How do you create a school culture of genuine listening? Samuel Crome has been using Teacher Tapp at his school to inform decision-making and to encourage reflection on those decisions. Here’s how it went…

At the height of the pandemic, school leaders were having to make daily decisions about how to best keep their communities safe. Often, there was little in the way of firm direction from the Department for Education; every choice had pros and cons, and every stakeholder had a different view. Some felt that the measures schools were taking were too extreme, while others felt they did not go far enough to protect students and staff from COVID-19.

This period, while chaotic and pressured, was a good chance for leaders to consult their staff about certain choices that lay ahead. How should we keep bubbles separate? Which method of lunch-time staggering do you think works best? How do you feel about meeting in person, even with social distancing?

There’s no doubt that the pandemic brought communities together. Nothing galvanises a group like a sense of shared struggle or a common aim. Put simply, we looked after each other and tried to communicate as best we could.

The 2021-22 academic year brought new hope for a COVID-free era, but that didn’t quite work out. Schools still had to operate in a ‘business as usual’ fashion, with Ofsted inspections resuming and exams taking place regardless of the disruption caused to learning. For our school, the question was, how could we take the way we consulted with staff in a period of crisis, and begin to normalise a sense of feedback about other areas of school life?

Ultimately, our aim was, and still is, to improve staff wellbeing at our school, so that it is the best possible place to work, while creating a safe culture to feed back. We knew that coming out of COVID we’d need to review how we did just about everything. Workload. Policies. Behaviour. Community life. The calendar. So the next question was, how do we seek feedback in a way that is conducive to people being honest, focused, and so that we can address their ideas?

To begin with, we launched a stand-alone staff wellbeing survey. We used validated, benchmarked questions from What Works Wellbeing, on Microsoft Forms. It was quite a large survey, covering general health and wellbeing, wellbeing at work, school leadership and management, workload, etc. The survey was sent out for staff to complete during an INSET day, so that they had dedicated time to do it.

After two years of asking mainly logistical questions about hand-sanitising and bubbles, this was a chance for staff to give us other feedback about their work. It was illuminating. They had a lot to say. Some of it positive, some of it constructively not so positive! We read through it carefully, felt glad that we outperformed other organisations in many of the benchmarked questions, and tried to spot trends and patterns.

The problem with a long survey that only occurs every year or six months, is that staff bring different ideas and feedback from across a wide time span. This means that the answers can lack focus or include events that have since long passed. Having multiple sections means that staff can get survey fatigue, too, which can reduce the validity of the responses.

Luckily, I saw that Harry Fletcher-Wood (teacher, author, and now Teacher Tapper) was launching a Teacher Tapp pilot scheme for schools to run their own Teacher Tapp surveys, and we leapt at the chance to be involved.

The premise of these surveys is that school leaders can set them to occur once a fortnight, twice a half term, or once a half term. The process is simple: Teacher Tapp sends the school’s Survey Lead a link, they then set up a survey by choosing categories and questions, and the date range for the survey to be sent to school staff. One working day after the survey concludes, Harry sends the survey /data, crunched and displayed in a clean, easy-to-access manner.

Question categories cover a variety of school business, such as wellbeing, workload, marking, behaviour, CPD, and many more. Over the course of the pilot, the dashboard has improved, the question range has increased, and Harry’s communication has been unfalteringly frequent and positive.

We went for the fortnightly option, and started by explaining to staff what we hoped to achieve, and what we were asking of them – in essence, it was to fill out a 2-3 minute survey once a fortnight. After each set of results, we sent out a report with the feedback and discussed how we might take some of that feedback into consideration.

In summary, we’ve discovered a variety of benefits from using Teacher Tapp in this regular manner:

  • It keeps surveys specific and focused
  • Little and often means staff have a regular voice – nothing is harboured over months
  • Leaders don’t accrue too many bits of feedback at once, so it’s more possible to action changes based on staff survey results
  • Survey results are benchmarked against schools like your own, giving a point of reference
  • It’s easy to keep track of the different survey results

How we used the data and began to create a feedback culture

Firstly, it’s important to keep a summary of trends you are noticing in surveys. We created a table of survey data summaries, planned actions, and completed actions, to make sure that staff feedback was being acted upon. The data that you amass along the way is only valuable if you use it as a first step in understanding how people really feel. Sometimes a survey might prompt a follow up in a briefing or a separate survey. It’s vital that leaders interrogate trends further so that they can truly understand what’s behind a few clicks on the Teacher Tapp surveys.

So, surveys are only the first step. We set up staff forums that run once a half term which aim to focus on certain issues or trends that we’ve noticed in the surveys or through other feedback. Each forum has one focus, such as marking, communication, parents, and we run it in the format of a focus group, trying to be consistent with our questions and in the ways we give everyone in the group a chance to discuss and share. These forums, which are voluntary, allow staff to engage with topics in more detail, engage with other perspectives, and to contribute to a process that may involve the school changing the way things are done. Next year, we also plan to introduce a more holistic wellbeing group, which discusses the school’s overall provision regarding wellbeing, not just specific topics.

Over the course of the year, as we had more data coming in, and therefore more actions to be taken, we began to create a school workload and wellbeing charter. This allowed us to reflect upon what already made the school a great place to work at, as well as piecing together what we were doing to improve this provision. We see this charter as a live document – a commitment to what we have done and what we want to do, but not completed. Not ‘ticked off’.

As I stated at the beginning of the article, our aim of the surveys and forums was twofold: to make the school a better place to work, and to improve the culture of open feedback, so that staff felt safe to evaluate and comment upon aspects of school life.

Developing and evaluating the role of surveys and staff feedback

The first year of this process was very much about normalising staff feedback and surveys. Teacher Tapp has been a brilliant tool to create concise, targeted surveys that are easy to access and provide excellent analysis from Harry and the team. Now we are looking to build on those in a couple of ways.

Firstly, we will slightly increase the length of the surveys so that we can create a little more depth when we ask for feedback; now that we are used to collecting data, this slight increase (i.e. going from 5 questions to 8-10) won’t lead to us drowning in feedback. But next, and excitingly, we are a Multi Academy Trust using the Teacher Tapp Mat-wide service. This means that not only will our survey results be benchmarked against schools like ours, but also alongside other schools in our MAT, which means we can create more cohesion between how the MAT works with our schools.

This article is an endorsement of creating a culture of psychological safety, where leaders ask for feedback and the knowledge and lived experiences of staff to help them improve school life. We believe that surveys, forums, and creating a shared charter are good starting points for that sort of culture. Teacher Tapp is undoubtedly a brilliant tool to help you with that journey, and if you’d like, I’d be happy to talk further about how to get the most out of it.

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