Thursday, November 29, 2012

Surveys, Surveys, Surveys....

Last night I completed a survey for the SMS Tech Club.   This got me thinking of how technology has changed the way we capture data.  The time it takes to create an on-line survey is minimal.  The data is accessible instantly.  The greatest challenge I've found is the logistics associated with providing computer access to students, staff, or parents.  (Oh, if only every child had their own computer.)

During the first few weeks of the school year, we conducted a number of surveys in the district.  We've asked for information and input regarding our playground needs, bullying, school calendar, technology and Standards Based Grading.

I've learned a few things about on-line surveys along the way....
  1. Think It Through - Just as with any other document, ask yourself, "Does this REALLY communicate what I want it to?  Am I asking the right questions?  Are the questions worded the right way?"  Just because it is quicker to develop doesn't mean it has to get out any faster. 
  2. Communicate the Purpose - As with any other input, it is important for the audience to understand why you are asking.  Will the survey results lead to a decision, or is it merely input?
  3. Establish an Equal Opportunity Process - If I'm surveying students, shouldn't ALL students have access and be provided with the opportunity to share their opinions?  Initially I provided a link on my webpage for parents to comment on our school climate, now I e-mail them the survey.  There is a big difference between "go find it" and "here it is" - both in terms of access and invitation. 
  4. Establish an End Time/Date - The data will be live, and ever changing, the second the first response comes in.  While a greater sample size is best, there has to be that time when you cut it off, and say "Thank you  - I've got what I needed." 
  5. Communicate It - Share the data - be it good news or bad.  Transparency will lead to better participation and more honest feedback in future surveys. 
  6. Do Something With It - If the data doesn't drive what we do in some way, it is useless.
My point in sharing the above is not to suggest I have all the answers - I certainly don't.  Obviously there are other things to consider beyond the six items I have briefly addressed.  However, I do want to emphasize numbers five and six.  In past years I've conducted a School Climate Survey and, I thought, appropriately communicated the results to staff and parents, and referenced some data with students.  At some point, in doing so, I would always get a "That's interesting, but so what?" expression, or a "Yeah, we take this every year, but it doesn't do any good" comment.

This fall, as part of our administrative evaluation process, I participated in a 360 Feedback Survey.  Below is and explanation of the process, a sample of the data, and most importantly, my reflections and plan of action.  Originally in a Pages document, this information was shared with staff and parents.

Mike Herdliska
360 Feedback Summary - October, 2012

The purpose of the 360 feedback process was to give stakeholders an opportunity to provide feedback on the performance of district administrators.  In addition to providing Superintendent Miller with data to complete my annual evaluation, the survey will give me valuable feedback as I reflect upon my performance and establish my professional goals for the future.

In October all middle school parents and staff members, including teachers, associates, cooks and custodians, were given an anonymous survey in order to provide feedback on my performance as building principal.  Superintendent Sam Miller received feedback from 122 parents, 21 teachers, and 15 classified staff members.  After providing me with the data, and time for reflection, the two of us met to discuss the findings, acknowledge the positives and establish goals for areas that did not receive positive feedback.  All three building principals agreed that it was important to share our findings and reflections with both staff and families.

Highlights (Staff)
Areas of strength identified by staff members include:

Highlights (Parents)
Areas of strength identified by parents include:

Area of Focus (Staff)
Areas identified by staff as needing improvement include:

Area of Focus (Parents)
Areas identified by parents as needing improvement include:

I always value the information collected from surveys such as this.  We’ve surveyed staff, students and parents for a number of years regarding our school climate.  I’ve learned something every time, made changes based on what I’ve learned, and reinforced the positive findings with others.  I expect that the 360 feedback process will be no different.

The results of the survey indicated strengths in the areas of respect and culture, which I am proud of because they are things I value greatly and the cornerstone of the experience we hope to provide middle schoolers.  I am committed to maintaining these as areas of emphasis and strength. 

The results also identified areas needing improvement as being centered around the decision making process.  I look forward to working with Mr. Miller and my colleagues at Solon Middle School to establish better skills, strategies and habits to best meet the needs of myself and others in the decision making process.  I expect to see improvements in this area when the next 360 survey is conducted, but also in our spring school climate survey and general, undocumented feedback from others. 

This survey also gave me an opportunity to check my progress on my Iowa Individual Administrator Professional Development Plan, which is a part of my annual review.  The results indicate successes in my goal areas of instructional leadership and student achievement, but not in accountability.  

To those who were among the 158 individuals who completed the survey, I want to express my sincere appreciation.  I greatly value such feedback and am committed to using it to make positive changes for myself, our staff, students, and parents at Solon Middle School.  For those of you who chose not to complete the survey, I hope you feel welcome to communicate any comments or concerns to me in other ways.  I am available at 624-3401 ext. 1303 or