As a K12 communicator, you’re doing everything you can to break down the barriers between parents and the institution you represent. It’s no easy endeavor, but the results can be an improved learning experience for the students and parents feeling confident in their child’s education. With such a promising outcome, how do you achieve parent engagement that is reliable and consistent?

The truth is you have to find a way to make parents feel valued and involved. Instead of just talking at them by sharing events and important information regarding school activities and procedures (which is still part of your job), you have to also employ tactics that garner their feedback in a way that makes them feel heard. Two-way communication is key, especially in today’s climate.

Enter one of the oldest marketing tactics in the book: customer surveys. In this particular instance, customers are the parents, and surveying them is a great way to get a feel for what they’re happy with and what they think could use a little work. The unique perspective that parents bring to the table can lead to a lot of valuable insights, and in some cases, may even shine a light on new angles and best practices for facilitating an optimal learning environment.

You don’t need to pursue every recommendation a parent gives you, but it’s always a good idea to make parents part of the conversation. Here’s how to survey parents so that you get the best quality (and most helpful) feedback possible.

Be Specific With Your Questions

Before you add surveys to the emails you’re sending parents, make sure you have a firm grasp on how to formulate the questions you’ll be asking. After all, broad questions yield broad answers, which will be of no service to you. If you want to gather some truly useful insight, you’re going to have to get specific.

For example, instead of asking parents what their favorite thing about the previous school year was (a question that you want answered, but in broad terms won’t give you a very good understanding of your overall successes), break it down into components.

Instead of this: “What was your favorite thing we did this school year?”

Try this: “Which did you like best about this school year: the way classes were structured, the overall curriculum, or the after-school programs that we offered?”

Gear your questions toward the initiatives that are most important for your budget and objectives. While parents may have liked pizza Fridays or the new interactive garden planted at the front entrance, the goal is to focus on big-picture plans that affect how you teach and operate.

Ask How They’d Like To Be Informed

It seems like every year we see the introduction of new technology that changes how schools and parents communicate. As a k12 communicator, though, you need to know how you can communicate most effectively (after all, “communication” is in your job title). And to know that, you’re going to have to ask.

Include a question in your survey that lists various communication methods (email, snail mail, phone, communication app, etc.) Ask parents to check off which are best for them, or to indicate what about the current communication isn’t working. Then use this data to improve how you communicate, including adapting communication methods as needed for families that don’t have easy access to certain modes of outreach.

Keep It Simple

Parents are being pulled in a million directions, and now that most of them are working from home with children, their capacity for concentration is drastically reduced. To make sure that you actually get responses to your surveys, keep it simple enough that it requires very little effort on the parents’ end. This applies to both the format and length of your survey, as well as the method for submitting it.

Instead of asking for typed answers, provide multiple choice. Or, if you’re asking parents how satisfied they are, have them rate their satisfaction on a sliding scale. The less typing they have to do, the better. 

Ask One Question at a Time

It’s only natural that certain questions will play off of each other, but avoid looping multiple questions into one. If you ask too much at once, you increase the likelihood of not getting answers to all of your questions, so break it down into parts and allow parents to tackle each question in turn.

Check for (and Remove) Any Bias

You may have high hopes for the sorts of answers you’ll receive, but impartiality is key here. It’s essential that you frame your survey in such a way to eliminate any bias.

Instead of this: “We’re anxious to hear what you loved about our extracurricular programming this year.”

Try this: “We’re anxious to hear your honest and candid feedback regarding our extracurricular programming this year.”

While the second phrasing does open the door to negative responses, it also helps ensure that you’re not leading parents toward providing only positive reviews. You want the full spectrum of insight here, and to do so, you can’t narrow the field of possible responses. Doing so could also rub parents the wrong way and leave them feeling like they couldn’t voice what they needed to. 

Put Your Feedback to Use

Just as important as surveying parents in the first place is taking what you learn and turning it into action. You’ll never be able to keep everyone fully happy all of the time, but if you see patterns in responses, take what you learn and put it to use as you see fit.

A great way to hold your institution accountable is to tally up all the survey responses and share averages with all the parents. This shows them that you want to keep them as informed as possible and that you are aware of their stances on everything. But don’t stop there. When you share the overall responses, consider sharing some of the ideas their responses have inspired so they know you plan to act on them, and make any necessary changes. 

Show your institution’s parents that you care about their satisfaction and what they have to say. Follow the steps above to gather more impactful feedback from them and to inform positive changes to the way your educational institution runs. Your parents will thank you for it.