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New Era Surveying: Planning for today, tomorrow, & next year

A good survey is about so much more than collecting data. 

When I served as district superintendent of Michigan and later Louisiana, I saw surveying for what it really was: An invaluable opportunity to build trust with the entire school community. 

This is especially true today. School districts across the nation packed two decades’ worth of change into the past 10 months, and your entire community (from families to employees to taxpayers who may not currently have a child in the school system) is clamoring to share experiences and input. 

Reveal 4 reasons why now is the right time for you to survey your community

It can be tempting to take an ad-hoc approach to surveys—and the variety of online survey tools out there certainly make it easy enough to rush into your next project. But for surveys to truly serve as a vehicle for building trust, you need to take a thoughtful, strategic approach that considers not only short-term goals but also the bigger picture. 

That means developing a thoughtful—but flexible—plan for the next 12-18 months. With all the change happening in districts right now (and the likelihood of more change ahead), I know it can be tempting to table this planning stage until the fog lifts. But, by building a flexible plan now, you’ll have a comprehensive approach your internal teams and the larger community can rally behind. 

Below, I’ve outlined 4 key steps for building a comprehensive, long-term surveying strategy that helps build trust capital. 

  1. Get the right people together and start with the end in mind.

Start by understanding the data needs of your various departments and school principals—along with when they need that data by—so everyone is empowered with the information they need to drive meaningful change. 

You’ll also want to understand the key topics, stakeholder groups that will be surveyed, and how the findings will be used. This will enable you to really start with your end goal in mind. 

  1. Build your calendarkeeping the seasonality of surveys in mind. 

Once you understand the needs of your departments and schools, you can start to build your calendar. As you do this, keep in mind that certain surveys lend themselves to certain seasons. 

For example, it makes sense to administer a school quality survey in the fall so families and others can share input on individual schools and then ask them about their experience with the overall district come spring when they’ve had more time to get to know that. Additionally, HR leaders may wish to run an employee engagement and morale survey in the second half of the school year to make sure they understand employee perceptions and address their needs. 

If you don’t have an always-on customer service solution, you might also want to consider surveys around timely topics, such as back-to-school, so that you can improve for the next school year. 

  1. Avoid over-surveying your community

As you’re building your calendar, keep a close eye on who is being surveyed. If the same stakeholder groups are surveyed too often (or if they’re asked the same questions across multiple surveys), they can experience survey fatigue or even apathy–which will chip away at the trust you’ve built. 

Instead, pace your surveys—making a point to space out surveys going to the same stakeholder groups and considering alternate approaches for those that do overlap. 

  1. Make promotion planning part of your strategy.

Surveys are only as successful as their response rates. Once you get your surveys on a calendar, you can work backward to plan how you will promote that survey. I recommend a multi-channel approach, although the tactics will vary depending on the survey and the stakeholder groups being surveyed. 

Regardless of how you’re communicating, you’ll want to ensure any communications address these key features: 

    • What the survey is and who’s being asked to participate
    • When it will be administered and how (with clear instructions)
    • Why the survey is important, including how the results will be used

I can’t stress enough how important this step is to your overall plan. Just like the survey itself, planning the corresponding communication pieces will prove to your community that you value their input and helps build those strong, trusting relationships that truly power school districts. 

Don’t settle for just another survey. Unlock the benefits of an end-to-end surveying strategy. Let us show you how. 

About the Author

Gerald Dawkins
Dr. Gerald Dawkins is a former school district superintendent in Louisiana and Michigan. He is currently senior vice president of superintendent and district relations for K12 Insight. You can reach Dr. Dawkins at gerald.dawkins@k12insight.com.

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