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.