When you think of surveys, you might think of business marketing, community planning, or even a quirky episode of Family Feud. But these tools are critical for the success of the modern education system, too. With proper use, they can help create a more effective and enjoyable learning environment that supports parents, administrators, teachers, and students alike.
One size does not fit all
Although schools are beginning to understand the importance of student-centric instruction, traditionally, education as a whole has been and largely still is centered around a speaker-versus-observer or authoritarian lecturer model in which teachers must teach all students the same curriculum at the same pace with similar tools. This assumes that all students are on equal footing and have the same learning challenges or preferences, which is simply not true. The digital divide, for example, in which many students do not have access to technologies compared to others, is just one example of classroom inequity. Children who require Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or advanced coursework also demonstrate how students might require vastly different learning accommodations to reach their full academic potential. Because students are so varied physically, socially, emotionally, economically, and in other ways, a one-size-fits-all approach to education is highly counterintuitive to learning.
The democratized voice of the student is, in fact, the ideal place to start when trying to understand what students want and need. Teachers can use surveys to discover student preferences, strengths and weaknesses, differences, and how they learn best. They then can adapt the curriculum at the individual student level. Because students are heard and acknowledged in this way, they can feel more respected and in control of their own education, and they might have an easier time trusting the teachers in charge and the institution as a whole.
One reason surveys are so powerful for creating customized programs is that they can feel safer to students than other options. For example, some children might be afraid to speak up when coursework is difficult because they don’t want their peers or teacher to perceive them poorly. Class surveys give kids a secure channel through which they can acknowledge learning gaps, pinpoint what they couldn’t follow, or reveal other struggles. Because of this, those in charge might be able to get a more truthful picture of each student’s situation or the reality/satisfaction of the group.
Not just for students
Although direct feedback from students is invaluable, educators also need to direct surveys at parents. Home environments can vary dramatically, and children might not be able to articulate or fully understand their circumstances, especially if they are young or parents have not shared specific facts with them. Parent-based surveys allow teachers and administrators to uncover disconnects and get a clearer picture of the support each child has at home. They also let educators acquire a sense of how parents feel about the school and identify areas where the school could improve. Ultimately, this helps teachers and parents work together as stakeholders to decide what is best as well as be much more sensitive to the needs of the kids.
Surveys are also incredibly useful for teachers. Firstly, feedback directly from students lets teachers see where they are serving students well or need to improve. This allows educators to make very specific decisions about how to focus their continuing education, shift teaching methods, and become better teachers.
Secondly, many schools struggle to keep teachers on their payroll, not just because compensation is typically low but also because teachers face incredible responsibility, long hours, and a level of stress that virtually guarantees gray hair and the desire to scream into pillows. Teacher surveys can allow administrators to learn what educators think of current or proposed policies and leadership, allocate district/school spending more appropriately, and understand specific teacher priorities. Additionally, surveys can give teachers clarity on how they are influencing their students and gain greater appreciation of how they are contributing meaningfully to their lives. This can translate to happier, more engaged, and better aligned teachers who stay on the job.
Turning every touchpoint into a positive experience
Educators can get a good basic sense of where to go from more generalized student, parent, and teacher surveys. But student feedback can also be narrowed to the course level so that teachers can turn virtually every educational touchpoint into a positive experience.
Course feedback enables educators to measure, discover, and improve the key drivers of the student experience. By identifying best practices, trends, and course insights, teachers can design better, tailored courses that are more effective and enjoyable. For instance, feedback can tell teachers whether they should break a difficult topic down into subsections, suggest activities that promote lateral thinking on a topic, and create pre-quizzes, quizzes, review sections, or other materials. It can also give teachers good information about how students perceive them personally through the course — no teacher wants to come across as mean, disinterested, incompetent, or — for lack of a better word — lame. This applies to both in-person and online classes, so that no course has to be static and teachers can respond to students regardless of platform.
The time for change is now
The end goal of just about every serious educator, parent, or school administrator is to improve academic outcomes. Surveys can play a huge role in reaching this objective, particularly if they are directed at everyone involved. Although this always has been true, the current COVID-19 pandemic is forcing everyone to reconsider the traditional approach to education on a massive scale.
We have in front of us an unprecedented opportunity to ask deeper social questions and to restructure how schools look and operate. In fact, the World Bank Group asserts that the key to tackling our previous global learning crisis and handling the academic shock of the pandemic is to ensure we “don’t replicate the failures of the pre-COVID-19 systems, but instead build toward improved systems and accelerated learning for all students.” Furthermore, the virus is highlighting the enormous need for cooperation and collaboration. Now is the perfect time to start tailoring learning with an emphasis on survey-based feedback. Whether you conduct those surveys on paper or through digital means, they will remain significant for achieving competitive and desirable educational results well into the future.