Many research studies tout the importance of teachers being involved in and influencing decisions that are impacting the classroom. A recently published RAND Corporation study on How Much Influence Do Teachers Have in Their Schools? provided some interesting insights and stark differences in the perception of principals versus teachers.
According to nationwide data from the American Educator Panel as part of a RAND Corporation study:
- Ninety-six percent of principals surveyed feel that teachers are involved in making important school decisions, while only 58 percent of teachers do.
- Almost all principals (98 percent) feel that teachers have a lot of informal opportunity to influence what happens at school — a much higher rate than for teachers (62 percent).
- Ninety-seven percent of principals thought their teachers were comfortable voicing concerns, but 31 percent of teachers reported that they are not comfortable voicing concerns in their schools.
Hmmm. What’s going on here? How could our perceptions as principals be so vastly different than our teachers? It may behoove us to look at who we are involving in decisions that are being made, the level of trust we have built to allow teachers to feel “psychologically safe” to provide input, and how intentional we are regarding providing leadership opportunities for teachers. Here are some ideas to consider that may help alleviate the perceptive differences described in the Rand study:
- Build relational trust- In order to build a culture where feedback is freely given and accepted and teachers feel safe to voice concerns, principals have to continually build relational trust. This happens on a daily basis when we act in congruence with our values and beliefs and walk the walk and talk the talk. It happens when we are respectful in our attitudes and responses 100% of the time. Principals can model the acceptance of feedback which helps teachers see that it is welcome. A good mid-year check right now is to ask: What does Principal X need to keep doing? What does Principal X need to stop doing? What does Principal X need to start doing? Remember that if you collect feedback, then you have to share with the group what you are going to do about it. Celebrate your keep doings! What will you do about the stop doings? What start doings can be implemented?
- Provide opportunities for teachers to voice concerns- Be intentional about providing opportunities for teachers to voice concerns. Ask for feedback and model graciousness in acceptance of it. Follow-up with those voicing concerns by thanking them for their input and asking them to provide potential solutions to their concern.
- Be an active listener- Clear your mind when meeting with or talking with your teachers. Do the 4P’s! 1. Presume positive intentions 2. Pause 3. Paraphrase 4. Probe Listen more and ask more clarifying questions. Give the gift of active listening by paraphrasing what the teacher has said to show that you ARE listening and hearing his or her concern or thoughts to share. Review Garmston’s Seven Norms of Collaboration!
- Create or clarify collective commitments- Have you intentionally created collective commitments that speak to decision making, voicing concerns, expressing ideas during the meeting and not in the parking lot? Being proactive and agreeing on commitments to the way the adults will act and treat each other are essential. Here are some ideas that you could harvest! Collective Commitments in a Healthy School Culture Where Students Can Learn and Teachers Can Teach
- Check on who is making the decisions- Be intentional about the types of decisions you are making and having teachers participate in. Are they all command decisions and you are the only one making them? Are you seeking input from others before making decisions? Who are you seeking input from? Is it a diverse mix or are you going to the same go to people all the time? Do you ask input from all your teachers time to time about decisions that directly affect them so they feel like they are being heard and their point of view is valued? Remember if you delegate a decision to a group- don’t overrule their decision! That would be a huge hit to the trust bank! Here is A Simple Model for Decision Making
- Encourage the heart- Instead of looking for fresh trouble on your building check-ins in the morning, make it a gratitude walk! Look for who needs some affirmation and appreciation and share a word of encouragement, a handwritten thank you note, positive voicemail, or post-it in the mailbox! Keep track of who has received encouraging feedback, recognition, affirmation, and appreciation to ensure that you are showing love to each person with equity in the building. Remember, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!
At the December MEMSPA conference, Jimmy Casas reminded us that we have to keep our September energy going all year long. Now is the time to check in with ourselves about how well we have been living out our values, beliefs, expectations, and assumptions and make adjustments to ensure that our own self-assessments match our teachers perceptions!