As a teacher and coach, I learned the importance of giving good feedback to students and athletes.  The well-timed suggestion or compliment can leverage success and inspire confidence.  However, giving feedback to adults has proven to be more challenging.  In the superintendent position, soliciting and listening for feedback has proven even more challenging.

First, my bosses (I work for two bishops) don’t seem interested in surveying to find out how people view my performance.  This points to a larger problem in the hierarchical church—no one seems to be interested or knows how to seek out the opinions of the laity.

Second, it’s hard to solicit useful feedback not related to my job performance.  How can I improve?  Where do you need help?  It’s hard to find the right instrument and the right questions to get at those answers.

This year I decided to make the superintendent survey more of a listening device than an evaluative instrument.  After all, it’s my project!  I sent out a survey this summer to school administrators, pastors, school board/advisory council members, and faculty/staff.  For a summer survey, I received 79 responses.  The questions included:

  1. What is your name? (anonymous responses were not accepted)
  2. What is your role in the schools?
  3. How often do you interact with the superintendent?
  4. Would you like to see the superintendent more often?
  5. If you need the superintendent, how easy is it for you to contact him?
  6. Do you believe the superintendent adds value to your job/affiliation with our Catholic schools?
  7. In what way does the Superintendent serve as a resource?
  8. Rate the superintendent’s assistance in the areas of advisory councils/school boards, personnel, spirituality & Catholic identity, accreditation, and curriculum?
  9. Any other areas where you find the superintendent has areas of expertise?
  10. What do you believe are the superintendent’s priorities?
  11. How well does the Superintendent represent the Bishop(s)?
  12. Any other feedback for the Superintendent?

These questions served as a great way for me to listen to the people in the field.  As with most instruments, I first focused on some of the negative comments.  And there were quite a few!  But there were also quite a few complimentary and kind comments.  So I decided to focus on the most glaring negative comments and found that a few people were offering criticisms across the different comment sections.

It was obvious to me that those nine people offered worthwhile feedback.  They didn’t know me.  They didn’t see me enough.  They don’t believe I have their best interests at heart.  They don’t see any value in my work.

What can I learn from these comments?  I believe I need to do a better job of reaching out to the schools and getting to know the teachers.  So this is a priority for me this year—to get to know the teachers and listen to them.  I had previously thought I didn’t want to bother teachers by interrupting their classes or asking them to stay after school to meet with the superintendent.  But it turns out that some people want that!

But I also reached out to these nine people and asked them how I could help.  If they believe I have no value, I asked them how I could.  Three of the nine “critics” have responded to me and there has been good dialogue.  The project proved to be a great way to connect to our stakeholders and learn how I can improve.  I hold up this project as a way for other superintendents and church leaders to figure out how they can get better.

Here are a couple of great articles on feedback for your consideration:

  1. The Power of Listening from Harvard Business Review was the article which inspired me to re-shape this survey to be more useful. 4 Ways to Get Feedback from Your Employees is another great one!
  2. Good Leaders Make Good Schools from NY Times points out the importance of offering feedback to shape the school culture.
  3. Moving from Feedback to Feedforward from Jennifer Gonzalez (the Cult of Pedagogy blogger)
  4. Tips for Constructive Feedback from ASCD. Important to remember that there is an art for giving effective feedback!
  5. How to Give Feedback that Actually Improves Performance from Annie Murphy Paul is one of my all-time favorite feedback articles!