If you operate in an echo chamber, then you need to prepare for failure. Parents will not hesitate to tell you if you’ve done something wrong, but will your teachers talk to you about isn’t working?
Creating a culture in which the teachers in your school are prepared to tell you when things aren’t working is the single most important objective for which any driven principal should strive. Building this type of environment is not easy, but it is worth it.
Why teachers fear you
Being afraid is a natural feeling that occurs when we do not know about future outcomes. There are three key reasons that teachers are afraid to give their principal honest and open feedback.
1) You aren’t present to receive it
If you are not with the teachers every day, then they will not view you as a working partner. If you aren’t in the classrooms, the hallways, and the lounge, then you are communicating that there is a division between you and them. The worst part of this is that it plays directly into the innate fears of most people. Get into your school!
If you aren’t in the classrooms, the hallways, and the lounge, then you are communicating that there is a division between you and them
2) They fear you will retaliate
If your teachers don’t think that you will receive feedback, then you need to create an environment in which they feel comfortable with providing it. You need to ask for it. It really is that simple, but don’t start big. Don’t go ask them if they think that the math curriculum is good; instead, ask how they feel about the lunch duty structure. The idea is to create a low risk opportunity for them to provide the feedback that you need in order build a successful culture. When you continually solicit feedback, then you give permission for people to honestly assess and share how they view things.
When you continually solicit feedback, then you give permission for people to honestly assess and share how they view things.
3) They don’t trust you to receive it well
If your staff fears retaliation, then you need to ask yourself if you have provided them with cause to fear it. If you have, then you need to mend the relationships you have damaged. You need to own the failure, and you need to articulate how future situations will be handled differently. If you haven’t given cause, then you need to be mindful as you move forward. If someone disagrees, I can assure you that it does not mean they are attacking you personally.
If someone disagrees, I can assure you that it does not mean they are attacking you personally.
Tip: One way I have been able to foster a presence and safe space is through what we call ‘open sessions.’ These are meetings we hold one Friday a month that have no agenda. The only items that we cover are the issues that teachers bring to the administration. This allows them to ask questions with their support network in the room with them, and it fosters a sense of openness that otherwise is difficult to accomplish. The meeting starts right after dismissal ends, and we stay until every teacher’s question is answered. You have to be prepared to address everything honestly and openly.