Facing the Uncomfortable
Student perceptions surveys are an excellent tool for teacher self-reflection, but it took me a long time to come to this conclusion. When my principal first came to the staff last year with the idea and looking for volunteers to pilot a survey, I listened with a clenched jaw. I had only been at the district a few months and was feeling overwhelmed, facing my teaching insecurities was a daunting idea. I do not exactly remember volunteering; in fact, I am quite sure I was put on the list without saying anything, probably because I seem confident in my teaching practices–but this takes a different level of confidence as teenagers can be brutally honest and there is a lot of trust involved. Trust between the students and teachers. Trust between the teachers and colleagues. Trust between teachers and administrators. All teachers have to trust that the results will not be used to punish. With great reservation, and some private grumbling, I agreed to give the student perception surveys to gather student feedback on their classroom experience.
Before continuing I want to address that this is not an endorsement of any particular survey; the survey needs to match the needs of the stakeholders. Furthermore, I believe the process should be used for the improvement of teaching practice, not for a “gotcha-ya” moment during the evaluation process.
Moment of Truth
In my classroom I ended up administering two different surveys in the first year and one in the fall of this school year. I also chose to be fearless and give the survey to my most difficult class both years. Last year I was the new teacher with new curriculum, new ideas, and new expectations in a senior class with their collective eye on graduation. This fall’s survey I went with my most challenging class in regards to behavior management. “Go big or go home” is not my usual style, but there is limited value in getting feedback on what is already going well.
The surveys go far beyond typical course feedback forms. It is the kind of feedback that makes a person uncomfortable in a squirm-in-your-seat kind of way. Safety, respect, engagement, clarity, and classroom environment are just a few of the topics covered by the survey. The students were clearly at the center of the questions. For example, the survey asks students to rate statements like “I learn a lot each day” or “my teachers seems to know when something is bothering me.” A survey takes about forty-five minutes for a diligent student.
I tried not to dwell on what the results would report two weeks later. Once I had the link in my email, I waited an additional two days before I opened it because no one wants to be told they are “a bad teacher.” (Posting my general results here is equally uncomfortable.)
The survey I find the most helpful breaks the aspects of being a teacher into categories and then gets more specific with feedback in those categories. My most important criteria for this class in the fall was in classroom management. Through the survey I understood my students were being challenged (not bored with material, check) and understood the material (clarity, check), but classroom management ranked low. That made sense and is why I decided to survey the class. Now I know it was not the material causing the problems; it was about routines and behaviors. In the students’ junior year, I tend to relax some of the routines and work to guide them to independence and expect students to move to self-reliance, taking responsibility for their learning. This class needed to return to routines for longer than most classes.
My results are reported in far more detail in the full report and overall revealed that I am not where I need to be with this class. Most categories came back as “average,” which was a huge blow to my pride but is essential in knowing how to move forward and where to spend my time in professional development.
Thoughts At the End of the Day
I had to trust that the students would take it seriously and understand the importance. The first time I gave a survey, one student was taking a really long time. For that survey it was only twenty questions and I tried to prod him along a little. His response was, “I’m answering to make sure I don’t get you in trouble.” They get the importance of the feedback and the power it could wield. Giving them this voice is a dynamic tool and will only gain in strength as they see a change in practice reflecting the feedback.
This process of surveying students is about being a better teacher because our students deserve the best. The feedback was considerable, giving me areas to reflect on with my colleagues, and I am excited for the discussions that will happen if this should move from pilot to practice.
I enjoy working with teachers to pool our collective ideas and talents.To fill my teaching bucket in this way, I participate in the ESD 101 ELA Fellows, lead a community of practice for Bridge to College and enjoy working with the CorelaborateWa teachers.
I am in my twelfth year teaching; two doors down the hall, my husband is in his second year as an AgEd teacher and FFA adviser . Our two young daughters, 8 and 5, keep us crazy-- I mean busy--as we juggle 4-H, dance, basketball, t-ball and more.
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