Turning feedback into action: Fairfax County Public Schools puts a premium on employee engagement

putting feedback into action

As high teacher attrition rates continue to be a chronic problem for school districts across the country, school leaders are searching for ways to keep their faculty engaged and enthused.

Compensation. Professional development. Benefits. These all remain important concerns for employees.

But more and more school leaders are learning that employees also want a stronger voice in the decision-making processes in their schools and districts.

To ensure employees have that voice, districts must develop ways to collect, listen to, and use employee feedback, says R Chace Ramey, assistant superintendent for human resources at Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia.

In a recent webinar, Ramey outlined how his district made employee feedback a priority and how they are using that feedback to boost employee satisfaction and motivation.

Always listening

Feedback can come from anywhere. “We’re like a lot of school districts,” says Ramey, “and you do get feedback in a variety of forums, both formally and informally.”

Whether it’s through email, surveys, employee councils or committees, or other forums, FCPS has no shortage of feedback, according to Ramey. And, while the district welcomes all of it, Ramey says there is a distinct tone to the unsolicited feedback they receive.

“If you only have informal channels for feedback, the majority of the feedback you’re going to get, unfortunately in today’s society, is going to be negative. Very few times do we get emails in HR that are unsolicited that say, ‘Hey, that health plan is really great; I really love that $250 deductible.’ We don’t really hear a lot of that.”

The key for FCPS, Ramey says, was finding a way to formally gather employees’ concerns, while also soliciting constructive feedback that could aid in decision making.

Asking for the right feedback

To create a more comprehensive system for gathering and using employee feedback, FCPS kicked off a district-wide employee engagement survey during the 2015-2016 school year.

With help from K12 Insight (which produces TrustED), the district developed a wide-ranging survey that asked for feedback on several dimensions, including work environment, communication, leadership, and feedback and recognition.

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When the district administrated its second employee engagement survey during the 2016-2017 school year, the number of employees who participated rose by nearly 1,000 people, and employee engagement levels increased by nearly 5 percentage points.

Turning feedback into action

To what does Ramey attribute this rise in employee engagement and participation?

“I think, overall, really there was no magic formula,” Ramey says. “We did what we said we were going to do: We surveyed the employees and then we didn’t leave this report on the shelf.”

The more employees understand that formal feedback actually leads to real changes, the more enthusiastic they’ll be to participate, Ramey says. Whether it’s updated policies on compensation or benefits, new approaches to teaching and instruction, or revamped professional development, Ramey says districts can boost employee engagement, satisfaction, and motivation by using feedback to take real action.

“Our employees are on the front lines in the schools. Our teachers and other instructional staff and our support employees are providing a lot of the services that make our schools go. And so, we try to be very attentive in listening to that and then make decisions that reflect what we’re hearing from our staff and what’s going to improve their experiences as employees.”

To hear more from R Chace Ramey on Fairfax County Public Schools’ approach to employee engagement, view his full webinar here.

How does your school or district prioritize employee feedback? Do you have a formal employee engagement survey in place? Tell us in the comments.

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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