Surveys are important feedback tools to help maximize the learning experience of children and the teaching of faculty. Recently, I was reflecting on how difficult it is to gather authentic, qualitative feedback from families, faculty and students.
Likert scale-style surveys have always been quick, easy and scalable ways to measure. However, these do not offer the kind of deeper information that more subjective, individually provided responses produce when evaluating your school community’s perspectives. Expensive software systems with complicated mechanisms have been in existence, but these come at a high price and present accessibility limitations.
Reading individual responses from survey participants is labor intensive, especially if these come from large groups of respondents. For example, my student body consists of 1,400 students, and my faculty consists of 125 certificated staff. That number of responses makes it virtually impossible to collect and then accurately identify the kind of qualitative, subjective information that authentic responses allow for. Hence, the rationale for many that choose to limit their data collection to less-informed Likert-scale survey systems.
I discovered an answer that is inexpensive, instant and extremely effective. I changed my Liikert-scale to subjective responses as I asked for detailed feedback. Upon surveying a group about their thoughts on the past school year and recommendations for making the upcoming year better, I decided to use the AI chatbot to siphon patterns of participant comments that included context otherwise missed in numerical rating systems.
Traditional, expensive software programs have been designed to examine keywords and more mechanized ways of searching for common themes that miss the context of nuanced response feedback. My surveys have always centered around what matters most in my role as a school leader: improved teaching and learning. Having tinkered with numerous ways to accelerate my efficiency as a principal with artificial intelligence chat tools, I decided to try gaining invaluable information I had never been able to before by using qualitative survey feedback. Here’s how this worked.
In my pilot crack at this, I used a simple Google form to prompt 15 fellow administrators with a series of questions related to their reflections on the past year and their top goals for the upcoming year. Once their survey responses were collected, I navigated to the responses tab and selected all the text. I opened my AI chat tool (most who are tinkering with this use ChatGPT) and used the command prompt: Summarize these form responses, and show patterns. Next, I pasted the copied selection of responses after this response.
The AI chatbot produced a list that summarized more lengthy responses but did not remove important context that I depended on to ascertain what truly matters to the group. Additionally, the AI captured my request to include patterns. This allowed me to quickly scan the summary of responses and, as importantly, instantly recognize the patterns that emerged. To illustrate, here are the patterns that the AI identified:
- Building rapport with students and staff is a common success.
- Dealing with difficult parents, staffing issues and organizational changes are recurring challenges.
- Balancing priorities, delegating tasks and focusing on equity and diversity are lessons learned.
- Goals for the next year include instructional leadership, communication improvement and addressing absenteeism and discipline.
- Many responses emphasize the importance of relationships and collaboration.
Comparing these against the summary of responses demonstrated impressive consistency. It allowed me to know what the participants truly wanted to voice to me because they weren’t limited to a more restrictive rating system.
School leaders are busy individuals who need important and accurate information quickly so they can act on it. This new method allows the school leader to do what is most important: Share the feedback with stakeholders and act on it. When stakeholders see that their input is examined, and acted on, they feel empowered, further strengthening the school community in ways that allow for even more improved teaching and learning.
As importantly, this allows the school leader to get into classrooms instead of being tied to an office, away from the trenches, poring over data points. This is significant since improvement doesn’t happen from the office; it happens in classrooms, where the rubber meets the road and school leaders can support faculty and student success.
If you would like to see a video demo of what I did on this instance, check it out here and start acting in more empowering ways on the feedback you collect from parents, students and faculty.
Michael Gaskell, Ed.D., is the author of a new book, “Radical Principals,” and a veteran principal in New Jersey working at Hammarskjold Upper Elementary School in East Brunswick.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.