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To survey or not to survey? That shouldn’t be the question.

There are a lot of opinions out there about administering surveys during COVID-19. Some say don’t bother. Others say survey more.   

While I can’t speak for every industry, I know the world of education well enough to say this: Not collecting data from your stakeholders during these times would be a mistake.

Now, some of you might be shaking your heads in disagreement—after all, families and employees are busier than they’ve ever been—but hear me out. Aside from not collecting relevant information that will be vital to making informed decisions, not giving stakeholders an opportunity to share feedback might send the message that you aren’t listening or—worse yet—that you don’t care. 

The right survey, one that is centered around today’s circumstances, shows your community that you’re committed to understanding their needs and making informed decisions that are in their best interests, while also ensuring the success of your students and district overall. 

Below I’ve outlined 4 more reasons you should consider surveying your school community now.

  1. Trust isn’t just given. It’s earned.
    Surveys are an essential listening tool for school leaders and, done properly, they result in more than just useful data. Administering the right survey at the right time helps you build trust with your community—which has never been more critical.But don’t rush to administer any survey that comes to mind. As I shared above, what you ask and how you ask it is important—both for garnering useful information and for building trust. When I meet with school and district leaders during the survey planning process, we make a point to collectively ground every decision in the context of today. That means showing empathy, focusing on the questions that matter most right now, and prioritizing listening and understanding before acting.

    And remember, it’s not only important to let stakeholders know why you’re surveying, but also what you’re going to do with the data (and following through with that promise).

  2. Your community wants to be heard—and have their needs addressed.
    School districts have packed two decades’ worth of change into the past 10 months. While this may mean your stakeholders are busier than ever before, it doesn’t mean they’re too busy to engage with you.In fact, from what I’ve seen, it’s quite the opposite. Parents, students, teachers, staff, and even taxpayers who may not currently have a child in the school system are clamoring to share their experience and input.Strategic, thoughtful surveys not only give your stakeholders a chance to provide feedback but—with options for anonymity, translations, and multi-channel distribution—they can also amplify voices you may not otherwise hear, helping you truly address the needs of your whole community.
  3. Data is your friend—even if it’s telling you something you don’t want to hear.
    I get it: The last thing you need right now is more “bad” news. Administering a survey during these times may feel like you’re inviting just that.But the reality is that strong surveys help you tap into your community’s truth, which can mean confirming something we thought we knew or revealing things we didn’t know at all. Intimidating as it may be, the latter is oftentimes better because an obstacle you know about is an obstacle you can face.

“Sometimes when you collect data, you get exactly what you want to see, and sometimes you get what you don’t want to see but really need to see…We have to be brave enough to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Dr. Julie Helber, Superintendent, Chelsea School District, Michigan

Plus, with the current school environment being unlike any we’ve experienced before, the data you collect will give you important insights that can help you develop immediate and responsive action plans, and serve as a  baseline for understanding educational needs during a crisis, as well as what could possibly become the new “normal.”

  1. The end is really the beginning.
    The thing I love most about surveys is that the conversation doesn’t end when the survey closes—or even when the reports are provided. In fact, that’s often when the conversation really gets going.Remember the quote above where Dr. Helber addressed getting results you don’t necessarily want but really need to see? Imagine getting some difficult data and never digging into the why behind findings. Sure, the data speaks volumes on its own, but a deeper dive, like with our Making Feedback Matter workshops, can reveal the story behind the numbers—and open the door to even more fruitful conversations, as well as lead you in making meaningful change.

Ready to administer a relevant, research-based school or district survey and make your feedback really matter? We can help.

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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