If this school year showed us anything, it’s that teachers aren’t afraid to make themselves heard on the issues that matter most to them.
Teachers in at least five states formed picket lines, participated in walkouts, or organized demonstrations demanding better pay and stronger education funding. Education experts have wondered whether teachers in other states states will follow suit next school year.
Whether you find yourself in the midst of teacher and staff unrest, the recent turmoil shows just how important it is for school districts to focus on employee engagement.
One district that understand this is Rockford Public Schools 205 in Illinois. One of the largest public school districts in the state, with more than 28,500 students and 4,700 employees, RPS 205 faced some critical decisions–and administrators knew employee engagement would be front and center.
“We didn’t have a ratified contract going into the school year, and our student achievement data showed little to no growth over the past several years,” explains Kelly Monson, the district’s chief continuous improvement officer.
District leaders wanted to hear from teachers and staff about how they were feeling—and use their feedback to develop a plan for how to create the best possible place to work.
Building a baseline
First, the district worked with K12 Insight to develop a comprehensive employee engagement survey—one that would help employees “go deep” to really understand how teachers and staff felt about their time in the district.
The employee engagement survey results revealed certain areas where the districts was performing well, along with some areas where it could perform better.
Transparency was one area that employees said they wanted district leaders to focus on. In open-ended comments, several employees said they felt the district “goes through the motions” of seeking staff input, but often makes decisions without considering that feedback.
Monson says these and other results helped the district develop an honest benchmark upon which to start having constructive conversations with staff, and to begin tracking and measuring improvements over time.
Make feedback matter
After the survey closed, the district was quick to share the results with stakeholders. K12 Insight worked with the district to host a series of live Making Feedback Matter workshops with principals and cabinet members. These workshops put the survey results “in the hands of the people who could do something with it,” and helped them understand its implications.
“When we presented the survey data, we were able to say that we heard everybody and this is what we heard,” explains Monson. “Then we took that information and developed immediate goals. We said this is what we’re going to do, starting today, and then we launched it.”
At the school level, principals embraced the process, working with leadership to identify opportunities for improvement in their schools.
An ‘always-on’ conversation
For Monson and others, it was important that the employee engagement survey be seen as the first step in a larger, “continuous conversation” about employee engagement.
The district worked with K12 Insight to adapt its use of Let’s Talk!–a cloud-based communications solution that helps school district leaders have ongoing conversations about critical issues with members of the community–to build a stronger way for employees to provide feedback.
The technology, which can be accessed through a tab or button on school district websites, was set up on the district’s main site as well as individual school sites. A backend dashboard helps school leaders monitor and respond to feedback and use the results to make decisions in real time.
“Let’s Talk! gave us a place to send employees after the survey if they wanted to provide other information,” explains Monson. “Now, we use it throughout the school year to engage teachers and staff, and really all of our stakeholders.”
While the district has yet to complete a full year of its continuous improvement cycle, Monson says administrators have already seen improvement in employee perceptions.
“Pairing the employee engagement survey with Let’s Talk! gave us an authentic way to understand and fully engage with our employees and other stakeholders,” says Monson. “By opening lines of communication and providing timely, accurate, and courteous responses, we can prove that employee and community voices matter in our district.”
Interested in conducting an employee engagement survey this year? Want to learn how to create a ‘always-on’ conversation around employee engagement in your district? Sign up for a free consult here, or contact your strategic account executive.