Donovan Group Insights

Understanding What Matters to Those You Serve

When you picture school stakeholders, who comes to mind? District leaders often picture their most involved community members, such as parents, teachers, staff, paraeducators and administrators. But what about the students? They’re stakeholders, too! If it weren’t for them, your district wouldn’t exist in the first place.

Much like with any other stakeholder group, district leaders need to maintain strong lines of communication with their students. They’re the ones being educated, and they deserve a say in what their education looks like. Below, we’ll break down how to connect with students and gather their valuable insights.

Students are stakeholders who deserve a voice

Everything you say and do affects your school community. Your community is made up of many different stakeholder groups, and your decisions affect each of these groups in different ways. Before you make a decision, you have to ask yourself: how will this affect my teachers and staff? How will this affect community members like alumni, non-parents, seniors, civic groups, business owners and elected officials?

And, perhaps the most important question of all: how will this affect my students?

Unfortunately, this is a question few district leaders ask themselves. Students are a constant presence in your school community. They’re why your school community exists in the first place! Yet, they’re often overlooked. You and your team seek feedback from teachers, staff, families and community members all the time. Why not your students?

Your students are as much a part of the community as everyone else. They deserve a chance to speak their minds and influence important district decisions. After all, everything you do is to benefit your students. To understand what they really need, you have to speak directly with the students themselves. They will tell you what needs to change and how you can improve their educational experiences.

How to gauge your students’ thoughts and needs

In order to get helpful feedback, you have to ask the right questions. Open-ended, thought-provoking questions will encourage students to dig deep and really think about the changes they want to see in their schools. Give students every opportunity to say what they’ve always wanted to say. The better questions you ask, the more students will be able to point you in the right direction.

It’s best to ask specific questions. Try to avoid broad, all-encompassing questions like, “How would you describe your experience at school?” Instead, identify various aspects of student life you want to learn more about. Then, ask questions that relate to those aspects.

For example, maybe you want to learn more about student engagement in the classroom. You could ask the students, “What types of assignments or classroom activities do you enjoy?” Specific questions like this will help you find the answers you’re looking for.

You should also ask questions that give you quantifiable data. Questions that involve a rating scale or multiple choices make it easier to identify trends throughout the student population. This is especially useful when you’re faced with a decision, and you’re trying to determine which course of action to take.

For example, you could provide a list of co-curricular activities and ask students to check all the options they would be interested in. Additionally, you can have them respond to statements on a scale of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” Providing students with multiple answers to choose from will help you sort through the data and determine a clear course of action.

Effective ways to connect with your students

It should be easy for students to voice their thoughts and opinions. Students can only speak up if they’re given a platform to do so! As a district leader, you have to open up multiple avenues through which students can provide their feedback. There are many avenues of communication at your disposal, such as polls, surveys and focus groups, among others.

Let’s explore each of those avenues in more depth:

  • Social media polls: A quick and easy way to gather feedback is by creating a poll on social media. Polls are best suited for simple questions with simple answers, like determining students’ favorite co-curricular activities, what the homecoming theme should be, or which healthy foods they want in the cafeteria. Polls only take a second to fill out, and thanks to the rising prominence of social media, they’re a highly accessible way to keep students engaged.
  • Online questionnaires: Questionnaires allow you to gather more detailed insight from your students. This is your chance to ask free-response questions that give students the freedom to elaborate on their thoughts and opinions. Plus, making the questionnaire available online allows students to complete it whenever and wherever it’s most convenient for them. Online questionnaires are more convenient for your team, too, because they can receive and sort through entries more efficiently.
  • In-class surveys: Printed surveys are most ideal when you want to gather feedback from a large portion of the student population. You could ask teachers to distribute the surveys to their students, which they can fill out at home or during class. This is a great option if you’re looking for feedback from a specific grade level or building because you can tailor the survey questions to each individual classroom.
  • Focus groups: Some of your older students might be interested in joining a focus group. This would be a great opportunity to connect with students face-to-face and hear what they have to say about the issues that matter most to them. The topic of these focus groups could be anything from co-curricular programs to reducing the instances of bullying in your schools. The key is to pinpoint which topics they’re passionate about, then invite them to uncover new ideas or solutions with you through focus group sessions.

Use what you’ve learned to improve your schools

District leaders have to do more than give students the space to speak up. Students need to be reassured that you’re listening to them. You can show students that you listened by putting their feedback into action. Create new classes, activities, programs and initiatives that fulfill their wants and needs. You have a vision for your schools, and so do your students. Do everything you can to build a school community they’re proud to be a part of.

Of course, you and your team get the final say on which programs or initiatives are the best fit for your schools. However, you can’t make that final decision until you give students a chance to speak their minds. Students and district leaders must work together to improve their schools because, at the end of the day, your decisions make a huge impact on their educational journeys. Show students they have the power to shape their own journeys!

Start making students a priority right now

With school back in full swing, now’s the time to engage your students and gather some insight into their wants, needs and concerns. Students are stakeholders just as much as your parents, teachers, staff and community members. It’s critical that you communicate with your students because everything you do is for them. Your mission, vision and core values all center around them. Understand what matters to your students so you can give them the best experience possible!

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