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4 principles for strong surveys this school year

Data is one of the most powerful tools K-12 leaders have and stakeholder feedback is a critical component of that — especially when it comes to making decisions in the best interest of your community. 

As you collect community input this school year, be mindful of the current climate. What worked when administering surveys or conducting research before the pandemic may not be effective now. 

Free on-demand video: Learn how to adapt your survey strategies this year

Even last year’s approach to surveys may not be best practice this school year now that your community has undergone even more new experiences. 

As you plan to adapt your surveys and research efforts this year, consider these four principles:

1. Know where your district stands and where you’re trying to go. 

Change has seemingly been one of the only constants this past year and a half. With that change comes a need to reassess your district and the path forward. 

Your district’s strategic plan is a good starting point. As you re-evaluate, think about your school district’s long- and short-term needs.  

I recommend thinking of progress in key time chunks: What do you need to accomplish in the next few months? Where do you hope your district and schools will be by the end of the school year? What about a year or two from now? 

Once you know where you’re trying to go, you can start planning a research-backed survey that will collect the information and data you’ll need to get there. A few questions to consider:

  • At what stages do you need community input? 
  • Which stakeholder groups do you need to hear from? 
  • When do you need their feedback? 
  • What method is best for collecting that input?

2. Engage your entire community. 

Consider who you need to hear from. While certain surveys or topics lend themselves to specific stakeholder groups, it’s critical districts prioritize listening to all of their stakeholders, including parents and guardians, teachers and staff, students, and other community members. 

Administering appropriate surveys with targeted questions is only part of the equation when it comes to engaging all of your stakeholders. 

Effective promotion is necessary on the front-end of any school survey or research effort so you can reach all segments of your stakeholder groups. Work with your team to develop and launch a thoughtful multi-channel promotion strategy to ensure you hear from every voice in your community. 

Unlock 4 strategies for effectively promoting community engagement efforts during the pandemic — including practical ideas for each.

Be clear on who you’re seeking input from, what topics are included in the survey, when and how they can participate, and why it’s important.

You should also take a look at accessibility. Are there potential language barriers that prevent pockets of your community from participating? Do you provide multiple ways for stakeholders to share feedback, such as offering paper surveys in addition to digital ones or conducting structured interviews or focus groups with hard to reach groups?

3. Be intentional in the data you collect — and how you go about collecting it. 

Survey fatigue (and ultimately decreased participation) is a real challenge in many districts, and it can often be traced back to poor survey planning. 

Knowing where you’re trying to take your school or district — and the data you need to get there — is an important first step. You should also take a discerning look at the overall engagement calendar in your district. 

Meaningful survey data starts with effective survey design. Unlock the art and science of school survey creation with these 5 strategies.

For example, what schools or departments are also planning to administer surveys this year? Are there opportunities to combine research efforts and share data? Is there a reasonable amount of time between research efforts involving the same stakeholder groups? Have you communicated this calendar to your community so they know what to expect?

By taking an intentional approach to collecting stakeholder feedback across the district, you can increase response rates, engage your community, and collect actionable data.

4. Prioritize communication with your community.

A strong survey is more than a series of questions. It’s also an opportunity to educate and share important context with your community — before, during, and after your survey.

Share key results once the survey closes and provide an easy way for community members to reach out if they have additional feedback or questions. 

Watch our latest on-demand video for practical advice from education researchers on how to get the most out of your research efforts this school year and beyond. 

About the Author

Amy Boehl
Amy Boehl is the senior director of research at K12 Insight. She earned her Ph.D. in Education Policy and Research Methodology from George Mason University. She is a former middle school teacher with Loudoun County Public Schools.

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