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Survey Your Charter School Staff: How, When, and Why

Whether or not to survey staff — and how that fits into the CEO evaluation process — is always a hot topic among charter school leaders and trustees alike.

Attracting, developing, and retaining highly effective teachers is one of the keys to success for any school.

And surveying your staff is a vital practice for retaining top talent, or uncovering any issues that might detract from attracting or retaining the best and brightest for your organization.

BoardOnTrack recommends that schools survey their staff one to two times per year to assess:

  1. The staff members’ happiness and morale
  2. Their perceptions of the school as a workplace and community
  3. The effectiveness of investments the school has made in professional development or staff time and attention

Here’s how to get your staff survey right, year after year.

Why survey your charter school staff?

While useful to both groups, staff surveys can have different (if strongly related) value for the CEO versus board members.

Your CEO will gain:

  • Ability to measure the effectiveness of investments in professional development or staff time (e.g., summer training, outside trainers, collaborative planning time, etc.)
  • Ability to track and measure the strength of culture over time as the school grows
  • Help to prioritize instructional and programmatic initiatives
  • Anonymous, honest feedback that helps the CEO to identify key personal learning needs or those of other senior staff
  • Can provide forewarning of bad news in terms of staff departures well before the end of the year when decisions can still be affected and contingency plans laid

Your board will gain:

  • Insight into key aspect of the organization that can be gained in a time efficient/realistic way while respecting the leader’s role of reporting to the board and supervising the staff
  • One data point to validate sense of how things are going that is presented by CEO
  • Objective and comprehensive numbers rather than anecdotal impression
  • Can help the board to help the CEO to target key personal growth needs and implement plans to meet those needs
  • Can provide forewarning of bad news in terms of staff departures well before the end of the year when decisions can still be affected and contingency plans laid

Run your staff surveys once or twice per year.

Any more often than once or twice per year can lead to overload for staff. And too frequent surveys can make it hard for the CEO and board to invest the time necessary to fully analyze the results.

Surveys should occur late enough in the year to provide a clear read on how things are going. But run them early enough to allow school leadership to adjust course based on the data, if needed.

We’ve found that surveys held between November and February tend to be the most helpful. Of course, schedule yours based on your specific school calendar.

What to Include in your staff survey

The board should be seeking to answer top-level governance questions through the survey.  You’re aiming to gather the data that will help you answer for yourselves questions like these:

  • What is the current overall state of our staff culture?
  • Are our teachers happy working at our organization?
  • Do they feel like the organization and leadership supports their growth and their success?
  • Do teachers feel they have access to the resources they need to do their jobs?
  • Would they recommend the organization to a friend as a great place to work?

In addition to the above, the CEO should be seeking the data that will help them answer these more nitty-gritty management level questions such as:

  • How effective were the investments we made in professional development?
    (e.g., time, funding, and energy invested)
  • How effective are the instructional coaching activities we undertake?
    (eg., lesson plan feedback, feedback on lesson delivery, modeling, collaborative planning, data protocols, etc.)
  • How much do teachers feel our approaches to discipline and behavior promote academic achievement?
  • How do teachers see the various family involvement efforts made by the school?
  • Where would teachers like to see more professional development?
  • How well are the operations and finance staff meeting teacher needs?
  • Do staff members’ levels of satisfaction or morale differ for different populations within the staff?
    (e.g., particular grade levels or departments, staff who have been at the school longer vs. those who are newer to the school, more experienced teachers vs. less experienced teachers)

Keep in mind: We don’t recommend asking parents or teachers questions directly about your organization’s leader. We think you should ask questions about overall organizational performance.

Board and CEO Roles In Surveying Staff

While charter school boards are ultimately responsible for their organization’s success or failure, an effective board fully empowers their CEO to run the school.

The staff report to the CEO. Board members should be thoughtful about any direct communication they have with staff in terms of how it supports or empowers the CEO.

This dynamic underscores the value of surveying staff, as it’s a way the board can gain insight into staff morale and culture while maintaining the CEO’s role in managing staff.

To ensure that the survey process supports the CEO’s role as leader, the board and CEO should each maintain a specific role in the process.

The board should:

  • Be informed about the timeline for administering the survey and reporting results to the board
  • Define key top-level measures board would like to review
  • Review results of top-level board questions with CEO and ask questions about drivers of results where helpful
  • Listen to CEO’s plans to respond to data (if appropriate) and ask probing questions

The CEO should:

  • Determine a timeline for administering survey and reporting results to the board
  • Draft the instrument that addresses top-level board needs and nitty-gritty management needs
  • Present results of top-level board questions to board and discuss drivers of results where helpful
  • Present to the board a high-level plan for responding to key takeaways (if appropriate)

Pro Tips for Successfully Surveying Your Charter School Staff

Reflect on what you’ve done recently, and what you’d like to do in the near future.

As you prepare for your survey, your CEO should make a list of all the major professional development and other initiatives they’ve undertaken in the last year. Design questions to test the success or efficacy of each. CEOs can also consider any future initiatives they are considering and design questions to assess staff member’s desire for each.

Be consistent about your process and timing.

Try to keep much of the survey the same each year so that you can compare data over time. This helps the CEO and board to monitor staff culture as the school grows/matures.

Make participation in the surveys anonymous and respect the staff members’ anonymity.

Allow staff to give candid input without fear of reprisal. Resist any urge to follow up with specific staff on their comments, even if you believe you know who said what. This goes for the board and the CEO.

And, this should go without saying, but board members should never interview the staff directly. This is a pretty common mistake, and one that can happen for a variety of reasons. But it should not be done. Staff should respond to surveys, with confidence that their anonymity will be protected and that they can be fully honest with their feedback.

Respond with one voice.

Remember, the CEO runs the school. If the survey raises any issues that should be dealt with at the whole staff level, the CEO should do this—not the board.

Balance multiple-choice and open-ended questions.

Multiple choice questions allow you to gather more data with less investment of staff time in taking the survey and allow you to create meaningful averages. Open-ended questions can get a richer level of data. Use a balance of both types of questions.

While recruiting the right people is a major factor in your success, assessing your staff is essential for retaining top and driving success for your organization.

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