3 Ways to Optimize School Staff Surveys

Staff surveys have gotten a bad rap recently. During the pandemic, as digital communication soared and administrators sought to stay connected to teachers and other staff members, a reliance on surveys—some would argue excessive—ensued.

But staff surveys shouldn’t be dismissed altogether, say human resource experts. When used effectively, they can be an effective tool for administrators looking to keep their top talent.

Here are some practical strategies on making the most of them.

Think targeted and personalized

It’s tempting to disseminate elaborate, lengthy surveys to staff. But it can backfire. Employees may be overwhelmed by lengthy surveys, lose momentum as they’re filling them out, or simply avoid them altogether. Instead, consider deploying targeted surveys with a small number of specific inquiries.

That’s what Heather J. Perry, superintendent of schools for the Gorham School District in Maine, does when seeking feedback on a specific topic. Gorham administrators will ask employees to answer only a few questions, mostly via email. Using this method, Perry said the district aims for—and typically gets—about a 50 percent participation rate.

Kelly Coash Johnson, executive director for the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, supports the use of personalized surveys to get meaningful information from employees. “We’re encouraging each and every individual school district to run that type of survey,” she said. “Find out what teachers truly want.”

“Maybe it’s something as simple as one extra planning period, or not to do lunch duty. Things that might be simple fixes,” she said.

Allot time ‘on the clock’ for survey completion

School employees have a lot to do. They may see filling out a survey as simply one more task to complete in an already too-full schedule. To combat this perception, set aside time for employees to complete surveys during their work day. This sends two positive messages: this task is important to us, and we value your time.

“If it’s an important survey, we provide time during the [work] day—at a staff meeting, etc.,” Perry said. “Not while they’re at home.”

Let employees know they’ve been heard

Sending surveys, whether too often or too lengthy, may irritate employees. But, HR experts say, these aren’t the primary reasons for survey fatigue. The perception that employers won’t listen to or act on employee feedback provided in surveys is, according to several HR experts as well as a McKinsey report that analyzed more than 20 academic articles on the topic.

“We are very transparent about how we use the data, and they see us using it. We also listen to their voices,” Perry said.

This last point is critical for retaining teachers, according to education researcher Richard M. Ingersoll, who has studied the teaching profession for decades. In a recent interview, Ingersoll said: “… being able to have input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher’s job…It’s very highly correlated with the decision whether to stay or leave.”

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