Why you should survey your school staff

For the first time ever in the Freeman School District, a classified staff member – bus driver Hal Patton – is set to kick off the district’s professional development session by sharing his story as an employee, parent and grandparent at Rockford, Washington. , school community. Last year at the Gorham School District in Gorham, Maine, every class received new literature sets that better reflect the diversity of the student body. And Calhoun City Schools in Calhoun, GA recently created a new position: teacher-leader developer.

On the surface, none of these anecdotes seem related. But they all share one important factor: each arose as a result of a staff survey.

In all three cases, school or district administrators not only took the time to solicit employee feedback, but then took steps to follow up and act on it. These may not have been monumental changes to policies or practices, but they nevertheless sent this essential message to staff: your voices matter.

It is important to give a voice to the staff

There is strong evidence to show that when employees, teachers in particular, feel that their contribution matters, they are more likely to stay in their jobs. And retaining teachers and other essential staff is a key priority as schools in many communities continue to experience shortages and high turnover rates.

In a 2019 thesis On the influence of teacher empowerment as an effective strategy for retaining teachers, Pennsylvania State University doctoral student Jing Liu wrote, “When teachers viewed themselves as effective in teaching empowered on education issues, they were more likely to stay in their schools. ”

Richard M. Ingersolla researcher who has studied the teaching profession for decades, made a similar claim in a recent interview: “One of the main factors is the issue of voice, and having a say, and being able to have a say in key building decisions that affect a teacher’s work…it correlates very strongly with the decision to stay or leave.

Ingersoll went further by making the connection between empowering teachers, improving retention, and positively influencing student achievement. In a large study Spanning four years, 16 states, and more than 25,000 schools, Ingersoll and his associates found that in schools where teachers possessed higher levels of instructional leadership and decision-making authority, students demonstrated greater mastery of state assessments in math and English/language arts.

Estes Elementary, in the Owensboro Independent School District in Kentucky, participated in Ingersoll’s analysis, and its principal, Shari Flagg, reflected on the benefits of teacher voice. “Estes Elementary teachers are involved in a variety of school decisions, from developing our current school-wide behavior management program, to analyzing our results and interviewing new hires” , she said. “This involvement of our teachers is one of the reasons why our school – with 95% free and reduced meals – is such a successful school.”

Surveys are not a new tool to gauge employee satisfaction and get valuable feedback. But their use during the pandemic has increased dramatically, thanks in large part to greater access to digital technology and increased interest from employers in checking employee morale. Along with this rise, concerns have been raised about poll fatigue, as acknowledged by many industry experts, including market researchers at Qualtrics..

Estes Elementary teachers are involved in a variety of school decisions, from developing our current school-wide behavior management program, to analyzing our results, and interviewing new hires. .

Shari Flagg, principal, Estes Elementary School, Owensboro, Ky.

Although there are concerns that employees ignore surveys, asking staff for their honest feedback and opinions through surveys has a strong potential to have a positive impact when used wisely. Education Week sought out HR experts and district leaders who consider employee surveys a must-have part of a retention toolkit. They shared some strategies to get the most out of it.

Rely on personalized and interactive surveys

Gorham School District Superintendent Heather J. Perry is a firm believer in the power of employee surveys, using them regularly to gain valuable insights. But it avoids surveys created outside of the school system or the community.

“Outside polls pretty much fall on deaf ears — people are polled,” she said.

The district, however, used a third-party vendor’s digital survey product that allows employees to anonymously answer a general question through the company’s software system and then rate their colleagues’ responses.

“It produces great results that help our managers assess [work culture] climate. Many of our [diversity equity inclusion] the work was conducted almost entirely based on those investigations,” Perry said. A concrete example was the decision to diversify the literature in the classroom, a recommendation from staff.

When seeking feedback on a specific topic, Gorham District relies on internally developed, highly targeted surveys that require employees to answer just a few questions, primarily via email. Perry said the district typically aims for and achieves about a 50 percent turnout. The high turnout, she said, is directly related to what employees see happening after the surveys are completed.

“We’re very transparent about how we use data, and they see us using it,” Perry said. “We also listen to their voices.”

Kelly Coash Johnson, executive director of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, supports the use of personalized surveys to gain meaningful insights from employees.

“We encourage each individual school district to conduct this type of survey,” she said. “Find out what teachers really want.”

Coash Johnson said it’s best to tailor and prioritize survey questions that will produce results specific to the needs of employees in a district.

“I think if you ran [employee-satisfaction] surveys in individual school districts, you will find that they want more than just pay,” she said. “It could be something as simple as extra planning time or not serving lunch. Things that could be simple solutions.

Keep the process employee-centric

When employees believe the survey process is fair and meaningful, they are more likely to respond accordingly. Conversely, if they view it as just one more task to complete in an already busy schedule, they are less likely to respond to it thoughtfully, if at all. They’re also less likely to take surveys when they haven’t seen evidence that employers will act on the results, McKinsey report finds who analyzed more than 20 academic articles on the subject.

“If it’s a major investigation, we allow time during the [work] day – at a staff meeting, etc. “said Perry. “Not while they’re home.” In another effort to respect employee time, Perry said the district rarely administers internal surveys that contain more than two questions.

Randy Russell, the superintendent of the Freeman School System, says his district not only shares [anonymous] responses to an annual employee survey on the district website, but also uses feedback in long-term strategic plans.

It is impossible to quantify the effects of this practice. But even simple, low-stakes decisions based on employee feedback, like having classified employees share what it’s like to be part of the school community on a professional development day, can have an impact. on staff morale and retention.

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