On a scale of 1-5, how happy are you? How connected do you feel to those around you? To what extent is school a place where you feel that you belong?
With these three simple questions, we've tried to gauge from teaching and non-teaching staff in several schools across the world recently, how they are feeling at the beginning of another school year.
At first view, the results appear to be positive. The average score for each of the questions is 4 out of 5. In percentage terms that's 80%, a score that would represent an excellent grade according to most standards of assessment.
The problem with average, however, is that it can be deceptive. In almost every case, 4 out of 5 turns out not to mean that everyone is generally happy, connected, and feeling like their school is a place where they belong. On the contrary, if you look carefully at the distribution of votes, there appears to be a small number of people that are consistently telling us that they are not happy, disconnected from those around them, and that their school is a place where they don't feel like they belong.
There is no doubt that many of us who have worked in schools have succumbed, on more than one occasion, to positivity bias. So when we ask the questions and look at the results, we tend to celebrate a score of 4 out of 5 and filter out the perspectives and opinions of those who feel like the experience (for whatever reason) really hasn't been good enough.
But what if we looked at things from an alternative point of view? What if we gathered feedback as a mechanism to actively seek out the thoughts and feelings of those who are giving us 1s and 2s, rather than 4s or 5s?
The more we think about the experience of school, the more we are coming to the conclusion that school is, in fact, a game; a game with winners and losers; a game with bias systemically built in for students, families, and employees alike.
So perhaps the 3 questions we should be asking are as follows:
Who are the colleagues, students, and families who don't feel happy, connected, or who don't feel like they belong in our community?
What is the one thing that we can do today to shift their experience in the direction of something more positive?
What is the bias that we have unconsciously introduced into the system of school that means some students, families, and employees always feel that they are playing a game of snakes and ladders?
Answer these questions and we might just find ourselves transforming the experience of school in ways that we never previously imagined.
After all, what is the point of school if it is not about feeling happy, connected, in a place where you truly belong?