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The Secret to Building an Effective Parent Survey

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By Ted Saul
Dec 12, 2023 1:09:35 PM

How often does your school reach out to parents, and just how are you doing it?

Is it a one-way proposition, with no way of gathering what’s on their minds, or how they feel about the many school issues you’re managing day in and day out? Are you bombarding them with school information with no mechanism in place to gauge their thoughts and their opinions?

Fact is, your school probably needs to take better advantage of the technology around us all that enables you to not only dispense information to parents, but also get valuable input from them.

Surveys are especially valuable when building or transforming your school website and other digital communications to be more effective in engaging parents.

Planning is the first step in building a new website, and a parent survey is a great place to start in your planning. They're unquestionably the most important audience segment of your website, so understanding their concerns up front in your planning process can be instrumental in making your website more effective.


Planning is the first step in building a new website, and parents are one of the key groups you want to be sure to survey when you start your planning.


With all the studies and mountains of evidence that drive home the mantra of parent engagement equals successful students (i.e., successful schools), it’s high time schools seize the power of technology to better understand one of their most important stakeholders.

A simple parent survey program using email, an online survey service, or even your school website and social media can improve parent engagement, community support, achievement and much more – while saving money in the process.

Email, which according to a recent survey by SchoolNow, is the preferred method of school-to-home communications, is your school or district’s best opportunity to get a survey out in front of your parents.

Your school’s most effective parent survey program is easily within reach using an email strategy following some simple steps:

1. Tell parents what’s in it for them.

Be very clear about the importance of the survey and the importance of participating. That is, you not only want to better communicate with parents, but ultimately improve the entire education experience for the whole family.

The email should be from an actual person, not the school. You pick: superintendent, principal, communications director, whomever. Studies show people are far more likely to respond when an email is from an individual rather than an institution.

I also recommend creating an incentive for them to participate. Beyond an improved and ongoing communications channel with two-way responsiveness, there can dangle other motivation to increase participation in a parent survey. Use incentives like tickets to school events, a chance to win an i-Pad, school spirit wear, etc. Everyone likes a chance to win something.

2. Make your parent survey short and sweet.

Clarity and simplicity are key when putting your survey together. For starters, give your survey respondents an idea of how long the survey will take and the number of questions. Everyone’s time is so compressed these days, and the last thing you want to do is make participation a chore or more than they bargained for.

Make it friendly too. Use multiple choice, 1-5 rating scales, and short-answer format questions so your respondents can complete the survey easily. This brevity makes it easier too for you to make sense of the results and put them in practical, actionable summaries.

If you need some help with putting a survey together, Survey Monkey, a leader in online surveys, tapped Dr. Hunter Gehlbach of the Harvard Graduate School of Education to create a parent survey template for you to use.

Some school website software enables administrators to easily create a survey on their website. If you have that capability, you can then use email, social media and other website promotion to drive parents to the survey using embedded links.

3. Choose your words wisely to promote your parent survey.

With email being the simplest and most popular way for schools to reach parents, it’s important you give your survey a fighting chance to get completed.

Hopefully your parents open all the email you send them, but by choosing inviting words in the subject line of your email you can greatly enhance the participation rate. Also, keep the email message short and to the point, so you don’t dilute your message. Your goal here is to drive your reader to the survey, so don’t confuse him or her with extraneous information.

Simply embed the link to your survey in the email and make it easy for your reader to find the link.

4. Thank them for participating.

Be certain to follow up soon after the survey to thank your parents for participating. Some online surveys enable you to do this automatically and even personalize the message. Like the initial email asking them to participate, make sure the thanks comes from an individual.

5. Share and share alike.

Once the results are in and tabulated (which is easier than ever these days), be sure you share the results as soon as you can. Participants don’t want to feel as though there time was for naught.

Beyond sharing the results, if there’s a plan of action that grows out of your findings, give your audience a clue as to what the next steps will be. Linking their participation in the survey to some tangible actions or benefits will go along way to further participation in surveys.

Results should be shared, at the very least, in the the same channels from which they were gathered. If you used email to enlist their responses, then share the results in an email. Don't be bashful, however, about using additional channels like your website, news releases to the local community press, and social media to share your survey results, where and when appropriate.

Anne O’Brien, a blogger for the Learning First Alliance who has a keen interest in family and community engagement, cites the importance of schools using surveys and the web to reach out to parents.

She emphasizes how school leaders need to make the effort and invest in the time to discover what parents want to know about their child’s school.

O’Brien also points out how, “People want information now; they’d like schools to be proactive in their communication.” This underscores how parents are looking to the schools to be the primary source of school information.

Use parent surveys to discover, and spark the discussion.

In addition to using email to distribute your parent survey, social media and web technologies are other avenues for surveying parents. Remember, it’s about creating a powerful communications loop that is as much about listening as it is about disseminating information.

The uses for social media in schools are gradually becoming more apparent to educators. Social media has emerged as a cultural communications mainstay. An integrated social media program that gets information out fast, connects students with real-world college or job related connections, and can even help in emergency or crisis notification, can also help you gather insights into all your school’s stakeholders.

You might want to think too about how your school can use surveys to extend beyond your parent base. Your entire school community – school board, voters, prospective students, etc. – can be tapped for information that be used to better understand them and better communicate with them.

Surveys can be used to gather feedback from parents (and others) to help build support for your programs. You can obtain more than just facts and figures about your audiences, but gain understanding of their thoughts, feelings and attitudes towards your topics.

How does your school go about surveying its parents?

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Topics: Communication School Districts Parent engagement

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About the author

Ted’s depth of experiences within digital communications as a former teacher and entrepreneur add insight and direction for communication strategies employed by schools and districts nationwide. Reach him at ted@schoolnow.com