Looking for a School Leadership Survey? Try This.

A few years ago, my buddy Parry Graham and I created a survey that could be used to gather data on the work of leaders in a professional learning community.  Check it out here:

Professional Learning Community Administration Survey

Recently, a principal reached via email and asked how our survey was designed to be used.  Thought you might be interested in my reply:

Our administration survey was designed for one simple purpose:  So that administrators could model the kind of data-driven vulnerability that they expect teachers to wrestle with on learning teams.  Principals are often ready to argue that teachers should “get comfortable” with data that defines their practice, but “getting comfortable” is A LOT easier said than done — especially when you haven’t ever seen anyone model an open, nonjudgmental attempt to interpret data results.

So I always suggest to school leaders interested in using this survey that they keep the process simple, remembering that the purpose isn’t to show teachers everything that there is to do with manipulating and learning from data, but instead, to show teachers that looking at data — even when it points to areas where practice can be improved — can be done with courage and in a way that still respects the practitioner.

In action, that could look a lot of different ways — but I recommend that principals find three takeaways in the data that they collect and share those three takeaways in a presentation at a faculty meeting.  Those takeaways might be things like “We do a good job making ourselves available to faculty, but we haven’t been especially clear about what our school’s priorities are” or “We need to do a better job celebrating the great things happening in our buildings.

Then, I recommend that principals be open about the specific steps that they plan to take to address those takeaways — both in the initial meeting and in follow-up meetings.  Phrases like, “based on our recent administrators survey, we are going to try ______________.  We think it might help with ______________” model the notion that practitioners should make decisions and take action based on data they’ve collected about their practice.

The mistake some school leaders make with the survey is trying to get TOO bogged down in manipulating and analyzing the data.  While that may have some value in private, the public purpose of the document is to show that school leaders are collecting data on their practice — and that the process of publicly wrestling with what we know about our practice can be positive instead of threatening.

Does this make any sense?

Our goal was to remind school leaders that pushing teachers to be publicly vulnerable about their practice is disingenuous when principals aren’t embracing the same practices.


Related Radical Reads:

Presentation Materials – Solution Tree #atplc Institute

The First Step to Supporting Professional Learning Teams

Five Resources for School Leaders Starting PLCs from Scratch


5 thoughts on “Looking for a School Leadership Survey? Try This.

  1. Breanna McCormack

    Hello! You told me a few weeks ago to try to find something I disagreed on in one of your post and honestly I just cannot find anything. That may sound impossible because we all disagree on something, but I love the way you think. The survey was great and could really help in schools. It seems to be based on communication. Principals communicating better with their staff. I like that idea! I will continue to look to try to disagree, but so far they are great posts and I enjoy them all.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Breanna,

      First, thanks for the kind words on the content that you are finding on the Radical — but the challenge still stands! Find something that you aren’t sure about or that you disagree with or that you can push back against.

      It’s important to remember when living in these digital social spaces that we need to find ideas that force us to think differently. If it’s always “I agree,” we aren’t forced to wrestle — and mental wrestling is what leads to learning!



  2. Chris Jakicic

    Hi Bill, I loved this! One mistake I made (and there were many!) as a principal was to get so interested in analyzing the data that I forgot what the purpose of the data was. I think you make a great case for being conscious of the information the data provides. Your book has so many good examples of ways to collect real data around real issues for schools.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Chris wrote:

      One mistake I made (and there were many!) as a principal was to get so interested in analyzing the data that I forgot what the purpose of the data was.


      Thanks for stopping by, Pal — and for sharing this confession!

      Data truly sucks most of the time in schools — sorry for the crass language — because we forget that the purpose of the data is to help us learn and reflect on our practice. When data becomes all-consuming, we lose because we can’t act rationally or think reasonably. We end up intimidated even though there doesn’t need to be anything intimidating about the process.

      It’s that whole “high stakes” stuff again.

      Hope you are well, by the way. I hate that we haven’t crossed paths lately….

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