PD for Principals: Survey Tools
Leadership Insights

PD for Principals: Helping Principals Assess and Address Cultural Issues

By Terry Wilhelm September 22, 2015

In past columns on professional development for principals, I’ve discussed ways for district leaders to determine what is behind distress signals coming from specific school sites. Another method, which involves the principal in a more proactive role, is the use of a survey administered by the leadership team.

Using a ‘transitions’ survey to illuminate a school’s cultural strengths & weaknesses

During its years of operation, the California School Leadership Academy (CSLA) offered a “transitions” survey to smooth a school’s changeover to a new principal. It consisted of questions about what had been in place in the school prior to the new principal’s arrival.

The survey covered eight areas:

  • Leadership
  • Decision-making
  • Communication
  • Vision, mission, goals
  • Morale
  • Student achievement
  • Parental involvement
  • Teamwork

The questions were presented in a mixed format rather than by category. The results were then hand-tabulated by CSLA staff to create a short summary report broken into the eight areas.

Giving school leadership teams ownership of surveys

The key to the success of CSLA’s survey process was that it was owned by the school’s leadership team. Team members distributed the surveys at the end of a staff meeting when the new principal had left the room and collected them as they were completed.

Then they met as a team, reviewed CSLA’s completed report summarizing the results, and created a presentation for the staff and principal to give at the next staff meeting. During this process, a CSLA staff member was available to assist them if they wished.

This allowed the principal to hear from the teacher leaders who told them what was important to the staff, what the teachers hoped would continue, and what changes they wished to see.

Modifying the transitions survey to understand a school’s cultural issues

Today, free tools such as Survey Monkey make it easy to create and administer surveys, crunch the data, and present it in a logical manner when all participants have completed it.

A district leader can easily design this kind of survey, and enlisting the participation of the principal about whom you have concerns will help ensure that you craft questions that will get at the thorny issues. Surveys like this are equally valuable to principals remaining at their sites who wish to take a reading on areas such as those above.

Identifying areas where principals need coaching

Although an anonymous, computerized survey should be an easy sell for teachers, some may fear that it isn’t really anonymous. Entrusting the leadership team helps allay those fears. Instead of presenting the report of the findings publicly, the teacher leaders should present it privately to the principal, who will, in turn, share it with you in another private setting. This will tell you where the principal needs coaching. Once the survey has been created, it will be a tool that other principals may wish to use.

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