As I’ve written about before, when I started at Shaker Junior High School I did not walk into what could be characterized as a “welcoming” environment. While a majority of the staff members were professional and personable, the school’s society was dominated by a small group of veteran staff members. This small group wielded a disproportionate amount of influence over what was and was not accepted in the school, what practices were followed, how the school was even administered. Or at least they acted that way and most of the other staff members didn’t challenge the status quo. Such a climate was very different from what I had experienced previously and my early years were marked by repeated skirmishes with the vocal few.
While my early years at the junior high were difficult, they also provided me with experiences that were invaluable. I had strong support from my assistant superintendent and superintendent, which was crucial to my developing a legitimate influence over the development of the junior high, but the conflicts were trying. It would have been easy to take the path of least resistance and go with the flow, but that’s not what I was hired to do, nor is it my makeup anyway. I periodically describe different battles that were undertaken to point out learning experiences for me. I had a lot of them, and here’s one more.
It was in the spring of my second year as principal. The year had been pretty much like my first year; things moving along, working to institute some needed changes to our programs despite resistance from the self-appointed bosses, making progress here and there. I was walking around, stopping in classes, talking to staff, a normal morning of activities when I was stopped by the most vocal of the resistors. It was a short conversation; he informed me that the staff had decided they were going to evaluate me that year. A survey was going to be distributed to staff, they would be completed, collected and collated. The results would be shared with me. He even gave me a copy of the evaluation survey that had been developed for this.
I told him that I found the idea interesting, and that I didn’t believe it was the responsibility of the staff to evaluate me, that instead it was a job for my boss to complete. He, of course, was unmoved by my response and indicated it would be distributed to staff in a week or so.
I had mixed reactions to be honest. On the one hand I had no problem asking staff members for some input about my job performance, but that’s different from the staff thinking that they, as a whole, would be writing my evaluation. And another consideration was that the implications for such an action as well, faculty evaluating principals, went beyond the walls of the junior high. As usual, I contacted Pete McManus, Assistant Superintendent, for his advice. He had two things to say; first, not to worry about it, they would address it with the teachers association. But, secondly and more importantly, he said I should consider putting out my own survey to staff soliciting feedback.
That was great advice. It actually would accomplish a few of things. It demonstrated that I wanted to hear staff members’ feedback about the job I did that year. Doing so showed the faith I had in the professionalism and perspectives of staff members. It also deflated the vocal few’s initiative and intent, basically undermining their attempt to intimidate me by having staff evaluate me. It also would possibly give me some legitimate feedback, perhaps provide some ideas that would benefit me as a principal. Lastly it gives the disgruntled the opportunity to gripe. You just need to be prepared to read some things that aren’t nice, fair, or accurate. But it was such good advice.
So I did. I announced to staff at a faculty meeting that I was doing this and, a good idea extended, suggested that all teachers do the same. All of us can benefit from the perspective of those we supervise, so they should survey kids and parents. I’m not sure how many did what I modeled.
And I have done the same thing every year since. Many of the years I actually don’t receive many completed surveys, but what I have received has tended to be positive. Last year was my best response year; the survey was developed and administered via Survey Monkey, completely online, results tabulated instantly. I did the same type of survey this year and again received a good number of responses. And I have the same thoughts about doing so now that I had when I began the practice 25 years ago. It is good practice in so many respects. Everybody should have the confidence to give their students, staff, whoever, the chance to voice their thoughts about the characteristics of the job they’re doing.
And that is probably only my perspective.