Oh no! not another school survey

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A large number of schools use teacher surveys for different reasons during a school year. To some teachers on the receiving end, it can feel like there are a lot of surveys to complete. Requests to complete surveys do not solely come from within the school, with education bodies, education researchers and conference and workshop providers keen also receive teacher input, or feedback. Consider also that teachers, privately, will be sent market research surveys and customer feedback surveys to complete, this really adds up. A response to the sheer number of survey requests, in some cases, leads to some teachers ignoring surveys as soon as they see them.

It is not just the volume of surveys but it is also the time the surveys may take to complete and the type of response being sought e.g. short answer versus multiple choice. Perhaps some teachers shudder when that dreaded survey email reaches their inbox, as a case of surveyitis kicks in. “I just don’t have the time to do this,” or “it’s a waste of time, I don’t see the point,” are oftentimes reasons given for not completing surveys.

As educational leaders, we know the value of being able to use information to make better decisions in schools; to listen to feedback, to ask the opinion and consult with teachers in the trenches to better understand the impact decisions can have. So, what can we do to get more broad engagement with surveys in our school communities?

Whilst the number of surveys can be cut back or shortened, this does not necessarily mean that teachers will engage with less surveys. It is vital that teachers see the point of what is trying to be accomplished. In essence, school leaders need to share the results of some surveys with teachers to show how the information is being used and that teacher input is valued and, in some instances, does make a difference to how a school operates and progresses.

In certain cases, leaders must go beyond just sending out the information that was collected, it is about taking time to present it in person, in meetings, where needed and explaining how the information will be used. Both summary information is required but also access to the full information may need to be given; leaders do need to bear in mind those more skeptical, or cynical, in the audience. If surveys are used as consultation instruments, then it is vital to ensure that all teachers have an understanding of what consultation involves; it certainly does not mean that when feedback is sought, every piece can be taken on board, establishing full consensus is often not possible and a large consensus is nice to have, though those not in agreement may feel that they were not properly consulted with.

In the case of surveys, where the information collected cannot be widely shared for confidentiality reasons, school leaders have a responsibility to explain the importance of the surveys. Some schools use 360-degree feedback surveys for teachers. Love it, or hate it, inconsistent completion of feedback surveys for teachers, our colleagues, renders the process close to useless. That said, it is yet another survey that teachers must complete, so how do we stress the importance and the professional expectation?

If we start with teachers understanding the importance of the surveys and seeing them used to inform practice, we may then get greater engagement and, in turn, more useful information to support the improvement that we all want in our schools. Once this is established, it may lead to the reduction of surveys being sent, as if we cannot use them properly, then what is the point in the first place?

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