Pernille Ripp · student surveys

End-of-the-year student surveys


I took the plunge this week and asked my students to complete a survey about our year together. The questions didn’t ask for direct feedback about my teaching like some other surveys I’ve seen. Instead, I asked about specific units and events that happened in our classroom during the year. I wanted feedback, but I wanted safe feedback. Nevertheless, the last question was open-ended; I simply asked if there was anything else they wanted to tell me. 

I had already decided not to ask for feedback this year but changed my mind after reading two posts, one by Pernille Ripp and the other by Bill Ferriter, two educators whose opinions and voices I respect. They wrote about the importance of asking students for feedback to help you become a better teacher. Although I know this is true, I wasn’t feeling all that safe doing a survey.

Why did I think students were going to be negative? I’m not sure, but I know it had to do with how I’ve been feeling about myself as a teacher after two years of getting no recognition for my work.

So, I started reading the surveys today. They were amazing! I learned so much, and I smiled in recognition at some of the comments because I agreed with them. It is one of the best things I’ve done this year in terms of student feedback.

Two highlights of the surveys:

  1. When I asked my students if there was anything they would change about the language arts time, several of them said they would get rid of the reading response requirement. I have always felt conflicted about this requirement because I rarely write a reading response when reading a book. Instead, I try to replicate similar reading events in the classroom that I myself would naturally engage in. And what I often do as a reader is talk to other readers about books. This year, asking for a reading response has felt like pulling teeth. For the most part, the responses have been unsatisfying and a chore. So, why didn’t I stop sooner? I guess it’s because I couldn’t think of what to replace the reading response with and so I simply didn’t make a decision. Also, I do see a purpose for occasionally writing a response but perhaps this can be a book talk or a book trailer. Maybe this can happen when a student finishes a book rather than having to do a response several times a week. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided to go with reading responses, but I am so glad my students spoke up.
  2. Another thing that kept coming up over and over again was that there wasn’t enough writing happening in the classroom, at least not enough opportunities for self-selected writing. Again, I agree. I was conflicted on how much choice to give my students even though I strongly believe that students need lots of choice in what and how they write and read. Obviously that didn’t happen this year; I need to go back to my roots and reread the work of Donald Graves and follow my heart, rather than letting what’s going on in other classes deter me from what I believe is right for my students. I didn’t listen to them enough with my heart; I won’t make that mistake again next year. 

The most heart warming comment was written by a student who took full responsibility for his lackluster performance and exonerated me from any blame. I won’t post here what my student wrote because even though I don’t know who made this comment, it would feel like violating a trust if I published his or her words for all to see. Suffice it to say that this comment honestly made it all worthwhile.

I am already thinking about how to improve this survey next year in order get some more direct feedback about my teaching. I even thinking of asking my students to fill out a survey mid-year rather than just in June.

Did you do an end-of-the-year survey this year? What did you learn? Please share.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers, Tuesday Slice of Life

Pernille Ripp · teacher bullying

Adults Bullying Teachers – more common than you might think

A recent post by Pernille Ripp sounded eerily familiar and resonated with my own experiences as a teacher. It reminded me of my own trials and tribulations “fitting in” and “feeling appreciated” for what I bring to the table. I have always been an independent thinker, which has inadvertently created jealousies or bad feelings with other teachers and even administrators. I am not a “follower” and I have often gotten into hot water without realizing what was happening until it was too late. Yes, negative professional relationships abound no matter what field we are talking about. However, the situation that Pernille describes sounds all too familiar to many teachers and is ironic given school rhetoric around teacher collaboration and community.    
Pernille’s experience is, of course, unique to her situation, time and place. However, I know I am not alone when I say that many of us have experienced rejection and weathered poor relationships at our school sites, at one time or another in our careers. Some of these encounters have bordered on or have clearly been characterized by bullying behaviours by other adults in the building. If you haven’t experienced this, you have been extremely fortunate. I say this because of the many comments teachers have left on Pernille’s blog post testifying to their own bullying experiences. So, for those that have not experienced this, I hope you will leave a comment or two about how you have been able to rise above these petty (in the big scheme of things) but uncomfortable and potentially debilitating situations. For the rest of us, it’s time to reflect. 
I don’t think it’s about trying to figure out what was done to us and why or what we did to deserve a negative response from colleagues or immediate supervisors but rather how we can be smart and respond in a healthy manner without being blind sighted. I say this because I have had experiences where I have all the good intentions of doing just that, then I let my guard down, and boom, I am hit from behind. Of critical importance is the ways in which we react or respond to personal and/or professional attacks in our place of work. When these attacks happen they are intended (yes, I believe there is premeditation, here) to injure our professional and personal integrity. This is never justifiable but it can rarely be fought on an even keel. In other words, these situations aren’t usually resolved by confronting the offending party; they will always deny it and will, by that time, have a circle of supporters to defend them. So, one way to deal with these situations is to find others, including colleagues, students, family and friends, who can be positive with us in order to deflate the negative energy. We need to set our sights outside of our workplace in order to put these pernicious situations in context. If not, we will burn out faster than a waning candle. And, if nothing else works we can find our strength with our students.  
Of course, we are often our own worst enemies. I know I am, and by saying this I am publicly admitting that I need to follow the advice I just gave so freely and authoritatively. If I did, I would be a happier and more effective educator, not to mention that my family would appreciate my efforts. So, I hereby proclaim the following: 
  • to not allow others to get me down when I know that what I am doing for my students is right given my particular situation and group of students; no one knows them better than I do no matter what they think. 
  • To seek positive and like-minded colleagues (here’s a shout out to my PLN, both virtual and in person) from whom I can get and give support and sustenance. 
  • To treat others the way I want to be treated – it does rub off producing a trickle effect. (Maybe in that sense, Ronald Reagan was right – good vibes do multiply themselves.) 
  • And, finally, to consider alternative ways to connect, teach, learn, give back, feel professionally validated outside of my school because the reality is that it may not happen there. Sad but true. I am always enriched when I reach out to others through Twitter, blogs, etc and, as a result, my colleagues are impacted as well even if they don’t know it.

What have your experiences been? Do you think my proclamation is realistic? What do you suggest to teachers experiencing bullying situations in their places of work?