"What do you think?" These four words are so simple yet are so powerful. Have you ever taken a step back to realize that communication in schools is often one way? Most educators do a great job of sending emails, creating newsletters and updating websites, but how do we make that communication two way? How do we include student, staff and parent voice into the decisions of our schools?
If we truly believe that this is our school, then we value the voices of all stakeholders. Each person's voice matters - the staff, students parents and community. It's one thing to say that, but how do we invite those voices to be heard? This is something that is constantly on my mind. I believe this is something school leaders must do well in order to be effective. I will share some of the ways we make two way communication intentional at our school, and I would love to hear your ideas, so please leave a comment below!
Our staff is amazing! Highly qualified professionals with sound beliefs, innovative ideas, and a commitment to excellence, they are masters of their craft. Their ideas, feedback and voice is important to me. How do I communicate with my words and actions that I value their voice?
- Leadership Retreat - In late Spring, we go on a leadership retreat all the way to….my house. :) The leadership retreat is important to me, because it is a time when I can get the department chairs, administrators, counselors, instructional specialist, and instructional technology specialist all together for a significant amount of time to have honest conversations about our goals, how we're going to achieve those goals, what we're doing well, what is not going well, what could be better with some tweaks, and what barriers exist for us to reach our goals. It is a great day, and we all leave excited about the next school year.
- Anonymous Feedback Form - Each week I send an electronic newsletter. While most of the content changes each week, one item that is a constant is a link to an anonymous feedback form. Staff members can submit ideas, concerns, and questions at any time. We check the form for feedback during our weekly leadership team meeting.
- Surveys - Whether it is a quick one or two question survey or a more in-depth questionnaire, we ask for feedback often. We ask about everything from when would be a good time for a fire drill to what their thoughts are on the master schedule. The staff is directly affected by most decisions administrators make, so it is important to us that their voice is a part of the decision making process.
- Department Chair Meetings - We meet, at minimum, monthly to touch base about various things. Typically, I have an agenda set with topics to discuss, but something that is important to me is that we begin the meeting with celebrations - good things happening across departments - and that we always end with "your turn," a time for department chairs to bring questions and concerns to the team for discussion.
- Teachers New to Campus Meetings - Once a month, we invite the teachers who are new to our campus together to talk about what is on their minds. They set the agenda. We also give them a heads up on any upcoming events, initiatives, processes…things our veteran teachers already know but that may require more discussion with those who are new to our campus. This gives the new teachers an opportunity to bond as a group, ask questions, and express concerns in a safe environment.
- We also have multiple committees and focus groups on various topics. For example, we have staff who participate in our Campus Improvement Committee and our Discipline Committee. If we are considering a campus-wide change to a system or process, we form a focus group to examine the problem or challenge and generate solutions. One of us may have a good idea, but together we generate better ideas.
Our students are the reason why we do what we do. We need to know if what we are doing, offering, and the decisions we are making is working for them as a learner or not. This is an important element to ensuring that our school is student-centered. Their voice must be heard. Some of the ways we include student voice are:
- Surveys - If you ask them what they think, they will tell you! For example, we offer clubs and enrichment opportunities during our campus-wide intervention time for those students not participating in intervention. Our students generated the ideas for the enrichment opportunities that they have during that time. Another example is that we do a monthly happiness survey that is a simple way for us to tell if our students are generally happy or unhappy at school. We do these during times of the day when we are not interrupting instruction. For example, the staff on duty in our common areas before school or during lunch will walk around with the survey pulled up on an iPad, and students will simply click how they are feeling about school in general.
- Principals Advisory Council - Any student can choose to join this council. We meet at least monthly to discuss topics relevant to them. I typically have some things I want to get student feedback on, but I also open it up to them for any ideas or concerns they may have.
- Anonymous Tip Line - We have an anonymous tip line where any student can report a situation or student about whom they are concerned. Every student has a QR code in their campus folder where they can access the tip line anytime of day and from anywhere.
- CIC - We invite students to be on our Campus Improvement Committee and plan to expand that to other committees as well.
Each day our parents send us their greatest treasure - their child. Our parents choose to buy or rent a home in our attendance zone. They choose our school. They deserve to have a voice.
- PTA - We have an active PTA of which all parents are invited to be a part.
- Anonymous Feedback Form - Each week I send an electronic newsletter to all families. While the content changes each week, one item that is a constant is a link to an anonymous feedback form. Parents can submit ideas, concerns, and questions at any time. We check the form for feedback during our weekly leadership team meeting.
- Front Office Question - We are always wondering what our parents think about various things related to processes, procedures, etc., so we ask them. We post a question in a plastic stand so that as parents stop in to pick up their child or drop something off, they can quickly scan the QR code to share their thoughts on whatever question we are asking at that time.
- Surveys - From time to time, we send out surveys to our parents to get feedback on our school, programs, processes, procedures, etc. We always have a place for comments so that they can also add any feedback that is important to them.
- CIC - We have parent representation on our Campus Improvement Committee and plan to expand this to other committees as well.
Being intentional in including all voices in the decision making process will help our school be the best it can be. Each stakeholder has a different perspective of the school and, therefore, can contribute something valuable that other stakeholders may not have considered. With all of us working together to contribute, the value added will be beyond what any one of us thought possible.