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Survey evolution and what it means for your surveying strategy

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COVID-19 has changed the game — for school leaders, their districts, and their surveys. 

Some districts have been able to keep their teachers and staff engaged and satisfied, but many are short-staffed and experiencing burnout and turnover. Meanwhile, students and families have faced a number of hurdles over the past year as they’ve managed device issues, internet accessibility, and home-schooling. 

Just as schools have had to evolve, so have surveys. As head of research at K12 Insight, I have a few tips to help your district plan and implement your 2021-22 school surveys:

Tip 1: Create a district-level survey and campus-level surveying calendar.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, we saw an increase in participation rates across all stakeholder groups. Communities were going through an unprecedented event with new experiences and were eager to give feedback. 

However, as the pandemic continued, we saw many districts with below average participation rates — especially toward the end of the school year. When we dug deeper we found that many districts, and the schools within them, were sending out more surveys than normal. This was causing survey fatigue, meaning more people sent surveys straight to the trash rather than providing their feedback.

Planning ahead can help you prevent survey fatigue and allows you to combine surveys together when it makes sense. This can decrease the number of times you’re reaching out to stakeholders and increase your participation rates — getting more meaningful results for your district.  

Tip 2: Take the time to listen to the people on the front lines. 

How your teachers and staff feel matters just as much as understanding their needs and concerns. While this is true every school year, it’s especially important now as this school year could be a turning point for employees who have considered leaving the district or the education field.

It’s critical to survey your teachers and staff to gauge their satisfaction, engagement, needs, and concerns. This can include surveying them on the type of professional development they want; how they feel about district and worksite communication; and how they feel about feedback, recognition, and professional growth.  

If teachers and staff continuously feel unheard, overworked, and undervalued — whether that’s because you haven’t listened to them or you aren’t acting on their input — they’ll eventually look elsewhere for employment. 

Data is one of the most powerful tools we have to help inform our decisions and create opportunities for our community and for change.  

Tip 3: Get nerdy by diving into the data.

Survey data reveals so much. To most effectively use your survey results, districts need to ensure they disaggregate the data from their district-level results. This includes by school or department, at the grade level, by student programs, and even by demographics.  

Disaggregating the data gives school leaders segmented lenses that helps them see important differences in perception and stakeholder experience. It allows leaders to look at both the big picture and the individual pieces of the puzzle to highlight both the strengths and the areas for improvement — district-wide and by campus, grade level, socioeconomic factors, or other demographics. 

For example, a school leader might find that parents rate transportation higher at one campus than at another campus. This could help the district uncover potential issues with staffing or bus routes that are affecting the transportation department in a certain area of the city. 

Tip 4: Move from data to action. 

The key to successful surveys is to use the data to make impactful decisions and thoughtful improvements for your stakeholders. 

After collecting your surveys and analyzing the data, be sure to communicate with your communities so they feel heard. Acknowledge any areas identified for improvement and share details about the action plans you’re developing for your stakeholders. 

By turning the survey data into action and closing the loop to make sure your community knows how you’re using their input, you will build strong, trusting, and productive relationships. 

Just as we’ve had to adapt to the changes fueled by the pandemic, your surveys must change too. Let us guide you along the way

About the Author

Jennifer Coisson, Ph.D.
Dr. Jennifer Coisson has extensive experience in education research, including college and career readiness; diversity, equity, and inclusion; employee engagement; school quality; student engagement; strategic planning; and superintendent searches. Dr. Coisson earned a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University. She also has a master's degree Counselor Education and a bachelor's degree in Communication, as well as a graduate certificate in Student Affairs and a certification in Appreciative Advising.

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