School leaders are faced with making plans to address countless critical matters in the coming school year — such as managing learning loss and mental health concerns, improving equity and inclusion, and mitigating teacher turnover. With so many pressing issues, truly understanding your community’s needs and perspectives has never been more important.
Research-based surveys are one of the most effective ways to gather community input on key issues, which helps you develop responsive action plans and build public trust. But not all surveys are created equal — and they won’t all get you the results you need to truly understand your community and drive meaningful change.
Here are six principles for creating and administering reliable school surveys that will help you effectively plan and prioritize resources for the coming school year:
1. Be strategic
Change is often hard and, as a school leader, you’ll have to make tough — sometimes unpopular — decisions. When you’re intentional about surveying by involving your community and listening to their feedback, you’ll have greater acceptance of changes to school priorities and processes. It also shows your community you value their feedback and perspectives.
As you build your strategy, it’s critical to collaborate with departments across your district — from transportation to operations to HR — so you can build a flexible surveying strategy that provides them with actionable data to improve school culture, climate and student success.
“We consistently listened, we consistently gathered information and data, and we consistently used it to make decisions around all of the pivots we had to make. It didn’t mean everyone was always happy, it did not mean we pleased everyone, it just meant they trusted that we took their feedback into consideration.”
Veronica V. Sopher, Chief Communications Officer, Fort Bend ISD
2. Be intentional
Your surveys should include questions that help you identify perception gaps, disparities and blind spots. For example, do staff think schools are safer than parents? How do parents, staff and students perceive the frequency of communications coming from the school? Identifying these gaps are an important part of listening to your community and ensuring you’re meeting the needs of various stakeholder groups.
3. Be accessible
It’s important to hear from your entire school community — not just the voices that are always at the table. As you develop surveys, identify ways you can engage hard-to-reach populations, such as families where English is a second language or those that lack reliable technology or internet service. Think about what barriers exist and how they can be removed to allow you to meet families where they’re at and to amplify the voices you don’t often hear.
4. Be proactive
Communication before, during and after administering surveys can increase participation and build trust with stakeholders, which helps you make the best decisions for your district. You’ll want to tell your stakeholders what the survey is, why you’re asking them to participate, and how the information will be used.
In addition, conducting surveys annually or semi-annually and using results to develop responsive action plans and drive meaningful change will ultimately strengthen relationships with stakeholders and build public trust.
5. Be curious
It’s important to dig deep into the feedback, insights and conversations that result from surveys. Why did participants give these answers? What is the perceived issue and what’s truly driving it? How does this reality reflect on your community and district’s values? And, most importantly, how can you turn the data into action that improves outcomes for students?
Want to get at the “why” behind your survey data? Ask us about our Making Feedback Matter workshops where we help you and your team dig into the data and discover the stories behind the numbers.
6. Be accountable
Listening is a good start, but you can’t stop there. Every question carries an expectation, and — in addition to listening — you need to show accountability by taking action, pivoting efforts that aren’t garnering the expected results, and providing additional support where it’s needed most.
Want to learn more about how surveys can help you plan for re-entry and recovery? Watch this recent national conversation with Dr. Alisha Martinez (Fairfax County Public Schools), Veronica V. Sopher (Fort Bend ISD), Corey Gordon (DeliverEd), and Dr. Jennifer Coisson (K12 Insight). Watch it on demand today.