Using Student Surveys for Professional Development and Goal Setting

The question of student evaluations came up recently at a school leadership meeting. They have been used before, but not embraced at all by the teachers. The goals, expressed by administration, would be to give teachers another tool or resource for curriculum development.

I was reminded of an assignment that I did for a graduate leadership class I am finishing at Cardinal Stritch University. We had to create 360 degree survey that was given to peers as a way of identifying  how we are viewed within the organization. I distributed and collected the surveys, tabulated the data, identified goals based on what I learned, and then created a plan to respond and improve based on what I learned. It was incredibly useful and inspired reflective, meaningful goals.

There is quite a bit of scholarly writing about the use of surveys at the college level. Some of the most interesting is written by Dr. Clayson including; Student Evaluations of Teaching: Are They Related to What Students Learn?: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature, and Student Evaluations in Marketing, What is Actually Being Measured?  The gist of both articles is that students are often less than honest when filling out the evaluations. Also, it seems that the rigor of the class was negatively related to the evaluation. A reader might draw the conclusion that, based on this, there may actually be temptation to dumb down or simplify curriculum in order to keep the student reviewers happy.

Today we met again to discuss how student feedback could be gathered in a way that was useful to teachers. Reflecting on the discussion, I think we came up with three key points to consider moving forward:

  •  Teacher created questions could connect personal, professional development goals delivering useful information for each individual teacher
  • Teachers would be accountable for goal setting and progress towards improvement based on data gathered in the survey – not the survey results
  • The practice would need to start with a professional development meeting where the intent and process would be communicated and modeled

I think, based on this approach, that the surveys could be useful. I like the push to become more reflective and to use feedback in a meaningful way. I also think this process avoids the “Witch Hunt” that the old method implied to both the students and the faculty. I still wonder if the surveys should or should not be anonymous. Also, interested to see if this method improves “buy-in” from the faculty in relation to the value of the surveys in general.



Growing Leaders – Time Well Spent

We started the year differently than we have in the past. The focus of the first two weeks of school was on growing leaders and setting up the culture for the rest of the school year. Reflecting now, I think it was time well spent.

Our middle school program is housed within a high school that is almost one hundred and fifty years old. Three years ago, after looking at the needs of the community, it was determined that the school would have classes 6th – twelfth grade. The first year we had one 6th and one 7th. Last year we added 8th grade. This year we have two 6th, one 7th, and one 8th grade classroom. As we grow in numbers, we want to develop the supports needed to help our students transition into the high school grades.

Last year we developed an advisory program where the students met in small groups with teachers to talk about habits, goal setting, and personal development. I worked with 7th graders who started the year rolling their eyes and asking to go for a walk outside. By the end of the year they had mission statements and personal calendars. I learned how to be just cool enough for them to trust me and just stubborn enough that they would at least try.

This summer we consider the additional students and decided that we wanted to get things going the right way – the first time. We identified leadership as a goal to address.

We divided the students into “8-day” groups. There were representatives from each grade level in each group. This created a situation where the 7th and 8th graders could model behaviors and habits. They could also work on redefining themselves as leaders in the middle school. Everyone had a chance to get used to their new role for the new school year.

For example, 8th graders were asked to hang back and make sure the cafeteria was restored to order after our morning assembly. This was an opportunity to model leadership through service. For some this came naturally. They heard the direction and did what was asked. For others, this was not their habit. They required additional directions and explanation for why and what they were expected to do.

Another request made of those students was to help the 6th graders set up their iPads. We have a 1:1 program that takes time and energy to launch each year. The older students were able to use their skills and knowledge while pairing up with a younger student who needed to learn how to log into programs, send email, and format documents. This area was instantly embraced as the students enjoyed the opportunity to “show off.”

We also created opportunities for collaboration within the “First 8 days” program. Our art teacher asked students to illustrate one of the habits we addressed on a canvas. The canvases would be divided between the classrooms as reminders throughout the school year. It was exciting to see the small groups work through the steps of brainstorming, creating, and clean-up all taught by the students themselves. These skills will prove to be helpful in the art room as well as with our group projects as we start the year.

As we came to the end of the 8days, we teachers were tired and ready to move on to our core subjects. I wondered if we would be able to reflect and see the value in what we were doing. Late in the day on Friday, I got my answer.

A high school student walked down the hallway outside my room slamming his fist into the lockers as he went. Bang! Bang! Bang! I stepped out to see what was going on. When I returned to my students after making sure the situation was addressed they asked what was going on. I explained he was angry and needed to calm down. They asked nothing else, but someone said, “So he’s acting like a soda bottle rather than a water bottle – he needs to work on that.”

It’s still not utopia around here. Leadership through service might not resonate with some for a while. Habits are hard to develop. Sometimes we have to fail and forget to really learn. But at the end of two weeks there is a spark. Seeds have been planted and with a little attention I think good things are going to grow.

Reading Logs Kept and Shared – Inspiration

This s20120702-080559.jpgummer I began keeping a reading log. Inspired by a pretty notebook, I began writing all the thoughts that come up as I read. It’s not formal. There are doodles and notes, quotes and questions. In addition to books, when checking out a blog or in a discussion that seems relevant to my reading life I’ve found myself pulling out my notebook to record that too.

So today when I happened upon Jessica Johnson’s Sharing my Reading Life blog I just had to smile. In her blog she shares a batch of ideas on how her reading log has inspired her students and teachers to read.

Isn’t it cool when you happen upon the next stepping-stone in a journey? It’s like stopping at the gas station and receiving directions to your next destination before you even get a chance to ask.

Similar to Johnson, when I talk about books other readers and soon-to-be readers share what they are reading or what they want to read. I do talk a lot about books. My fellow teachers pass books around, I’m in a book club with my girlfriends, and I love seeking out books that my husband and I will both enjoy reading. I also know that the more I get my students reading the better they do in all their classes.

Johnson has taken my inspiration to the next level. In addition to a notebook of reading inspired thoughts – I think it’s a great ideas to keep a record of what I am reading, when, and what kind of book it is. Like Johnson I believe this will help me see and understand my own reading habits and be better able to share and model them with my kids and my students.

In fact, the kids and their cousins just spent a weekend together. Between swimming and firefly catching, there was lots of reading. My sister and I are both teachers, but we didn’t have to do anything to inspire them except load them up with books and time. The questions and ideas they shared sounded just like the book group discussion I enjoy with my friends. Now I wonder what would happen if I handed them each a journal for writing and doodling and remembering…?

I think I’ll do that right after I finish Forged by Laurie Halse Anderson as I promised it to a student who saw me reading and writing about it at the pool last week. Happy reading!

If you want to visit Jessica Johnson you’ll find her @PrincipalJ on Twitter and at Reflections from an Elementary School Principal on blogger.