Coming back to in-person learning during the 2021–22 school year presented a number of challenges for both students and teachers. In response to these challenges, my high school created two schoolwide goals:
- Students should experience a well-organized classroom.
- Students should feel that they are a part of their classroom community.
These goals supported students as they adjusted to being back in the classroom. While my school asked teachers to implement three cycles of PERTS Elevate surveys to document the student experience, you can use any survey to track students’ status and their own growth over time. The following six components were essential to a meaningful and impactful survey process for my students and me.
1. Explain the Purpose
Students take the survey process seriously if you explain the purpose. I let them know that I want to improve their learning experience and that I take their suggestions seriously. I tell them that I’ll read every word they write and will follow up with them afterward for more details. I tell them that I value their opinion and will implement their specific suggestions to make class a better learning environment for everyone.
If students understand that the survey is anonymous, they’ll take time to give honest, constructive, high-quality feedback. I also spoke in class about the results of the survey and how I wanted to work on it.
2. Don’t Take Feedback Personally
As a physics teacher for 20 years, I felt pretty confident in my abilities in both of the targeted areas mentioned earlier. However, student feedback told me otherwise.
My initial survey results showed that only 50 percent of my second-hour honors physics students were experiencing a well-organized classroom. They were having a hard time navigating the class resources, assignments, and structure—which was reflected in their grades at the time. Upon reviewing this data, I could’ve chosen to blame the students. I provided access to everything the students said they were lacking.
What I came to realize was that I didn’t provide the support in a way they could access it in order to be successful. Because the score was so low, I chose to address a well-organized classroom as my professional development goal for the year.
3. Ask Students for Help With the Solution
The survey data and comment sections were enlightening, but I needed more information. I shared the results of the survey with my students and let them know that I was disappointed that they weren’t experiencing a well-organized classroom and that my goal was to improve that score. I partnered with them to brainstorm a path to success for all of us.
I gave each student a note card to write down specific things they would like me to do to improve my classroom’s organization. I also asked them to share what their other teachers did that worked well. They gave me honest, specific, and targeted feedback. They asked me to organize my online classroom better to make it easier to access the resources.
Collaborating with students always strengthens our class bond. Students appreciate having a voice in how the class is run and a teacher who listens to them to implement change. As a result of the survey experience, I now realize that the more organized, structured, and repetitive I am both inside and outside of class, the more successful my students will be at utilizing the support.
4. Model growth mindset for students
I set a goal and worked toward it. I knew that I could grow, improve, and do better. Each time I gave a targeted survey, I found areas for improvement in my teaching.
It took a long time for me to reorganize my online materials. But once I did, I noticed that students still weren’t doing their homework on time or understanding that it was assigned, even though I wrote it on the board and typed it into the daily update. My students asked me to make assignments show up on their class calendar by assigning them in our online classroom. This made a big difference in their knowing what was assigned and then completing it.
Once students started doing their homework, I found that they still struggled with test preparation. What took me the longest time was figuring out how to show them what would be on the test and how to study in an organized manner. I made an assignment for each quiz and test that listed the learning objectives and the learning opportunities so they could practice each one.
These changes were well received, and students thanked me in class, mentioning that they noticed my efforts and that they were better able to access their resources. Their test grades also increased.
5. Make Sure to Follow Through
My students asked for more ways of learning the content outside of class because they were used to blended learning. I posted videos I had made during virtual learning to tutorial folders organized by unit. I also posted the tests released during virtual learning as study guides with answer keys.
The hours I spent reading and implementing their suggestions paid off. I gave the same survey to my students every three months. Each time, the scores increased, and they gave me positive feedback about how much they appreciated having a voice in our class.
6. Celebrate Success
The survey results also improved. By the end of three cycles of surveys, 80 percent of my second-hour honors physics class was experiencing a well-organized classroom.
Going through the survey process helped me improve more than just my classes’ well-organized-classroom scores. The students also felt more a part of the classroom community, and their grades improved as well. The classroom community scores went from 78 percent to 96 percent, even though that wasn’t my focus. They just went together because the students felt more connected to the class community when they knew we were all working together on a shared goal.
Along the way, the students’ test scores also improved—going from an average of 77 percent to an average of 91 percent—which was the result of students reporting that they experienced a more organized classroom.
Many teachers get discouraged by low starting scores during the survey cycle, but I know that they can be a powerfully motivating way to build a bond with my students by working together as a team to improve our shared experience.