Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Get Hungry For Feedback

Today was the first day of school for students and teachers across British Columbia, and no matter if it is your 'first' first day of school as a student, parent or educator or your twentieth, it is always exciting an exciting day.  The halls are noisy as students who haven't seen each other for 8 weeks re-connect to talk about their summer holidays.  Parents are dropping kids off and playfully pretending they are relieved that summer is over while concurrently shaking their heads in wonderment as to where the time has gone as they watch their children grow right before their eyes. Teachers are buzzing about, attending to last minute details, printing class lists, and making sure their rooms are ready to go. Administrators are putting out spot fires--giving directions to classrooms, finding keys for new teachers, meeting with parents, and smiling the entire time.  It is exciting, semi-organized chaos.  And before you know it, in the blink of an eye, it's done.

So how did it go?

As tempting as can be to 'just move on' to Day Two, October, Christmas Break, and the month of AprilMayJune, I am realizing more and more how important it is to get immediate feedback on 'how things went' as quickly as we possibly can so that we can make adjustments for our school community.  But do we actually take the time to do this?

Over the last few months, I have seen a notable increase in the number of 'pop-up'-style surveys coming my way from websites that I search or online tools that I use.  There are nights that I will be tapping away on Google Drive, and a little box will appear asking me if I want to 'rate my experience' when I use different Google applications.  With 'Back to School' sales and online shopping, it seems as though I can't click on a page without some window showing up saying something like "Take our survey and receive an additional 20% off of your next purchase", or "Help us make this experience better for you AND be entered into a draw for a $1000 shopping spree" or some other enticement-based feedback mechanism to lure me in to giving my opinion on a particular product.  Every once in a while I provide some feedback, but most times I click "No thanks" and move on.

Right now, businesses worldwide are not hungry for feedback--they are starving.  Companies have long since realized that if they are not hyper-sensitive and responsive to the experience that their customers are having, those customers quickly move on.  And in a worst-case scenario, those customers don't just move on, they tell future customers about their negative experience through websites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp, or the litany of other online review sites. (Note: if you are curious about the impact of online reviews, read a few articles like this to see how online reviews influence us as consumers).  As a result, when companies wonder about something such as why their website is not being accessed as much by their customers, their marketing departments and R & D people don't typically sit with each other and try to guess why that might be occurring.  And they certainly don't make sweeping changes to the services they offer based on speculation.  They scratch and claw to get real-time, authentic data from their clients.  And because it is so difficult to access large numbers of their end-users, they use mechanisms like online surveys with completion incentives to get this feedback so that they can quickly pivot and make required changes.

So what does this have to do with education?  Well, in many ways, it doesn't.  I say that because when we are in schools with students, we do not have the same challenges that private businesses have in accessing their 'end users'.  We are so fortunate to have our 'end-users' are sitting right in front of us for over a thousand hours per year: they are our students. Or that show up at 3:00 each day to pick up their children, come to parent teacher evenings, and attend sports events and concerts: they are our parents.  And don't forget the 'end-users' who come to our offices, faculty meetings and professional development sessions dozens of times: they are our educators.

And they are all right there in front of us, every single day of the school year.

In the context of Day One, we have an glowing opportunity to ask questions such as:

  • "How did registration go for you this year, and how could we have made it better?" 
  • "How did your first class go, and what could we have done differently?"
  • "What was your experience like during our first faculty meeting, and how can we change it?".

so that we can make our own real-time changes that make the experiences for our students, parents, and faculty even better in our schools. 

As busy as we are, I believe that we need to ensure that we do three things when it comes to getting and utilizing feedback:
  1. We need to ensure that after any meeting, day, or event that we feel is important, we set aside a block of time to reflect on the process.  
  2. We need to ensure that we are hungry for authentic feedback from what IDEO calls "extremes and mainstreams", people who we might not think to ask for feedback along with those that seem obvious.
  3. We need to take this feedback, and apply it by making a prototype that we can test out with actual users (even using something like the High Tech High Tuning Protocol) with time built in prior to our next use so we can make any necessary adjustments.
As much as these three things may take some time and planning, I believe that if we do them well, we can instantly make the experiences that we create in our schools better.  And by empowering our students, parents and staff (aka. our 'end-users') in the process, we are modeling a culture that is nimble, innovative, and responsive to our school community.

All by truly 'getting hungry for feedback'.