why my chosen format was better. I simply wanted to see how it would work.

The event did not go over well at all. After getting feedback from staff, I realized that I should have involved them more in making this decision. Excluding them created a lot of negative feelings without any real benefit.

Is it embarrassing to publicly apologize or admit an error in judgment? Yes, but sharing and admitting my error with staff let them know that I take ownership of my missteps. As leaders, sometimes we may be fearful that admitting we messed up is a sign of weakness. Truth is, we mess up. When it happens, we need to own the mistake.

4. Celebrating Your Strengths

Constructive feedback doesn’t always have to highlight only what is unsuccessful; it can also illuminate what we do well. Utilizing feedback to identify what is effective is a key component of navigating an open system such as school administration.

To effectively make course corrections, we must rely on feedback the way we do the instruments in our cars to know what components of its performance are working appropriately. Allowing feedback to be a part of our professional practice where stakeholders can also let us know what we are getting right is critical to long-term success.

5. Promoting Learning From One Another

As leaders, we must continually commit not only to our own growth but also to the growth of others. As evaluators of teachers, we have the responsibility to provide even the most skilled staff members with feedback that can help them improve.

In my school, our administrators and teachers utilize monthly faculty council meetings to discuss pressing issues or concerns that staff may have. As administrators, we use these meetings to find solutions collectively and to promote best instructional practices. This approach models for my staff the use of feedback to learn and grow. The quality of our instructional leadership is related to our ability to learn the needs of staff and how well we both foster and promote their best practices.

It is important that administrators create spaces where we facilitate colleagues learning from one another and where they can exchange feedback. I can tell you from experience that being vulnerable and asking about how your leadership, or lack thereof, creates conditions of nurture, growth, and excellence in our schools is frightening. It’s also completely worth it.

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