Creative Ways to Gather Meaningful Family Feedback

Intentionally seeking feedback from school families can identify both successful practices and blind spots in school leadership—key information that can help early career principals navigate their roles and shape their leadership style.

Topics: Early Career Principals, Family and Stakeholder Engagement

Face-to-face conversations and surveys with families are critical to the success of a school. When you are new to your leadership role, the more information you gather, the more informed you will be about making decisions that will engage your students, staff, and community in a positive way.

Assegid (AZ) Habtewold, CEO of Success Pathways, said it best: “The people who care about you may not tell you your blind spots fearing to offend/hurt you. Open up and ask their feedback and get enlightened.”

Most school families care about the school you lead being successful because their child attends the school. Each interaction with a parent or family member, whether it occurs at bus duty, curriculum nights, concerts, or any other event, should be used as an opportunity to gather feedback from parents.

Go Back to Basics

Want the easiest way to open a dialogue with families? Ask this question when you’re speaking one-on-one with family members: “How is [child’s name] liking school so far this year?”

Get ready for the floodgates to open because parents—in our experience—don’t usually sugarcoat their answers. Then, just listen. This could lead to positive affirmations of the school’s work, or it could lead to scheduling a time to meet with this parent within the next several days for a follow-up conversation.

Identify Blind Spots

You might have a specific program or leadership strategy in mind that you think is going well, but it might not be so successful from a parent’s perspective.

Initiating conversations with school families enables you to gather feedback—good and bad—to help identify blind spots in your leadership practice.

Make Connections

Chances are, if one parent offers feedback, others might be thinking it, too. It’s important with follow-up conversations to find out if any other parents should be invited to the table to discuss an issue. Taking this feedback, you can create a plan of action, leading to a better solution for the school and strengthened connections with school families.

Survey Families—Strategically

Sending formal surveys out to families is a way to collect strategic information. Using surveys can be very daunting. Some say if you don’t have thick skin, you shouldn’t be in a leadership position. Sending out a survey is one way to test whether your skin is thick enough.

But it doesn’t need to be that way if you know how to use the survey to gain specific information you will use to reflect and lead. Here’s how to tailor a survey to get the most useful, honest feedback:

  • First, identify a real or perceived concern. Then, create a short, strategic survey that will provide guidance in meeting that need.
  • Keep the survey short, with only about 10 questions, mixing multiple choice, Likert Scale, matrix tables, and open-ended comment areas so they can elaborate. Make sure it takes less than 5 minutes to complete.
  • Tailor each question to align with aspects of the culture we wanted to achieve. For example: Did the school create a positive learning environment? Was there a level of trust with the teacher, office staff, and administrative team? Did your child feel included and supported? Did you feel included and supported? How familiar are you with the school’s mission, vision, and values?

The information you gather directly from school families will help you stay focused on building a unified community, knowing which areas are strong and which need more support. This type of survey, along with face-to-face conversations, can help refine your practice and direct your leadership by creating a community that feels connected because they have the opportunity to be heard.

Cynthia Cardenas is principal of Orchard Elementary School in Orem, Utah.

Jerod Phillips Sr. is principal of David E. Robinson Elementary School in Magnolia, Delaware.