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Data retreats meet custom London maps.

This blog post is part of our surveying best practices series that we’re featuring during the summer of 2021. The series will highlight important lessons we’ve learned over the past 20 years.

I’m a planner.

My wife, who’s originally from the London area, immigrated to the United States in the early 2000s. We took a trip back to see her family in 2015, and man-oh-man, if you could have seen our custom Google Map.

We had specifically colored pins for restaurants, pubs, lodging, cultural attractions, convenient public transport points, public restrooms, parks, the best fish & chips, and so on until we ran out of colors (remember, it was 2015—ancient times in Google Maps). Then, we decided what we wanted to do each day. No matter how our itinerary ultimately looked or where in the city we ended up, we could pull up our custom map and find everything we needed. We planned before we planned.

Survey preparation is not unlike our trip. We want to help you plan before you plan.

It’s mid-July. Pretty soon, district and school leadership teams are going to gather for their summer data retreat. What kind of data are you going to rely on going into this school year? You have your assessment data. You have your demographic data. But school improvement plans also need “perceptions” data—feedback from your staff, students, and parents.

As we worked with districts last year, some saw increases in areas of parent satisfaction. Others saw decreases. However, districts who have been implementing the same surveys year after year were able to quickly put their data in context by looking at the longitudinal reports we compiled for them.

Other districts would ask, “So, how does this compare?”

Well, the good new is that we can provide you excellent comparisons to schools similar to yours. But unless you’ve deployed the same surveys year after year, we can’t tell you how you compared to yourself last year, the year before, the year before that, and so on.

Districts who were able to do this planned to plan. They decided long ago to implement a survey and continue its use moving forward. Every year, they share a spring survey at the same time. They know exactly how the perceptions of their stakeholders have changed for 10 to 15 years, spanning multiple superintendents, board presidents, and directors galore.

One-time-use surveys are great for understanding in-the-moment feelings and feedback. But one-time-use surveys lead to one-time conversations at your data retreats. And one-time conversations don’t help you improve your district over time or carry out your meticulously created strategic plan.

In sum, to plan to plan:

  • Collect data before you need it. This will allow you to monitor growth or declines over time.

  • Use data proactively. Make changes and reallocate your time, staff, and resources before a problem gets out of control.

  • Implement the same surveys over time. You can understand how you compare to others but also how you compare to yourself. This is especially helpful for new leaders.

We can help build you a pretty darn cool map—even if it’s not made in a pub in London.

(By the way, pretty unrelated, but NPR’s London correspondent had a really cool piece last weekend about pubs in the city and their history. It’s worth checking out.)

The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Rob DeMeuse, Research Director, Project Manager, and pub enthusiast—not always in that order.


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