The emergence of COVID-19 and its rapid spread around the globe ensured that the academic year of 2019-2020 is one that we will never forget. Lockdowns across the world meant that schools had to adapt their entire curriculums to distance learning in a matter of days. Schools rose to the challenge and teachers did admirably. However, there are still many lessons to be learned and things which could be improved.
It’s possible that the upcoming academic year will require more distance teaching from your team. Now is your chance to get feedback from your teachers on the transition to distance teaching.
Feedback will help you see what worked and what didn’t – useful information when it comes to planning and preparing for September. What’s more, encouraging your team to share their experiences and opinions is a crucial tool for team building.
Creating the right conditions is key to receiving the most thorough and useful responses possible. Here are five tips for getting it right:
1. Time it right
The school holidays are a good time to ask your team for detailed feedback on the previous academic year. The usual end-of-year stress will have abated. And teachers have had time to relax and reflect on the last term of school.
Getting feedback well in advance of the new school year will give you enough time to consider what you’ve learned. You might receive conflicting accounts from different departments, and need to develop a differentiated training plan to accommodate different teaching needs. You might even receive some feedback which challenges your own perceptions of the last year. What’s more, you’ll want to share the staff feedback with other members of the senior management team, so allowing enough time for consideration and discussion is crucial.
Once you’ve had time to mull over your teachers’ experiences, opinions and requests, you can develop a response.
2. Design your process carefully
If you really want your staff to be completely honest, it’s a good idea to make the feedback process anonymous. That way staff can share their perspectives without feeling like they are being judged. It’s fairly straightforward to create a survey using a platform such as Typeform, which allows for responder anonymity.
Then it’s time to think about the questions you want to ask. Open questions will give you more useful feedback than closed ones: If you ask “Did you find distance teaching challenging?” you’ll probably receive yes or no answers. However, if you alter the phrasing slightly to, “What were the main challenges of distance teaching?” you’ll receive specific examples of the difficulties that individual teachers faced.
Asking neutral questions – that is, questions which avoid making any assumptions – is another good technique. For example, by altering “What were the main challenges of distance teaching?” to “How was your experience of distance teaching?” you’ll receive a wider range of responses. You might even find new ideas and approaches among the positive responses that you can share with the wider team.
3. Share your findings
When your teachers have taken time to share their experiences and perspectives, they want to know that someone is listening. In the week after your feedback exercise, share a brief summary of your main findings. Keep the details anonymous, but let people know that you appreciate their feedback.
Flag any common issues or problems that were experienced by a majority of the staff. Let them know that you will be working on a solution. This is also a good opportunity to share any success stories from the previous year or positive feedback that you received.
4. Take action
When staff members feel that their opinions are valued, they are more likely to share their thoughts again in the future. If they see you making changes after listening to their input, they will feel like they have a stake in the outcome. So taking action after receiving feedback is a good way to keep the momentum going and motivate your staff to participate in training and support.
Use the responses from the survey to inform your planning for the school year. In particular, use it to inform any training you want to deliver, or any support you’d like to extend to your team.
If there is a common concern that can’t be easily resolved, acknowledge that you’ve listened. Then carefully explain why you can’t solve that particular problem at this moment in time. Getting these issues out into the open is an important part of effective communication. It is also crucial for team-building – especially when your staff are working remotely.
5. Keep the conversation going
In times of uncertainty, it’s good to keep communication channels open. If your teachers respond well to the survey and the feedback is useful, keep the conversation going.
After you’ve delivered your training, ask your teachers’ if they found it useful. Set up an “open door” policy, letting your team know that they can come to you with ideas, problems and opinions. Encourage your teachers to share their experiences with one another, pooling useful resources and advice. These actions will help to build a sense of community. That team spirit will make your staff more resilient in the face of unexpected challenges, no matter what the next year holds.
For more insights and resources on education in the time of coronavirus, have a look at our COVID-19 support for online teaching and learning highlight reel. You’ll find useful articles on everything from supporting parents with homeschooling, how to motivate your students when learning from home, to the impact of COVID-19 on education long-term.