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Back to school: Five key voices you should listen to this school year

Father and child pack a backpack

Freshly sharpened pencils, bright backpacks and the joy of learning. The back-to-school season brings so much energy and life to our communities. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our world, our schools, and the expectations that school leaders must carry. And it’s not just about teaching and learning, although that’s undoubtedly important. As a former teacher in Virginia, I know the best learning happens when we focus on other key factors inside and outside of the classroom — such as improving school quality, climate, and equity, while engaging and retaining staff, and meeting the needs of diverse families. 

While the pandemic has changed many things, it hasn’t changed the critical need for districts to gather and apply community input. One of the best ways school leaders can understand their districts’ needs is to administer community surveys — which help build trust, show transparency, and encourage collaborative decision-making. 

Work with our team of expert researchers to administer industry-leading surveys, gather actionable data, and unlock key insights about critical issues such as student engagement, staff engagement and satisfaction, recruitment and retention, family and school partnerships, school quality, culture and climate, community engagement, and more. Learn how.

While engaging each stakeholder group is critical to making decisions that are truly in the best interest of your school community, it’s all too easy to accidentally overlook critical voices that need to be a part of the conversation. As you build your surveying strategy for the upcoming school year, here are five stakeholder groups you should make a concerted effort to engage: 

1. Students: A Pennsylvania student spurred school leaders into action earlier this year after starting a Change.org petition detailing her concerns. After getting the attention of the district, they conducted a survey that led to an increase in asynchronous learning time, additional mental health support, and clearer learning goals.

Surveys can amplify student voices to inform your plans and improve school quality. Surveying students can also help you identify perception gaps between them and their teachers and parents

2. Teachers and staff: Across the nation, schools are losing teachers faster than they can be replaced between retirements and those leaving the profession due to burnout and frustration. In Illinois, over a third of educators were considering a career change.

Taking the time to listen to your teachers and staff can help boost retention and morale while improving employee engagement. From staff engagement surveys to exit surveys, surveying your frontline employees can provide valuable insights.

3. Parents: Nearly 25% of the participants in a 2017 family exit study chose to leave their school because of issues with school quality. The reputation of your school matters, especially in the age of school choice and charter schools.

Surveys give you the opportunity to engage parents, understand their perspectives and needs, and get ahead of potential problems fast — helping support enrollment and prevent crises.

4. ESL/ESOL families: If your district has a large population of English Language Learners or families where English is not their native language, it’s important to consider their preferences for providing feedback.

It’s important to offer surveys in multiple languages, for example, or give families opportunities to provide feedback in focus groups with translators. Collecting feedback from diverse perspectives will help you more equitably meet the needs of your students.

5. Taxpayers: If you’re planning a bond proposal in the coming years, you need to start building trust now. A community survey can help you collect input from the community and ensure you understand — and address — their concerns before they get to the ballot box. 

Engage your entire school community with strategic, research-based surveys. Learn more and see how we can help. 

 

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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