Traditionally, schools are not very democratic places. When parents and students suddenly stick their hands up and ask to be heard, it can disturb the calmness of the status quo. If the media becomes involved, a school’s reputation can be at risk. Questioning can be perfectly legitimate and warranted when something emerges and needs to be addressed. Or it can be a recurring nightmare for school management when a parent or group of parents have an issue with a policy and won’t give up until they get what they want.


This is the time of year to assess what your school’s community is thinking. If you give everyone the opportunity to have their say, you allow them to release angst and frustration in a controlled process, rather than in a disruptive firestorm. The feedback loop is essential; once you invite comments you have to acknowledge what you’ve been told and have a plan of action. The easiest way to take stock is to use a survey. Between now and Mid Term 4, you have the opportunity to assess what everyone is thinking, and you have time to make an appropriate response, such as a meeting, a forum, or simply a newsletter. You can also incorporate any system changes for next year.


The following are some examples of surveys regarded as good practice:


+ Staff surveys: These need to be fearless in scope and need to offer anonymity when you administer them for the first time. Once they become part of the fabric of what you do in your management cycle, and staff can see there are no unpleasant repercussions for speaking out, you can expect most to sign their names to their responses. There should be sections for personal satisfaction and career development as well as questions on operational procedures and management.


+ Exit surveys: Matriculating students and their parents need the chance to reflect. As your immediate clients, they offer a very valuable perspective on the environment you are providing. Educational programs (both academic and co-curricular), the reporting process, how welfare is provided, communication processes, and the overall quality of their experience are mandatory sections. You will need separate surveys for students and for parents.


+ Exit surveys for families leaving early: These can be written or face-to-face. Teachers appreciate an exit interview as well, and they can provide more honest feedback on working in your school than you’ll get at any other time.


+ Student surveys: Many schools have every student reflect on their courses annually. These need to be carefully designed so the student is guided to focus on the course’s structure and presentation rather than the individual teacher. It can be done, but teachers may need briefing prior to the first time you administer these, as the notion of being rated can be disconcerting for teachers. In my experience students are generally very honest in these surveys and offer genuine responses, which can lead to targeted improvement.


In addition, surveys will inform your cyclic planning, whether reviewing a program or policy, or embarking on strategic planning. You and your Executive may also want to consider 360 Surveys. Again, these can be quite disconcerting at first and the team needs to trust one another. Annual appraisal is regarded as essential in business, but has only become common practice in schools in recent years. If you don’t have them in place you need to develop a model that your staff is comfortable with. Generally a team leader is responsible for conducting appraisal with the members of their teams. There should be observation as well as meetings, and it is much better if these have been ongoing throughout the year. It’s important to build support into the process and make sure there are no nasty surprises. Student surveys can be used as part of the process.


Of course, these appraisals are quite different from formal programs where a teacher or staff member is on-notice in terms of their efficiency. There must be no employment implications in the annual appraisal. School communities develop a positive reputation when it is known that they are constantly reviewing their practice with the goal of improvement. The survey, in its many forms, is a very useful tool. But timing when to administer them is crucial and depends very much on the shape of the year in your school. You may think it better to put out your staff survey at the end of Term 1, for instance. There’s nothing worse for collecting sound data than survey fatigue!


Key Considerations for Your School


  1. Consider strategies for collecting and analysing your community’s thoughts in relation to particular issues.
  2. Consider strategies for acknowledging and closing the loop on such information— it can be as simple as a newsletter.
  3. Consider implementing annual appraisals within your school.


Do you want to effectively assess what your school community is thinking? Qualtrics offers a range of tailored K-12 survey tools in partnership with CIRCLE Education.

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Qualtrics and CIRCLE have a shared vision to empower schools to achieve the best possible outcomes for all students. This article originally featured on CIRCLE’s blog, which you can view here.


Bio: Louise Robert-Smith’s career in education spans several decades across the public and independent sectors, as a teacher of Indonesian and French and most recently as Headmistress of Ascham School in Sydney and prior to that as Principal of North Sydney Girls’ High School. She is currently an Honorary Associate and a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board with the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney. Louise also sits on Advisory Boards for the School of Mathematics & Statistics, UNSW, and the Salvation Army. She is also currently an educational consultant.



Qualtrics for K-12 Schools, In Partnership With CIRCLE