What actually happens with student surveys?

Georgia Rosenberg '19, Editor in Chief

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…student surveys are back!

Teachers across all departments are giving Upper School students the opportunity to share their opinions on their classes – in terms of academic atmosphere, effectiveness of teaching style, and workload.

Year after year, student surveys have received both commendation and criticism. While some see the surveys as an ample opportunity to reflect on the course and offer suggestions for potential changes, others find them to be tiresome and useless.

The survey process has long been a part of the SLS community, but it wasn’t until five years ago that some significant changes were made. Prior to these alterations, the surveys gave students the opportunity to rate subjective statements on a scale and tended to put teachers on the defensive.

“Teachers were getting reviews rather than feedback,” Head of Upper School Ms. Perry remembers.

As a result, the administration decided to redesign the survey to give students the opportunity to reflect not only on their teachers, but also on their own performance. This reformatting mainly included the addition of more comment boxes.

“We wanted to give students a chance to write about the particulars that make the class go well or that are not working for them,” Perry notes.

In order to rectify the mindless routine that often comes with a week of back-to-back surveys, the length of the surveys was reduced last year.

Each academic department is given two or three questions – the ones that appear at the beginning of the survey – that can be customized to fit each particular subject. The other questions remain the same.

The questions not only focus on class atmosphere and teacher performance, but also task students with contemplating their own contribution to the environment.

“Student surveys are meant to be both a reflection tool for the student and a feedback tool for the teacher…When people reflect on things, they pay more attention and they tend to do better at moving toward their goals,” Perry acknowledges.

Thus, student surveys are geared towards both student and teacher improvement. Needless to say, many students appreciate the ability to express aspects of the class and teaching style that are not working for them with complete anonymity.

“I think a positive of the student surveys is that if you have a problem with the teacher, instead of having to deal with it face-to-face you can talk about your issue anonymously, and this saves your relationship with the teacher,” says Chris Ayoub ‘19.

Only four administrators – Ms. Perry, Mr. Foley, Mr. Yavenditti, and the department head – and each individual faculty member can read the surveys, which are designed to be permanently anonymous.

Each Upper School teacher is paired up with either Ms. Perry, Mr. Foley, or Mr. Yavenditti. Each administrator is responsible for reading and discussing the surveys of the teachers to which they are assigned. For example, after Ms. Perry reads a teacher’s surveys, she sends them to the teacher, who then writes a reflection based on provided open-ended prompts. After, Ms. Perry meets with the teacher to discuss the results. The administrators also have the ability to pull up and reference data from previous years.

“Surveys are helpful when it comes to impacting real change,” Perry says.

After the initial 1st semester process, surveys are again taken in April, which gives both teachers and students the opportunity to strive for improvement.

“I think it’s extremely helpful for teachers and for me to be able to see if something was addressed,” Perry notes.

When it comes to first-year teachers, it’s no surprise that they are often subject to greater scrutiny when it comes to survey results. Ms. Perry recognizes that this can take an emotional toll on new teachers; however, she still values the importance of feedback at the early stages of one’s career.

No matter the teacher or their level of experience, each member of the SLS faculty has the opportunity to engage in a one-on-one conversation with their designated administrator regarding student survey results. Though the process can be redundant, student concerns and suggestions are fully recognized.

“I never want to ask students for feedback and not do anything with it,” Perry says.