In the journey of organisational growth and improvement, setting clear goals is the bridge that connects a visionary outlook with tangible actions.
Goals guide our focus. Organisations and teams that are clear on their shared goals can channel their energy productively. Without shared goals, a survey’s ability to make change drastically lowers. This can often be a challenging task, but we recommend taking the time to clearly engage across the school or trust to ensure you’re beginning a process that is viewed as valuable and encouraged. Keeping “WHY, WHAT, WHO” in the foreground of your work will be your guiding light and constant reminder of why you are fighting the good fight.
Make sure the reason you’re doing a survey is aligned with your vision and values as an organisation and is not just a tick-box exercise. How will the information you collect from the survey help you improve the lives of these stakeholders? You want to have a clear sense of the information you need to understand, what you need to change, and how you need to change it.
To define your WHY, ask yourself, “What would happen if we don’t do this now?”
By imagining what life would be like in a few months or a few years after not collecting this feedback data you could consider the risks for you and your stakeholders. If we don’t ask pupils about safeguarding, we could see a rise in safeguarding incidents in our school, we could see pupils missing more days of school and not knowing the reasons why. If we don’t ask staff about their workload, we could risk a higher amount of staff members leaving our school, we could see staff who are less engaged in their work.
Start with the end in mind: Imagine the feedback from your survey was clear and gave you everything you needed to know how to improve your school or trust. What did you learn? The clarity with which you can answer this question will directly relate with the quality of your survey. Being clear at the start guides the time, energy, and resources of organisations and their stakeholders, towards solutions, not resistance.
Once you’re clear on what you want to learn, you’ll often find it easier to identify what level of detail to survey about. A helpful metaphor when exploring this step is to think about yourself as a medical professional - and your school/trust as your patient. Are you looking to do a general health overview, or to dive deep within a speciality?
Do you want to understand the general experience of stakeholders?
A general feedback survey that covers a broad range of topics that will help you see the current state of things at your school or trust. This type of “experience survey” will help you identify strengths and areas for improvement and is great for strategising future growth or vision plans for your school or trust, or reviewing impact of previous work.
Do you want to explore a topic in depth?
Earlier collected evidence or a general sense of the current situation has helped to identify a problem for stakeholders. This type of hypothesis-driven survey will give you concrete answers to a specific topic that will help you prioritise your next steps to see improvement.
In the Introduction chapter, we mentioned that each of the stakeholder groups can give valuable insights into different aspects of the education process, but are intricately linked to one another. Changes to any one group often affect the other two groups. For accurate data collection in any educational context, we suggest considering these three stakeholders.
So, for example, you may be keen on understanding how staff members are feeling about their current roles and growth potential, or you may want to better understand how to retain your staff members in their positions. You have chosen staff members as your target stakeholder group because you understand that staff who feel highly valued and supported are more able to support pupils in attaining higher achievements. Consider if there is any evidence pointing to the need to explore pupil or parent experiences so that later you can compare these results to the feelings of staff members.
Or, you may be taking into account previously collected information that pupils are sometimes being bullied or feeling unsafe. Your goal is to better understand the current situation about pupil safeguarding and which areas need the most improvement so your pupils feel safe and heard while in your care. With the deep-dive survey results you plan to implement strategies and solutions that will improve the lives of your pupils, but what if pupils feel most unsafe outside of school? In this case, asking parents how they view their role in educating and maintaining safeguarding would be just as critical to understand.
Pulling together all of your thoughts, it’s important to have a concise and clear goal statement. These statements are most powerful when aligned with the direction that your school/trust is working towards.
Make these statements practical and direct, something a student, staff or parent can read to understand your intention, aim, and desired outcome.
Consider the timeliness of the goal to set a sense of when you plan to see the impact of the information you are gathering. You may also want to add a logistical element specifically about the execution of the survey process, analysis and action, for example, wanting to reach a certain percentage of respondents, which will give you leverage to say that your findings are robust. Again we say, start with the end in mind to set some deadlines for yourself so that you aren’t floating in the “in-between” of having collected data, but not taking action with it.
Be aware of biases
At any point in the process, it might be tempting to jump to conclusions or assumptions when considering the strengths and struggles of your stakeholders. Our minds jump to conclusions easily, as we are very good at finding patterns, creating stories, and then confirming our beliefs. At the goal stage just try to be aware of any biases impacting your views on the WHY WHAT WHO and trust that gathering evidence will help you make more unbiased decisions.
Here are some examples:
The feedback cycle looks like a straightforward, rational, step-by-step process, with each stage in a specific order, and each step viewed to have equal importance. Actually, this is a distorted picture, as most things in life are a little messy. The order in which these steps proceed and the time you need to plan for them, in reality, is often quite different from the sequenced model.
Collecting the right sort of feedback is the most important part of the cycle, as major and lasting change comes about largely through feedback, as opposed to the other activities in the cycle: action planning is much harder if you don’t have a clear sense of where you are now. The real payoff for this process is when your school or trust has its data and problem-solving begins.
Planning should, therefore, work backwards from the place you want to see the goals of your research realised: a place where staff love to work, addressing the most pressing issues brought forth by parents, a thriving environment for pupils of all walks of life. By determining what factors are needed to make feedback effective, and this starts with your goal.
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