TregoED Blog

Increase Retention with Systemic Listening

a listening earSuperintendent turnover, teacher turnover, principal turnover – are no doubt happening – AND there are not many replacements flowing in the pipeline.  Culture is at the top of the list of why people stay or leave their jobs.  In a recent report by Microsoft, employees reported that what they wanted most was “a culture that cares for them, for what they are experiencing and for their future.” Almost two-thirds said that their leaders “don’t prioritize culture, let alone pursue its clarity and cultivation.”  They want and need “leader-led, leader-backed, leader-enabled culture.” We all agree that student learning happens best when they feel that the teacher “cares for them, for what they are experiencing and for their future.”  To build that culture, teachers, leaders and staff members need to be part of a pervasive district culture that grows systemically in response to their needs.

Where do you start?

So how does that happen?  How do education leaders lead, back and enable a culture that demonstrates that they care about their employees now and in the future? Research shows that building staff capacity demonstrates an investment in employees’ futures. For some pointers on where to start, I reached out to Richard Sinclair, founder of Leading Schools Forward, an organization that works with school districts to support the development of a systemic approach to developing school culture.

You need to listen, react, and listen again

Sinclair said that schools that are serious about developing a positive, sustainable culture, approach things from the “inside out”- starting with cabinet members and staff and then moving to the community. For districts to scale such a model, they need to partner with principals to develop systems that measure, discuss, and celebrate employee enthusiasm linked to the system most schools already measure, discuss and celebrate-student achievement. Tying the two systems together creates “systemic listening” – that empowers the staff to lead the change. He went on to say, to grow such capacity the process should begin with principals focused on continually improving their experience and in the case of very large districts with the cabinet (modeled by the superintendent), before moving on to teachers and staff.

How do you begin?
In Richard Sinclair’s experience, you start with a competitive means of measuring enthusiastic loyalty by asking a question like “on a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend our [district or school] as a place to work to your colleagues or friends?,” (this is known as the employee Net Promoter Score  or eNPS),  and to dig deeper, add specific performance development need questions like that of the Gallup 12Q Survey. [For much less, SurveyMonkey has a similar set of questions.]  These help you broach different topics to delve into conversations of greater purpose. Using collaborative processes like Situation Appraisal can help you facilitate sometimes tough discussions that can lead to a continuous improvement plan, implementation plan, continuous feedback, and re-evaluation on a schedule parallel to student achievement efforts to keep culture continuously improving.

Turnover wastes time and money

Turnover can be costly and disruptive.  Building a positive and supportive culture can help you get the right people into education, stay in education, and be competitive.  Using collaborative processes like Situation Appraisal  can help facilitate systemic listening to gather the data needed to determine where you are so you can develop and implement plans to improve.  Building the capacity of your staff to lead and participate in change based on data flips your leadership model from compliance to one of service reflecting a leadership that is not dependent on the leader’s values, but on the organization’s values.  The end result can not only reduce turnover, but may have the added benefit of increasing learning in the classroom.

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