By Daniel Chiat
Vice President, Measuring Success
The school year is almost to the halfway point (right? Can you believe it?). Your parents are now developing a solid, but not entirely unmalleable, belief system about your school. Through their own, and their child’s experiences, they are becoming more settled in their viewpoints as to whether the school is fully meeting their needs. If the fit is good, can you still make improvements? If the fit isn’t so good, can you make course corrections?
The fact is, it is never too late to better serve your families or change perceptions within your independent school community. But, you can’t mitigate negative thoughts if you don’t truly know what parents are thinking, which is why you need to regularly check in. A third-party parent survey is an excellent way to know how parents are perceiving your school and to begin to make a plan for necessary course corrections. Through experience leading hundreds of parent surveys, we’ve concocted the “secret sauce” for meaningfully (and measurably) improving parent perceptions.
- Prioritize areas of action. Well-meaning school leadership has a tendency to take on too much, too quickly – which can result in minimal progress across the board. Rachel Lewin, Head of School at Temple Israel of Hollywood, and a client of Measuring Success, said her leadership has been able to make strong improvements by limiting strategic focus to two key areas where improvements can be managed and measured. They work on one curriculum topic and one broader school area (e.g. faculty/parent communication) at the conclusion of each parent survey.
- Broadly talk up the findings. Parents took the time to give you feedback and it is important to keep the survey findings front and center in the months following data collection. It lets them know that their feedback is valued. “We always talked about the survey,” said Tami Weiser, Head of School at Wise School in Los Angeles. “Our message to families is ‘you talked, we listened.’” Steve Freedman, Head of School at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit, said parents’ desire for transparency drives his leadership team’s approach in communicating key strengths and areas of improvement based on survey findings. And whenever initiatives are designed to improve these areas, tell your parents that it is because of their feedback – which turns valued feedback into a holier grail: actionable feedback.
- Communicate appropriately to different groups. For your school community to successfully implement positive change, various stakeholder groups need to digest the findings in different ways:
- Senior leadership: This group of 8 to 10 individuals (including a few board members) should be exposed to all key findings and help to prioritize areas of action. We typically facilitate a three-hour meeting to kick-off this collaborative process.
- Board members: Once senior leadership has distilled the results, it’s best to dedicate 30 minutes at a board meeting to review survey highlights and possible areas to prioritize.
- Board committees: Parent Survey data is a great way to inform board committees of their respective responsibilities. For example, Wise School, also in LA, had a member of its senior leadership team provide an overview of educational-specific findings to the education committee.
- Teachers: The data we collect directly from parents can provide rich insight on a division or even grade level for faculty and staff. While the findings are shared in the aggregate to protect confidentiality, “our teachers take the results seriously,” said Lewin.
- Parents: Even if it isn’t possible to solve their problems right away, making parents aware that your school is listening and working constructively on future solutions can be a key to their engagement. While parents don’t need a deep-dive into the findings like other stakeholder groups, sharing key takeaways in a dedicated email or “Back to School Night” can go a long way to ensuring that this group feels heard.
- Put your money where your findings are. “It’s not good enough to hope improvement would happen,” said Weiser. “We take proactive steps.” At Wise School, this meant investing in two new science teachers to strengthen that department academically. In another example, Temple Israel increased their existing professional development investment in targeted ways.
- Message with a purpose. Successful improvement initiatives are bolstered by — or can even consist solely of — more focused messaging. “We became more deliberate in sharing what goes on as far as graduate preparedness at our school,” said Freedman of Hillel Day School, which serves early childhood through 8th grade. “We began tying it to college acceptance and college success because we have a strong impact there when you consider a student spends nine years at Hillel compared to four years at a high school.”
With the school year nearly at the midway point, parents currently have enough information to give you their opinion. It is up to you to ask for it.
Getting parent feedback now will allow you to hit the ground running in 2018-2019 with new initiatives to help parents and students feel engaged and help to enhance word-of-mouth promotion of the school.
Please contact Daniel@deva.measuring-success.com to discuss how we can help.
Join us January 9, 2018 for a webinar on the benefits of Parent Surveys with Tami Weiser of Wise School in Los Angeles and Steve Freedman of Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit. Click the image below to register!