Top Five: How School Leadership Benefits from Simply Asking Parents

By Daniel Chiat, Vice President, Measuring Success

Measuring Success has conducted more than 1,500 parent surveys at independent schools in every geographic corner of the United States and Canada. These surveys are specifically designed to assess the strength of the school through the eyes of the parent community. Parents who view the school — the administration, faculty and staff, academic programs, activities, and financial stability — of a school in a positive light are more likely to become promoters of the school. That word-of-mouth marketing power is a strong recruiting tool.

In our years of leading these surveys, here are the top five things we’ve observed as most beneficial to school leadership:

  1. Engaging Parents. An effectively implemented survey can drive a powerful feedback loop. When schools use the survey data, follow up with an action plan to make necessary course corrections, and periodically communicate about the ongoing initiatives, they create an effective lever to engaging parents. For example, when they hear from parents that there is room for improvement — and then the school makes a solid effort to implement necessary improvements — parents feel validated. They know that their concerns were heard, are being addressed, and their children (and all students) will be better off for it.
  2. Taking the Real Temperature of the “Passively Satisfied.” School administrators often hear from parents on either end of a spectrum: the parents who are hot and the ones who are cold. It isn’t often that they get to hear from the parents in the middle. For most schools, capturing the attention of those passively satisfied parents is key because they can become school promoters. When schools participate in our Parent Survey — and we often see response rates of 80 percent and higher — schools get to take the temperature of those families in the middle. The information gleaned can help a school focus on the topics to activate the families that are satisfied, but not in love, with a school. Turning satisfaction into a passion can turn those parents into engaged families that actively work to promote the school to their family and friends. That can help retention, recruitment, and even fundraising.
  3. Seeing Progress Over Time. Schools can’t know what to fix if they don’t know what is wrong. One tangible example is in the area of proactive communication by faculty to parents. Because many of our schools participate in the Parent Survey every 2-3 years, we get to see where and how improvements take place. When a school is weak in the area of communication to parents, we often recommend strategic implementation that moves beyond traditional touch points. For example, setting out for faculty that they proactively communicate at least once a semester with the parent or caregiver of every child in the class in addition to existing parent-teacher conferences and other touch points. Or setting a goal of 24-hour responsiveness to emails or phone calls (even when a teacher doesn’t have a definitive answer). When these programs are implemented, we can see, over the years, the scores on communication grow. It is hugely satisfying to watch survey variables improve year-over-year.
  4. Resource Allocation. Where do schools put money to make it work hardest? If your school knows of a program weakness, you allocate resources to that area in order to make improvements. On the other hand, if you are putting serious funding into something and it isn’t moving the needle in your school community, you can make necessary course corrections and migrate those resources to other areas.
  5. Benchmarking. School leadership loves to see how their scores compare to a similar set of peer schools. When we deliver survey results, we present the school’s results against similar schools (which remain unidentified for privacy). Getting a 50 percent “strongly agree” score in an area is an interesting number. However, when a school can see their school compared against eight other schools that are only scoring in the high 30s in the same area, it becomes a meaningful and reinforcing assessment.

As baseball great (and amateur philosopher) Yogi Berra once said, “if you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

Daniel ChiatDaniel Chiat is Vice President at Measuring Success. Daniel works with independent schools and faith-based groups, helping them achieve data-driven sustainability.