Research and insights from Robinson and educational psychologist Hunter Gehlbach of the University of California, Santa Barbara, show how schools can get the most out of student feedback, and how principals can help teachers get on board with using it — creating a more communicative school culture for all.
Getting Started: Making Student Feedback Work
One very real caveat to using student feedback in schools is that students aren’t automatically fair evaluators. A hyper fourth-grader or a sullen sophomore won’t always be particularly just or perceptive. However, with the right scaffolding, most students can be more helpful than many educators assume.
Gehlbach offers advice for teachers on how to solicit meaningful feedback:
- Before administering any surveys, express to students that you as a teacher will only improve from their honest answers. Relay very directly that this feedback is important to you.
- After collecting answers, share some of the findings with the class, letting them know how you are thinking about using this data to improve. “This process builds a lot of trust between teachers and students,” says Gehlbach.
- Frequent, quick, informal questionnaires — “exit tickets” — can get students accustomed to providing feedback, and may be easier for students to complete than longer surveys.
- To gain more-detailed, schoolwide feedback, principals may want to consult with experts. Education data companies such as Panorama Education, for which Gehlbach is director of research, “will help schools get high quality survey content, advice on the nuances of survey administration, uniformity in what gets measured across the school, [and] thoughtful reporting.” Researchers from Panorama and the Harvard Graduate School of Education launched a comprehensive student survey tool in 2014, grounded in rigorous methodology, that captures student assessment across 19 key topics.
A New Study: Getting Teachers on Board
Even when student evaluations are fair, teachers may feel uneasy about them.
New research from Robinson and Gehlbach, along with Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh, Chris Benshoof, and Jack Schneider, offers insight into how principals can get teachers on board. In a recent study, the researchers surveyed 309 teachers from grades K–12 and from 44 states and the District of Columbia, asking how they felt about students evaluating them.
The researchers found that teachers were significantly more likely to be supportive of the idea of students evaluating teachers if they were first asked if teachers should be allowed to evaluate principals. It’s a common psychological move; when people realize they have thoughts or judgments that are inconsistent, they change one to alleviate the tension.
Most teachers believe that their feedback on their principals should be respected — a line of thought that helps them acknowledge that their students’ feedback on them should be valued, too.