10 Tips for Successful Parent Surveys

It’s always helpful to know what the parents at your school are thinking, about all kinds of things. Which is why it’s surprising that most schools fall into one of two categories when it comes to parent surveys:

  1. Asking the wrong questions, in the wrong way, at the wrong time.
  2. Never surveying parents at all.

You don’t want to bother parents, of course – we’re all so busy – but a well-thought-out parent survey can be one of the strongest tools in your school communications arsenal. I, for one, find it fascinating how many different ways schools manage their parent communications. If you communicate too much you can annoy parents. If you communicate too little you can annoy parents. What’s the right balance? Well how will you know if you don’t ask!?

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind.

  1. Figure out what you want to know, and why. Even if there are a number of things you’ve been meaning to ask parents about, don’t lump them together all willy-nilly in a single survey. Keep surveys tightly focused on a specific issue or area of knowledge, like “communication”.
  2. Don’t ask any question whose answer doesn’t have the potential to change anything. This is a biggie. It’s very easy to start asking all kinds of things that don’t have any practical relevance in the real world. If a question is irrelevant to a future behavior or policy change at your school, don’t bother asking it (if you have no plans to change your school tour process, for example, don’t ask parents what they think about it). Being ruthless on this point will help keep your surveys useful and as short as possible. Of course you need to hear the feedback on things you weren’t expecting to change but give parents the opportunity to make those suggestions in an open-ended comments section at the end.
  3. Always include a section for open-ended responses. Even if it’s just a single catch-all question at the end, people appreciate the space to share their thoughts.
  4. Prepare parents for the survey. Unless a survey is extremely short, a heads-up about when it’s coming at them and what you hope to learn from it will help pave the path to a good response rate.
  5. Include a deadline for the return of the survey. Deadlines motivate people to take action – a survey without a deadline is far more likely to languish indefinitely on a busy parent’s “to do…sometime” list.
  6. Don’t ask leading questions. This is where a few sets of eyes on the survey before it goes out can be helpful. Nobody sets out to ask questions that telegraph the “correct” answer, but it happens all the time.
  7. Go online with your survey, if possible. It is much easier to administer, analyze, and track online surveys – not to mention avoiding the perennial “crumpled in the bottom of the backpack” problem common to school-age children!
  8. Randomize your questions. If you use an online survey tool, you will probably have the ability to present the questions in a random (rather than a pre-set) order for each survey-taker. This is useful for two reasons. First, you minimize the likelihood that the answer to one question is influenced by the parent’s response to prior questions. Second, no matter how short a survey is, you will have folks who abandon it before the end. Randomizing the questions means you won’t have a few forlon topics at the end with minimal input.
  9. Thank respondents, sincerely and profusely. Taking a survey isn’t that big a deal, time-wise, but parents are busy. An acknowledgement of this, as well as the fact that you truly appreciate their input, will go a long way towards getting their input on future surveys.
  10. Offer a prize. It’s not just kids who are motivated by the promise of a prize! If good participation levels are essential to a survey you’re doing, offer a prize to one or more lucky survey-takers. You will want to make these prizes a matter of random chance rather than a reflection of how “good” their answers are.

What tips do you have for crafting great parent surveys and feedback mechanisms? Would you share them in a comment below?

Also, if you haven’t already click here to get your copy of our free eBook, 9 Effective Strategies for Parent Engagement at Your School.