There has never been a more important time to listen to—and learn from—your community.
Research-based surveys are a great way to engage with your community and collect stakeholder feedback, but surveying strategies that worked pre-pandemic may not be as effective as they once were.
Over the past few months, I’ve had many school leaders tell me they aren’t sure that now is the best time to be surveying their community. And trust me, I get it. We’re in challenging times, and parents, students, and employees (especially teachers) seem busier than ever. But, while those concerns are valid, the reality is that there has never been a more critical time to give your school community a voice.
In addition to helping your community feel heard and involved in the decision-making process, administering the right survey (especially during unprecedented times like a pandemic) gives you a unique opportunity to collect important, emerging data from all stakeholder groups—data that will be invaluable to you and your district as you navigate the months and years ahead.
Below are 4 strategies to keep in mind as you consider collecting data throughout this school year.
1. Rethink your survey design
I want to start this by saying that you absolutely can still administer your usual surveys. In fact, in some cases, it makes the most sense to continue running your annual surveys, such as Family, Student, or Employee Engagement; School and District Quality; and Community Priorities.
What I have been recommending to my clients administering annual surveys is to add more relevant dimensions or question sets. The most common ones to-date include: feedback on distance learning, feedback on crisis management and response to the pandemic, assessing access to technology and needs for staff and students, professional development needs, feedback on updated health and safety measures, and social and emotional needs and well-being for staff and students.
Another option is to administer shorter surveys, also known as “pulse surveys,” at more frequent intervals throughout the school year. Pulse surveys can include dimensions or question sets from previous surveys as well as question sets around critical and timely topics, such as those mentioned above. Because this data can be easily disaggregated by date or time of year, pulse surveys can be particularly insightful for those wanting to understand community input in the context of current events happening across the district, state, and even the nation.
No matter what approach you take to administering surveys during the pandemic, you won’t come away with an apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to trending data. That’s okay. Just keep in mind the environment and circumstances of this school year when looking at findings and year-to-year results.
2. Keep the feedback loop open
Collecting feedback from your community doesn’t have to end when your survey does. Many times, stakeholders have additional comments and questions come to mind after submitting their survey response—and it can be frustrating for them if they feel like there’s no easy way to share that input.
While district and school email addresses and phone numbers can provide community members a way to reach back out, they don’t provide you an effective way to organize and understand that feedback.
To give community members an ongoing way to provide feedback while providing you with key data, consider creating a 2-3 question survey and linking it to your district and school webpages. This short survey should consist of an overall satisfaction or quality question (such as “how satisfied or dissatisfied …” or “how would you rate the quality of …”) and an open-ended question/comment box (such as “please share with us any additional feedback …”). This approach enables you to take a “temperature check” of your community at any point throughout the year.
You can also leverage always-on listening software, such as Let’s Talk! (an online customer service solution from K12 Insight). Software like this can help school districts open lines of communication with their community while also providing districts and schools with robust metrics and insights.
With Let’s Talk! specifically, you can create Interest Areas to align with specific survey topics and provide a link to Let’s Talk! at the end of your survey—giving community members a clear place to go to ask questions, express concerns, or share suggestions throughout the school year. The backend data dashboard gives you access to key metrics and insights in real-time, including customer satisfaction and trending topics and themes. You can pair these data and insights with your survey data to keep an accurate snapshot of your community’s perspectives and needs.
3. Take a new approach to compare and disaggregate data
The school districts I work with have heard me say this a million times, but the most important thing about administering a survey is what you do with the feedback. That data—whether it’s qualitative or quantitative—provides powerful insights into your community. You want to be able to make the most of it.
This requires critical thinking and planning upfront to ensure your survey will generate meaningful results. You need to know why you want to gather feedback and how you’re going to use the data. Determining this will help you figure out what ways you will want to “slice and dice” the data.
For example, some of our clients have added additional demographic questions at the beginning of their surveys so they have additional ways to drill down on the data. One of the most popular questions to add right now—and one I recommend to the school districts I work with—is around participants’ learning/working environment (in-person, virtual, or a combination of the two). This information will provide an important and relevant lens for looking at your survey results which can help inform planning and decision-making at the district and school levels.
4. Don’t “wait and see”
I like to remind the districts I work with that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s better to be proactive and collect important data so that you have it if you need it instead of taking a wait-and-see approach and ending up with nothing. This is especially true now as current research on stakeholder perceptions and needs during a pandemic is minimal at best.
By taking a thoughtful approach to how you collect community input this school year, you’ll end up with data that will be invaluable to your district and K-12 education as a whole in the coming months and years.
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