How can a school leader become a better listener?

In this article, we will show you how to tune out interruptions and gain authentic feedback you can implement immediately.

“No significant learning occurs without significant relationship.” --Dr. James P. Comer, Yale University

Today’s world is changing fast.

A barrage of written and audio interruptions are vying for your attention. The immediate gratification of daily technology is an enormous distraction.

Are we turning our attention away from active listening skills and toward this interference?

After all, the average U.S. worker spends 6.3 hours a day checking email. This includes 3.2 hours for career-related messages and 3.1 hours for personal communications.

What are the best ways to silence this cacophony and get to the heart of authentic feedback, which you can use to engage your stakeholders and improve your school?

Do you need to work on authentic feedback?

Thinking of your 3 main stakeholder groups, rate the current quality of their feedback loops.

A. Have you built an environment in which students excel through creating a welcoming space? Students thrive in a comfortable learning environment. Consider - does your classroom space promote positive risk-taking and celebrate diversity by listening to all voices?

B. Teachers are heroes, ever present in the school building. Have you brought in the support structures for teachers to make suggestions and safely bounce ideas off each other? Maybe an online platform would help to relax barriers to authentic feedback?

C. Families love the chance to provide feedback as often as possible. Yet, many schools create the structures to “hear” feedback and then ignore the results. Are you guilty of this?

Here’s what you can do about it today:

  • Include online surveys on the home-page. Survey Monkey, Typeform, and Google Forms offer free, simple tools to get feedback quickly.

  • Link one of these free survey tools to your “Quick Links” on your school’s home-page, and encourage parents to offer feedback as often as possible.

  • Put up an online platform for teachers. Trello offers a wide variety of tools you can use to organize your projects and Padlet creates a “Post-it” board for suggestions or innovations.

  • Facebook pages are great ways to celebrate authentic feedback. Through discussion boards, event postings, and video and image hosting tools, your stakeholders will feel like a team working toward one common goal: student achievement.

  • After a sports event, offer your families the chance to share their thoughts on your school’s sportsmanship and environment.

An essential part of this action is the follow-up. The response to each piece of feedback only needs to be a personalized sentence that thanks the person for their contribution.

This small action can go a long way.

Dedicated attention

Some of the most effective feedback comes from face-to-face communication, but busy schedules can get in the way.

  • Switch off your devices and tune-in to your families. Take notes on a legal pad.Start a conversation with your families to discuss their ideas, and questions with you.

  • Not sure how to get started? Tweet out a picture of yourself, sitting at your desk, waiting for the first family to arrive.

Give it a title.

“Dear parent, how can we make our school great?”

But, inviting families in for individual meetings costs valuable time. Why not take advantage of free online tools which help you fast-track this process?

  • Trello, Taiga and Kanboard, are modern takes on traditional organizational tools known as kanban boards. Invite families to meet digitally. Online kanban boards offer organizational flow-charts and management tools which build time back into your busy schedule

Transparent communication

Nothing encourages open lines of communication more than transparency. School newsletters, Twitter feeds, Instagram posts, and landing pages that are filled with events, visions, and goals help to do that!

  • Use the resources you have available, such as social media streams and your online presence, to share with your families. Create posts designed to share your school’s vision with the community.
  • Encourage staff members to send in ideas about lesson plans or academic activities.
  • Share student work, with permission, whenever possible.

Help parents to see the school not as a closed space, but as a part of the community.

What to do with this feedback

Once you’ve taken the time to collect feedback from your teachers, parents, community, and even students, make their contributions visible in the school. Here are two ways to do that:

  • A teacher offered a new idea about hanging expectations in a busy hallway.
  • A parent loved Family Reading Night because of its use of positive literature quotes in the main atrium.

Act on it.

Even small actions like posting behavioral expectations or providing positive models for success can have a huge impact.

Students will see you modeling the skills of a professional collaborator. Send the right message by taking in feedback and showing your community you are the type of school looking to continuously improve.

“Active listening creates a generation of learners prepared for university-level reflection.”

Do you encourage lifelong learning? Taking in feedback, reflecting, and acting are the three necessary steps of a lifelong learner looking to improve.

Parents, teachers, and students will see your steps toward listening to their feedback as invitations to suggest more.

Use this continuous loop to build your school in new ways.

Shout out (with permission) on social media:

  • Using your school’s social media presence, tell the world about the great ideas proposed by teachers, students, and parents. Facebook Groups are great ways to include members of the community into your online presence. Help parents feel like a part of the team by creating a Facebook Group dedicated to school involvement.
  • Following an informal “Open door” meeting, take the time to respond to your visitors with positive gratitude for their ideas and ask if you can share one or two on social media.
  • Tweet out a great idea shared by a parent looking to make school feel more like home with fashionable curtains.
  • Post a picture of students collaborating to design a new school crest.

Your followers will see you acting on feedback, and drive traffic to your site in droves.

Other schools will want to follow suit, but you have the chance to be the one on the front line.

  • Highlight these ideas on your school’s home page, and encourage families, students, and teachers to check in frequently for new updates.
  • Encourage staff members, students, and families to participate with their ideas on social media through creating hashtags that best represent your school’s vision for greatness.
  • Following a collaboration session with an academic team, invite the team to tweet their best ideas, sharing ways your school is going above and beyond.
  • After a music performance rehearsal, share your love and value of the arts with the world through an Instagram post.


Through your school’s online presence, prove your value as an institution of active listeners. Take the steps to encourage students to practice and model the skill of active listening:

  • Collect feedback – then act on it.
  • Make active listening structures a fundamental element of your school’s expectations.
  • Highlight feedback structures as strong values on your school’s landing page.

Live these skills daily.

Your interactions with families, teachers, students, and the community are part of your school’s identity.

Build capacity in your community by setting a standard for active listening through collecting feedback and you’ll change the world around you.