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7 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing a School Survey

By: Corey Ryan on September 27th, 2022

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7 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing a School Survey

Communication  |  Surveys

Feedback has the ability to strengthen your new initiative or culture. But give a lousy survey, and you can set your school or district back in terms of trust, and you may lose the ability to gather important input in the future. Don’t turn a positive opportunity into a negative. 


Personally, I’ve worked with a couple of districts that had their own survey horror stories.


One district that sent out a survey to assess students' mental health and addiction support needs. Good intent. However, the questions were deemed invasive of student privacy; parents and families had expected prior notification about the survey. So rather than being a catalyst for change or a start to providing more services for students in need, the schools spent several weeks in damage control, reassessing how and when they could ask students for feedback or information. 


Another district did not want to share the results of their annual school climate surveys publicly. That is, while school leaders and district administrators used the feedback to create campus improvement plans, there was no organized effort to acknowledge the input from parents and students, or to explain how it had been used in planning. This inaction led to distrust and survey fatigue, turning a positive action – a school’s authentic effort to improve – into an adverse reaction – the school doesn’t do anything with the feedback. 


So, while there are specific questions you should consider to ensure your school survey works well, there are also specific missteps you can avoid to ensure success with your survey


#1 Don’t leave families in the dark regarding student surveys

Every community is different regarding values and expectations for student information. Why risk not telling parents and families about the survey before sending it to students? Here are some communication strategies to consider prior to launching your survey:

  • Send a short email.
  • Mention the survey at your parent event. 
  • Send a flyer home, especially to elementary students. 
  • Have your teacher add it to their newsletter. 
  • Publish the questions on your website or make a printed version available in the office.
  • Post a flyer in your front office for parents to see. 


In fact, when we work with clients to deploy Tripod surveys, we provide our customers with communication templates to make this easy. 


#2 Don’t push families if they don’t want their student(s) surveyed

It doesn’t make sense to “require” students to take a survey if their parents object. Allow parents and families to “opt-out” if they aren’t comfortable. Families removing their students from a survey is rare, especially if you do a good job communicating about your survey, telling parents:


  • What is in the survey, 
  • Why the survey is essential,
  • What you will do with the survey information, and 
  • How you will keep their student’s responses confidential. 


You know your community as a school or district leader. Chances are, you will not send a controversial survey out, but it’s a best practice to be transparent and flexible for individual students. 


#3 Don’t let your survey results fall into the trash

If you took the time to conduct a survey, do something with the results! 


If your survey results aren’t actionable, don’t just dismiss them. Dig deeper with a focus group or interviews. 


Publish the survey’s results and let a group of school leaders interpret the data and brainstorm conclusions. Bring people along for the journey to solve the problem or design an improvement plan. 


At Education Elements, we are more than a survey platform. Our team of consultants works with our Tripod survey experts to help facilitate action planning from their survey results. While other companies are platforms that provide results, we work with school and district leaders to make their data actionable. So our clients not only get support from Tripod survey experts to create the best questions, but our engagement experts can lead focus groups, conduct interviews, or work with community and school teams to create the actions necessary to make an impact. 


Make surveys actionable. 


Need help gathering, organizing, and understanding your survey data? Watch the video below to see how we can help!


#4 Don’t be scared if you can’t take the same action from your survey responses

What do you do if you can’t act on the feedback respondents give you? In schools, leaders are often limited in their abilities to make specific changes due to legal requirements, funding limitations, or staffing gaps. It’s easy to be scared to ask a question if you assume you can’t make the preferred action step. 


As a former district administrator, I understand this fear, but it should not prevent you from engaging in the discussion through a survey. 


I worked with a district where parents were concerned about traffic outside a specific set of schools that shared a school site. There was a middle school and a high school, serving approximately 3,400 students, within the same space – different buildings but with a shared access to the main road in and out of the school. We wouldn’t be able to add a new road or make changes to the traffic lights – the top recommendations from parents. But, in working with the school, we identified other opportunities to ease parents' concerns, such as adjusting the bell schedule, changing bus routing, and working with the local municipality for long-term support on the road’s widening. We also communicated to the community those things we could and couldn’t do – explaining our limitations. 


You can create a listening culture by recognizing that “we heard you, but unfortunately, we cannot do X action step because of Y limitation.” 


#5 Don’t keep the survey results a secret

If you want people to take your surveys, you must tell them what you heard. Surveys only work if people respond to them. Therefore, share the results!


A best practice is to share the results in three different ways, three separate times. Consider writing:


  • Three short bullet points providing the essential information from the survey;
  • A more extended summary of multiple paragraphs, perhaps one paragraph for each of your main three points; and 
  • Posting the entire raw survey or executive summary on your website, as long as the information doesn’t include confidential or personal information. 


You can take the information, share it in school or district emails, present the results in a parent or community presentation, and post them on your website to hit people in different avenues. 


In addition to the results, tell people what you will do with the information. Allow your community to weigh in by hosting office hours, a town hall, or inviting them to join an action team. 


 #6 Don’t make a distribution plan that doesn’t work for your intended audience

Before you send a survey out, you should clearly define your target audience. Think about how you can best reach that audience to complete the survey, design questions specific to that audience, and be purposeful with what you ask. 


If you’re trying to survey a group of employees who are not responsible for regularly checking email, like custodians or bus drivers, then don’t survey them exclusively through email. Go to their next staff meeting and give them time in the meeting to complete the survey. 


Consider your audience’s language as well. If you have families who speak Spanish primarily, give them a survey in their language. We work with our customers to provide multiple languages, and our surveys are provided on a platform that works well on phones, tablets, and computers. Also consider the student-, staff-, and parent-information systems to send surveys directly to parents and track response rates. 


For students, we distribute our Tripod 7Cs student survey during a class period to ensure students complete the survey. Each student’s voice is so valuable! Why not shoot for 100% participation? 

#7 Don’t distribute a new survey without testing it

It’s important to test the questions, and your survey tool, with a person or persons similar to your audience. 


For example, if you’re surveying parents, you may want to test your survey with a small group of parents you work with, maybe volunteers, and get their feedback on your survey design and functionality. 


Writing survey questions is hard. People go to school for research and dedicate their careers to the craft of survey writing. 


With the Tripod surveys, our customers are able to access our survey design experts. For the Tripod 7Cs survey, this survey has been peer-reviewed and validated by several research studies – including the Measures for Effective Teaching study which showed how much better than walk-through data, this student survey was aligned to student achievement. 



Interested in learning more? Watch my webinar about mistakes to avoid when implementing a school survey!


About Corey Ryan

Corey is a former journalist and Chief Communications Officer. He loves stories, comedy, family, and Star Wars cartoons.

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