As schools maneuver their third year of change and uncertainty fueled by the pandemic, intentional efforts to build and strengthen trust between stakeholders and district leadership is critical.
Many districts are turning to a simple strategy to help them build connections and demonstrate their commitment to transparency: listening tours.
Download the Listening Tour Agenda Framework
Preparation is key to a successful listening tour. I’ve worked with school districts across the country to help them promote trust and achieve their goals by listening, and have a few tips to help ensure your success.
1. Prepare meeting agendas in advance.
With many stakeholders and conflicting interests, one of the most challenging aspects of conducting an effective listening tour is keeping conversations focused on the end goal.
Prepare an agenda with goals and a list of customized questions for each stakeholder group to ensure you get exactly what you’re looking for during each conversation. Questions can be focused on challenges they’re facing, resource needs, perceptions, opinions, and ideas for improvement.
If you’re not sure where to start, this framework provides templates for meetings with school board members, teachers and staff, parents and families, students, special interest groups, and local leaders.
2. Split up stakeholders by group or interest area
You have many stakeholder groups to consider and splitting them into groups can help ensure conversations go smoothly.
Our Listening Tour Toolkit recommends a phased approach to listening to stakeholder groups.
Depending on your district size, consider splitting up teachers and staff meetings by role type (principals, teachers, support staff, etc.) and/or department (human resources, transportation, etc.), or a mix of the two.
You also may split up families and students by school, age group, or specific need or interest area (such as special education, English Language Learners, student-athletes, music and band, etc.)..
And in-person meetings aren’t the only way to listen. Some parents and guardians might have conflicting work schedules, speak different languages, or are uncomfortable with the idea of speaking up in person. A tool like Let’s Talk allows you to collect feedback anytime.
3. Agree to disagree
It’s likely you won’t agree with every piece of feedback or idea offered during your listening tour. Use these transitional phrases to acknowledge the person’s thoughts before moving on.
For example, you might say, “That’s an interesting perspective” or “I’ll take that into consideration.”
If the stakeholder is pressuring you for a decision, you can circle back to the goal of your listening tour. Simply saying, “Right now I am listening to all perspectives and I plan to develop a comprehensive plan based on everyone’s feedback” can help the person understand that you want to investigate further before committing to a specific action.
Be sure to always thank the person for sharing their perspective, feedback, or idea — even if you disagree or feel they’re missing the big picture.