The Power of Student Feedback Surveys

I remember the moment so clearly.  I was sitting with some 7th grade science teachers during their planning time, and I showed them a student feedback survey that I had made.  “The following questions ask you to rate your opinion of each statement from ‘Strongly Disagree’ to ‘Strongly Agree’, it read.  I read them a couple of statements — “I am provided with a variety of ways to demonstrate my learning.” and “My teacher makes learning interesting and enjoyable.”  Their eyes got wide with anxiety at the thought of being so vulnerable and possibly exposed to a critique that may clash with their view of their teaching abilities.  

Inherent in this role reversal is a psychological risk that many teachers aren’t willing to take.  We blithely claim that teaching is not a popularity contest or that we know what’s best for our students even if they disagree.  But we all know implicitly that students who don’t enjoy our class are unlikely to learn much from us.  If we fail to reflect on our practices, we will not grow our skills from lesson to lesson, month to month, or year to year and our students will suffer as a result.

Take the risk, foster student voice

It is critical that all teachers give students a voice concerning how they are being taught.  Every group of students is different from year to year and even from class to class.  Some classes need more structure while others need outlets for their creativity.  Some like playing class review games while others would rather work in small groups.  But how do we know?  We get their input.  We give the students a voice.  We empower them by letting them know that they have a say in their education.  We discuss with them the results of the survey and how we, as teachers, plan to change future lessons based on their input.  By subjecting ourselves to scrutiny, we show students, by our own example, that seeking feedback is an essential part of growth. Students who feel empowered, who feel valued, are much more likely to enjoy and engage in your class.

Did they use the survey?

So what happened with those 7th grade science teachers to whom I pitched the survey?  They decided to take the risk and do it.  As a result, they got invaluable feedback.  Teachers told me how surprised they were at their students’ responses.  Some of their assumptions about what their students liked turned out to be misguided. As a result, they changed future lessons to accommodate student needs expressed in the survey.  They even thanked me for pressing them to conduct it. 

Model a growth mindset

All of their initial misgivings about bruised egos were replaced with deep reflections on their teaching practices in order to improve.  This process is at the heart of practicing a growth mindset which is something all teachers should strive to develop and maintain. In whatever we pursue, it is human nature to strive for improvement.  When asked to distill the key to happiness to one word, world famous life coach Tony Robbins (@TonyRobbins) responded, “growth.” In his bestselling book Drive, author Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) calls this type of motivation the pursuit of mastery — the urge to develop better skills over time.  Unlike grades, awards, candy, or other extrinsic motivators that teachers often employ, motivation based on a pursuit of mastery is intrinsic which is much more powerful and lasting.  By modeling for our students that we have the resolve to reflect and the capacity to improve, we set an example for them to cultivate a growth mindset in whatever they do.

Your turn to take action

As we approach the middle of the school year, it’s a good time to get feedback from our students.  It’s a good time to reflect on our practices and make the critical adjustments that will help us and our students maximize learning and enjoyment moving forward.

Make a copy of the survey that I offered those science teachers.  I hope you find it useful.  Please leave a comment about your experience with student feedback and suggestions on how to make the survey better.

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