Surveying Smart

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.


Gathering the right data can help you understand what to celebrate and where to focus your planning efforts.


But before you start drafting survey questions, think strategically, and ask yourself the following questions:


1. What is in it for survey-takers?


People are busy. If you want a person, whether they be a parent/family member, staff member, or student, to take the time to thoughtfully respond to your survey, be sure to explain the following pieces.

  • Why is the survey important, and why is it being conducted?

  • How will the results be used?

  • When can they expect to hear what you learned from the data?

  • Ultimately, your respondents will take the survey more seriously if they really believe their input is valued and will be used to make things better.

2. If I could get everyone taking the survey in a classroom for 10 minutes, what would I teach them?


People will read your survey more critically than any newsletter, so if appropriate, don’t be afraid to share background information that will help them respond. Sending out a survey can also be an opportunity to “teach.” No one, unless they’re wearing a bowtie, is interested in taking a survey that’s a stodgy research document. Keep it interesting and even fun to take. A little humor doesn’t invalidate the results.

3. Am I ready to hear some bad news?


If you don’t want to know, can’t do it, or won’t do it, don’t ask. But sometimes we all need to hear some critical feedback. Think about your high school and college days. When did you learn the most? What do you remember most? It probably wasn’t when you got the right answer. More likely, it’s when you got something wrong. In response, you studied harder, got help, and thought more critically. It’s learning! And it is a good thing.


The same is true with getting less-than-stellar survey results. Sometimes changes or rethinking your situation is needed.


4. What do I want to measure over time?

Some of the most powerful survey insights come from a longitudinal analysis. Because survey results often lag reality, measuring what matters over time is essential. Also, a survey—for better or worse—captures a moment in time. Is that moment in time for your district ordinary? Abnormal? On a trend? Is the trend upward or downward? Without longitudinal data, it’s impossible to know.


Once you’ve answered these four questions, you’ll be on a better path to collecting data for questions you need answered.


The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Bill Foster, President & Founder.

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