Summer Rewind: How To Conduct
Student Focus Groups


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined episode number 112

Welcome to the school leadership re-imagined podcast where we rethink what's possible to transform your school if you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders,

Welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host Robyn Jackson. And today we're going to do another one of our summer rewind series. While we're on hiatus for the summer, we thought it would be really cool to go back into our archives and pull some of our favorite episodes and and replay them over the summer that we'd have to go back and dig through them. And there's some things that are really relevant right now. So I've been going through the archive, I've been handpicking. Some of my favorites, some of the ones that you've told me are your favorites. And we're revisiting them because they're still relevant. Today, we're going to be revisiting Episode 38, which is all about how to conduct student focus groups.

I still believe that student focus groups are one of the most powerful tools that you have in your Buildership Arsenal.

I believe in them so strongly that whenever we do long term contracts with a with a school or a district at mine steps, one of the things that we try to build into those contracts are time for student focus groups, because I don't care what the teachers or the principal say is going on, the students always tell us the real deal. And so as you're thinking about planning for the fall, and as you're thinking about how you are going to make that transition work this year, one of the things I want to encourage you to do is to conduct a few student focus groups. If you have access to students over the summer, then I would urge you to conduct a student focus group over the summer and use that information to inform your CIP planning to inform your reopening plans. I think that one of the things that we kind of ignore and it's it's really unfortunate is we ignore the voices of our students.

I was leading a workshop the other day, and someone asked a really tough question about something that they were considering in their school and whether or not it should work. And without knowing a whole bunch about a school, I said, I really can't answer that, because I don't have all the context. But what I can tell you is your students will tell you the real answer to that. And so what you need to do is have a student focus group and talk to your students. And they will tell you what's going on. He was talking about how you know why his students were not turning in homework and why they were disengaged with some of the lessons that were happening. And he was asking me to answer that question. I couldn't, but as students can tell him every single time that I have a question like that, rather than trying to figure it out, rather than trying to guess rather than trying to read research and see what researchers say is the problem, the best answer is always going to come from the source your students. There have been times when I've worked in schools, and I've gone into the school and they've said, you know, our students are not doing their homework. And we can't figure out why. And it's why have you asked them? And they said, Well, no. Or they'll say, Well, you know, they say the homework is too hard and that sort of thing. So let's get to the bottom of it. We do a focus group with the students and the students tell us the answer. And in one case, the answer was really straightforward.

The students said they didn't do their homework because the textbook that they had to use to was too heavy in their backpacks. 

Many of the students were using public transportation to get back and forth to school. And they just didn't want to bring the textbook home and they would rather get a zero on their homework than lug that textbook back and forth to school. We switch textbooks to something a little lighter in their backpacks. They started doing the homework. I mean, it was really that simple. So a lot of times I think we overcomplicate things by trying to figure out why students aren't doing something and the best solution is to ask them. So as you are thinking about your plans for the upcoming school year, as you're wondering, what do we need to do about this? Or what are some of the challenges we might face? Stop guessing, ask your students, they will tell you the truth. And so in this episode, I walk through the strategy that I use for setting up sukkah student focus groups. I share the questions that I asked and talk to you about how we are I'll set it up and you have it there so that you can start implementing it right away. So enjoy the episode just to let you know what's going on in mind steps world, we had an incredible, incredible builders lab. Last week, we're still recovering from it. And we've also launched a new accelerator. And so we're diving into that.

In the accelerator, you're going to over the eight weeks that we have left in the summer, you're going to build all of the tools that you need to set up. So you're going to build your teacher dashboard, you're going to build your feedback system, you're going to do a culture audit and start, you know, thinking about how you deliberately engineer healthy culture. All of the builders ship tools we're going to be doing over this next eight weeks, we're going to be doing it together. So this is not a workshop. This is a implementation process where we actually get stuff done. So we have started that it's not too late. If you want to join in the show notes, we'll put a link to where you can join and grab it. We've just done the week one. So if you want to, if you just hearing about it and you didn't know about and you're curious about what it is you want to join, we'll put a link in the show notes. You can access the show notes at school leadership slash Episode 112 that school leadership slash Episode 112. All right, now let's learn about student focus groups. Hey, builders, and welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robin Jackson. And today we are going to talk about something that you have been asking me to cover for quite some time. And that's how to conduct student focus groups.

I have to admit, student focus groups are one of my ninja strategies. 

I've been doing student focus groups for the last 20 years, I started doing it when I was a school administrator, a brand new school administrator. And I missed the kids, I came straight from the classroom into school administration, and I missed being around the kids. And so frankly, student focus groups was a pretty selfish way for me to spend some time with my students and see what was going on in their lives, check in with them, and also to get them to give me some feedback. And I have to tell you, they quickly became not just one of my favorite things to do as a school administrator, but one of the most powerful tools that I had in my administrator toolkit to help me improve my school. In fact, it was so powerful that when I started mine steps and left school administration, I built student focus groups into many of our early contracts. My role was that if I was going to come in and work in your school or in your district, then in order to tell whether or not the training we were providing for teachers was really effective, I needed to talk to the kids. And so anytime anybody engaged to do any kind of year long, you know, engagement with their school district, built into the contract, that part of that meant that I would do a student focus group after we did some training with the teachers, so that I could see if the kids noticed a difference in the classroom. And let me tell you, it was phenomenal.

The kids told me things that quite frankly, I'd never would have known. It's funny kids will put your business out there. And I love that about them. So I've done focus groups with students from pre k all the way to grade 12, I need to warn you that focus groups at pre K, you're not going to get a whole bunch of feedback. In fact, I really recommend that you start doing focus groups with kids around grade three or four and up. But I have to tell you, it is an amazing tool to connect with your students to collect feedback from your students. And to use that to make sure that the work you were doing at the administrative level is actually making a difference in the lives of kids. It is my favorite technique. So today, I'm going to tell you all of my secrets about how I do student focus groups. I'm going to talk to you about why they can be so powerful. And I'm going to give you step by step the questions that I asked the way I select which students are going to participate in the focus groups, how I analyze the data, what I do with the data once I analyze it, and I'm going to share all of that with you on today's episode. Alright, now let's talk about focus groups. This episode is going to be a little different than the other episodes because I'm not going to spend a whole bunch of time talking about the philosophy around things. This is really going to be you know nitty gritty step by step instructions on how to conduct the focus group.

I want to take a few moments to talk to you about how and why you need to use focus groups. 

A lot of times when we are in charge of a school where administrators and we're running a school, we get so caught in the weeds of running a school that we lose sight of the kids. Not only that the kids that we typically encounter are the kids who are either in trouble and being sent to our office, or the kids that we're honoring, in some ways, we're handing out awards or handing out attention. And there are a lot of kids that, you know, unfortunately, we just don't get a chance to interact with. And a lot of times, our interactions with kids are already scripted. Again, we're handing out an award, we're telling them to stop running in the hallways, we're sitting down and asking them what they learned in their reading lesson, we're observing their homework, we're not spending time where kids can feel free to kind of just talk to us and tell us what's going on. And so that's why I love focus groups, because the kids will tell you what's going on. Remember, I said that they will spill all the tea, they will tell you everything that's going on in your school, you may think you're doing a great job, the kids will tell you whether or not you're actually doing a great job. Not only that, when you sit down with students, it helps you remember why you're there. You're not there to raise test scores, you're not there to move numbers, you're not there to secure your building, you are there for the kids. And I don't care how great an initiative you have or how wonderful this program looks. If it's not actually changing kids lives for the better, it's not worth your time. And the only way you know that is by sitting down and letting the kids tell you.

So let's start out with who you should invite to focus groups. My rule is that your focus groups should be between 12 and 15. Students. I like that size, because it's big enough that you get a diversity of opinions. But it's small enough that everybody gets an opportunity to talk. And when I'm working with districts, and I'm doing focus groups with districts when I'm not working with just my students, but I'm working with districts, I often give the districts a kind of profile for the kind of kids I want to talk to. So that that way districts Don't you know, kind of stack the deck and and put you know their best students in the room. And I'm only hearing from their best students, I want to hear from a diverse group of students. Now, when I was a school administrator, I was a lot more random because I was doing focus groups every single month. And so eventually, I could cycle through the majority of the kids and get a good sampling. But if you want to be a little bit more deliberate, here's some of the the types of students that I like to invite to this to my focus groups. The first is I want to invite a student who is currently engaged in a special education program. So a kid with a IEP or kid on a 504 plan, someone who actually is involved in the special education programming in our school, I think they bring a really good perspective to focus groups. I also want a student who has been suspended in the last month, that's really important. If you if you don't have a lot of discipline issues in your school, it becomes less important.

If you do have some discipline issues in your school, you need to invite students who have recently gone through the disciplinary process.

They have a really good perspective. They also can help you understand why they're getting in trouble in the first place. What's so disruptive, why we What? What is it about the program that makes them so disruptive. I remember a focus group I did in a city in an urban school a few years ago. And I asked for a student who had been suspended in the last month. And the administrator said while the student just came back today, and she's already headed for trouble. So she might as well sit in your focus group, at least that will keep her out of class for the last part of the day. So you can get through a school day without getting suspended. And I thought, Oh, boy, here we go. But she was so insightful. She was so she was hilarious. But she was so insightful. She gave me such good feedback about the work we were doing around rigor in the classroom, in that school, and so much insight about why students aren't investing in the instructional program. So you definitely want to get someone who's been suspended at least once in the last month. And if you can't find anybody to that somebody who's been either you know, had disciplinary procedures, or has been in detention, somebody who hasn't gone through the disciplinary process within the last month, then you want someone who is involved in either your DT program or your Honors Program or your AP program. This is because you want to get the perspective of students who are are excelling in the school, a lot of times students who are in those programs will come and say their classes are boring, or they need more challenge. And you want to make sure that you're hearing that perspective from them. So you want to make sure you're including at least one student who is in honors or GT, or AP, you want one student with at least a solid c average, just a kid who's in the middle of the road.

So they're not excelling academically, they're not failing academically, they're just kind of hanging out right there in the middle of the road, because they bring a perspective. A lot of times, like I said, as an administrator, you're only dealing with the kids who are at the top or kids who are at the bottom, but a lot of the kids in the middle get missed because they're not getting kicked out of class. They're not getting you know, they're not on academic probation. They're not you know, earning an award. They're just in class every day going through school. So you want to at least one student who can represent that perspective for you and your school. If you have a sports program, then you want to have at least one student athlete because they're going to bring a perspective about the sports program, or there's too much homework and football season or they're overwhelmed or they're stretched, you want to have at least one student who is participating in any kind of arts program. So if you have a school band, or an orchestra or choir, or show choir or drama, or you have a fine arts program, you want to make sure you're you're bringing at least one student for whom that is a big part of their day, because they're going to bring us perspective, you want one student who is involved in your ESL program, so they'll need to have a certain amount of proficiency. So you may not take a student who's just, you know, entered the program last week, because that'll be really difficult for them to participate in the conversation. But you want someone who has either recently exited from your ESL program, or is doing really well, your ESL program, because again, that brings a really good perspective to the group. If you have any kind of student leadership opportunity, this is an opportunity to to involve students in your student government.

A lot of times people will do focus groups with the student government leaders, I think that's a mistake.

Kids who are attracted to student government are certain kind of kids and they represent a certain perspective in your school. And what you want to do is get a diversity of opinion. So I would not just include, you know, the not do a focus group with Jeff, the student government unless you're looking for something specific to how you can do Student Government better. But you do want to have at least one representative from there on your focus group. And then you want someone who's failing at least two or more subjects, this is really important, because this is a student for whom the educational program is not working. And you want to find out why you want to get their perspective as well. Now, what I do is I, when I'm looking at this profile, I will pull all the special education students and randomly pick a kid, I will pull the suspension data and randomly pick a kid. So I'm not targeting specific kids. Instead, I'm looking for a diversity of opinions. And then you want to make sure that you're picking kids randomly, because you don't want to skew the group, you don't want to, you know, pick certain kids that you already know how they feel, because you want them in the group, you want to randomly select kids, because when you do that, you will always be surprised by what they have to say. And you will get a range of opinions out there, that really makes for an interesting focus group.

So that's who now let's talk about when I like to do student focus groups at lunch, I worked in the middle school. And so I did student focus groups, mostly in in middle school, when I've gone to other schools and done it, I've done it during lunch, or I've done it, you know, we've pulled kids from class or from specials. I don't like doing it after school because it creates a logistical nightmare. So I want to do it during the school day. And here's why I like lunch. Because when I do focus groups, I always serve food, I order pizza, I bring in soda, please don't get me for how I'm poisoning children, you know, I have to use whatever I can to get them to talk to me. So I have to bribe them with a little sugar, and pizza. And you know, some candy, I'm okay about doing that. And you can blast me on Twitter about that later on. But I'm really okay for doing that. Because I want the kids to come and relax and enjoy. I want it to be a treat. So I send them fancy invitations to say you're invited to have lunch with Dr. Jackson. And I don't do it a day ahead of time I do it the day of and let me tell you why. If you do it ahead of time kids forget, or kids who don't want to come or kids have time to think about it. If you send the invitation to them, while they're in class, inviting them to join me for lunch in the next 15 minutes. They don't have time to think about it, they don't have time to worry about it, it feels special because they're getting a hand delivered invitation in their classroom to have lunch with me.

They're not in trouble, I make sure I put that on the invitation.

You've been selected to have lunch with me. And you know, the wording is really positive. And then that's how you get kids to show up. So the longer you you have between the time you issue the invitation, and the time you ask them to show up, the more gifts have time to think about it and to opt out. But when you do it, you know 15 minutes before lunch, they get an invitation. You know it feels really special. It feels kind of like a surprise. There's still a little shock. It's not happening so early in the class period that they spend the rest of the class period worrying about it they kind of excited about it so 10 to 15 minutes before the beginning of the lodge. Send a hand delivered invitation to students and have them for lunch. And then make sure that you have pizza and soda and candy you know some of their favorite foods, not cafeteria food. You want to have something special for students and then set up the the conference room I like to do in the main office conference room or In an empty classroom, I set it up, I put a tablecloth down, you know, I decorate, so when they walk in the room, it really does feel like it's something special. Now, the next thing is, what are you going to do during the focus groups. So when students come in, I have them take a seat, I don't have assigned seats, I let them pick whatever seat they want around the table. And I really like doing this in a circle, so that everybody can see everybody else. And so I can see the students, I'm there with my laptop, or with a pen and paper, pen. And paper is a little less threatening than a laptop. So I typically do a pen and paper, but you're gonna have to script really fast.

And then sometimes I may invite my secretary in to take notes as well so that I can fully engage with the kids. It just depends if I'm going to do a district, I don't have a secretary in a district. So I will take notes myself, if I'm doing this in my school, I would ask my secretary to sit in and take notes so that I could fully be engaged with the kids. When the kids walk in, I welcome them. They The first thing you want to know is am I in trouble? And I'm like, absolutely not. I tell them what it is. I say, you know, I just want to hear your opinion. And I'm hoping you'll have lunch with me. And then tell me what you really think about the school. They're a little watery, they sit down, I start feeding them pizza, and they're like, oh, pizza, then like, Yeah, great. capitalize and pour yourself something to drink. Other kids come in, and they're like, why am I here and I explain it to them. Once everybody's in a close the door, I get everybody's attention. And I say thank you for coming. I'm so grateful that you chose to have lunch with me. So here are the three we're here the focus group, I tell them what it is, I'm looking for your opinion about how things are going here at the school. And I only have three rules for the focus group. And then I go through my three rules.

Vegas rules: What happens in this room, stays in this room. 

We are not gossiping, we are not tattling, we are simply sharing our experience in the school. Well, number two, we don't use names. So we don't say Mrs. Potter checks her phone during the class period. What we say instead is I have a teacher who and that way, we're not naming teachers and blaming teachers, but we're just collecting information. And number three, rule number three is everybody must talk. If you eat my food, you have to share something you have to speak at least once during the focus group. And then I give everybody an opportunity to say, Now does anyone not want to still be here, you have an option of leaving if you want, you're not held captive. If you want to go you go Sometimes kids leave, I was supposed to take a test with Mrs. So and so at lunch, whatever. That's why I like 12 to 15 people. And I'd like to invite at least 15 students so that if a few have to leave, I'm still down to 12, maybe 10 students and I still have that variety and diversity of opinions. Okay, so once we do all of that, I start out with the questions. And there are five questions that I always ask students during my focus groups, just five questions. The first one goes like this. What are we doing here at this school that you really, really like? Or what is something that your teachers do in their classroom that you really, really like? And then this is the most important part, after you ask the question, shut up. That's right. Don't say a word. Even if it means several seconds of uncomfortable silence. Just sit there and wait smiling and expectantly. And sooner or later the students will speak up. And once they start talking, shut up, let the students talk. 

They will start talking one student will talk and I'll say okay, great. Thank you Anybody else? And all I'm doing is writing down the information. At the beginning. They'll say well, I like the way Mrs. Mrs. Potter does this. And I'll say whoops, that's the name. They'll say I'm sorry, okay, I have a teacher who, and then they will say they'll get used to it after a while, then the conversation takes off. And your job is to listen, you're not going to ask follow up questions. You're not going to tell kids wait a minute you don't you know, you do like that. Are you wrong for saying that you're not going to do anything like that. You're not going to judge, you're simply going to listen, smile, take notes. One of the reasons I like taking notes, taking notes is I'm so busy taking notes that I don't have time to run my big mouth and interrupt the conversation you want the kids to talk and what it looks like the conversation is dying down, you can say anybody else. Okay, second question. And the second question is this. What are we doing that you don't like? Even if you know It's for your own good? What's something that your teachers do that you don't like? Even though you know, it's for your own good?

There's a real strategy behind this question. 

Before you get to what students don't like, you want to give them a question where you can get the typical answers out the way so whenever you ask students What don't you like, they're gonna say things like, I don't like homework. I don't like that. We have to read I don't like, you know, detention when we do something wrong and you know, you they're gonna get those complaints. But when you put it as you don't like it even though you know It's for your own good students can Then complain about homework, and the still give you valuable information. Now this one, you may ask a few more follow up questions, but you have to be careful because you don't want to shut down the conversation by inserting your opinion. So if you're gonna ask follow up questions, you can if you can say things like if a student says, I don't like homework, you can say, why is that, and then shut up and let the students talk. But you want to get students talking about these are things I don't like, even though I know it's for my own good. What is always surprising to me is after they get through the homework, and after they get through tests, and all of that, they'll start to say things like, I know that you all don't want us throwing trash in the hallway. But I don't like the way that you get a detention every time we do that. Because detention, a lot of times, I didn't even throw trash, but everybody gets punished for it. And so you'll start to hear about some of the policies that you have in the school that students find unfair, even though they know that what you're trying to do. And so it's really, really valuable.

Listen closely for this during this question, because I think you'll get a lot of insight, especially once kids get past the typical answers. Once things died down, ask anything else. Okay. Now, let's go to question number three. And question number three is, what do you think we should stop doing? Or what would you like for your teachers to stop doing? Now? Again, the question is deliberately worded, it's not What don't you like? Or what do you what's disappointing to you? Or what you know, bothers you or what irks you, it's what do you want us to stop doing? And what that does is it starts helping kids point out, I don't like it when when teachers yell at the whole class, when it's only one person who's in trouble. I don't like it when the teachers sit on their phones and play on their phones when we're supposed to be doing classwork because they don't see me when I raise my hand to ask a question. These are real answers that I've gotten from students.

This is when students start to tell you the real deal. 

Or students will say, I don't like it when you all, I think you all should stop interrupting class with announcements. As soon as we get started, there's another announcement, you will hear the real truth kits will tell you all the things you need to stop doing. And then you can ask him if he if you're not understanding something they don't understand, well, what do you mean by that? Or why didn't Why? Why that you can ask those questions. But you have to do it in a non judgmental way. What you want to do mostly, is just shut up. Don't interrupt students when they're talking to you take notes, because kids, I promise you once they get going, and the nice thing about it is, once one kid says something, another student will say something and then another one will say something and they'll feed off of each other. And you get a really clear picture of what's working and that working for school students in your school. Now, after you've done that for a while again, is there anything else? Okay, and then you're going to go to the fourth question. And the fourth question is, what advice would you give your teachers? Or would you give me about how we can make school work better for you? Again, the question is worded very deliberately, it's not how can we make school better for you? It's one advice, because when you ask people for their advice, they're more likely to give it than if you just ask them for something where it feels like if you know it's going to be a right or wrong answer. What should we be doing? You want to get asked specifically for the advice that puts people in a helpful mood, students start to, you know, say, Well, you know, you guys are doing a pretty good job already. But if I had to give you some advice, and it's so cute, and then they start giving you advice, and their advice is always so good.

Listen to their advice. And the fact that you're asking for their advice makes them feel important makes them feel like you're really listening to them, and that you're really going to take into account what they're saying. So listen to that. And then once things died down, you can say is there anything else? Okay, last question, What questions do you have of me? I love this part, because now the students can say, why don't we have a policy with this? What happened last week, when the police were here at the school, I hear that you all are going to meet so the kids start talking about the rumors that they're hearing. And because they are now loose, because you've been listening to them for the last 20 to 30 minutes. Now they're, they feel free to ask you the questions, and there is power in their questions. Why is it that I get an F? Once I if I fail a quiz? I can't retake it? Or why can I only retake a quiz? If I fail it? Now you start to see discrepancies in your in your school policies and how it's affecting students. I love this part. Because a lot of times kids ask really great questions. And sometimes, and here's the thing, this is the part where you can answer their questions, and you want to answer them honestly and transparently.

So I've been in situations where kids will ask me really tough questions.

I'll say that is a good question. But it's a tough question. And here's why. And then I'll answer them and you can see on their faces when you answer honestly and transparently, you can see on their faces, they begin to trust you they begin to relax, they begin to say that makes sense. Never once have I gotten a student who's just ready to argue with me, you know, or, or argue me down when I'm answering the question. They're listening because I listened to them first. So those are the five questions. I'll go through them one more time. What are we doing? Or what are your teachers doing right now that you really, really like? What are we doing? Or what are your teachers doing that you don't like? Even if you know It's for your own good? What should we stop doing? What advice would you give us? And then what questions do you have? Once you're done, you thank the students for being there, tell them to take the extra pizza and soda and candy with them. And you dismiss them, the whole thing should take about 20 to 30 minutes, maybe 35-40 minutes if it's gone really well. But that's it. And then now the hard part comes, because now you're going to go back, and you're going to go through your notes. The first thing I like to do is if I've handwritten the notes is actually type all the notes and I tried to start putting them in categories.

So I type the notes the answers for each question, or if you've been typing, and I'll be honest with you, I don't really like to sit and type while the kids are talking. To me, it feels very clinical. I don't mind writing notes down because there but I want to kind of have as much eye contact with them as possible. And when you're formatting the computer, it's really hard to do. So I don't really like typing while they are talking. So what I like to do is take everything, type it all up. And as I'm typing up my handwritten notes, I'm also processing what the students are saying. And you will start to notice trends, you'll start to notice things that come up over and over and over again, I've done this in the past, and kids are told me things like, I love the new format that the teachers are using to test us, because they give us opportunities to redeem ourselves. If we don't know the information the first time, our kids will say things like our books are too heavy. That's why we don't take them home. If we have lighter books, we would take them home, but I have to catch a public bus. I live all the way across town. And I don't want to lug that heavy book home every night. Oh, that's good. So now I know I need to change the textbook. And that's exactly what we did at that school. I've had students say things like, you know, what their teachers are not planning, the kids will say things we know they're phoning it in, they have not planned the night before. And we can tell, or teachers are spending too much time on their cell phones. And, and I hear that from more than one student, they're always on their phones. And so they're not front upfront teaching, but they get up as soon as we walk in the classroom, the kids are saying they're faking whatever it is, the kids will tell you the truth, and you will start to see trends in the data. 

Once I've typed up the data, then I start looking for trends or patterns. 

I pick the big trends or patterns, and I summarize them. And then here's the really powerful part, at my next staff meeting. If so, if I have monthly staff meeting, I do monthly student focus groups. At my next staff meeting, I'm sharing the results of the student focus groups. So I get up in front of the staff and I say, hey, here are the results of the student focus groups for this month. And I give them the summary things, the students are saying that we're that we're not planning and that they can tell. So we really want to focus on that the students are saying we're spending a lot of time on our phones instead of teaching. I know it's not everybody, because this is a sample. But we need to talk about that the students are saying they really love the new reteaching and reassessment process that we're using. So that's good, that's good feedback, we need to keep it up, we need to bolster it and make it stronger. The students are saying, you know, they're they're asking us why we have this particular rule. And I didn't have a good answer for them. So we need to talk about that. And let's come up with a better rule. And so we talked to the staff about the student feedback. And here's the most powerful part. I'm not getting in front of them griping about what they are not doing. I'm simply sharing with them what the students said. 

You would be amazed at the discussion, I'll be honest with you, the first time I did this and share it with the staff, they were pretty defensive. They were saying like, well, what students were in your focus group and why and that's it. Whoa, whoa, we are not doing any of that. I have simply collected this data. And I'm sharing with you what what the students share with me it was a random group of students. I do this every single month. People want to dismiss the data, they want to tell you why it's wrong. They want to tell you no, no, we're not doing any of that. This is what the kids are saying, and what are we going to do about it? Because ultimately, we are accountable to them. And then after that, we get to work, we and then the students start to see the change. What happens is if the students know you're doing focus groups, I remember one time a student said, hey, what am I going to get invited to have lunch with you? And I said, Well, why do we need to wait for lunch? What do you need to say? And students feel comfortable, they start coming to me one on one and giving me feedback.

Kids who were in my focus group wave to me in the halls now.

They're talking to me, they're coming up and they're saying, Hey, I saw how you change that rule. Good job. Thanks for doing that. And so you start to have these relationships with kids that are meaningful and powerful. They start telling other students about how cool you are and how nice you are and they Start their parents call and say, hey, my student, my son said, you had lunch with him today, I really appreciate it. He's so shy, nobody ever notices him, thank you for spending some time with him. It just changes the culture of your school. And it helps everybody keep focused on why we're there. I guess that's the most powerful part about having student focus groups, we often forget that the reason we're there to serve kids, I know what we say, I know that we tell ourselves, it's for the kids. But if we're not in the classroom with kids every single day, sometimes it's really hard to think about our kids, not as this kind of random group of people, but it's individuals with unique needs and unique challenges. And we need to serve them all. The focus group keeps you grounded. The focus group keeps you connected to the students and in every classroom in your school. And as a school administrator, you owe it to your teachers and your students to spend time listening to them, listening to their feedback, collecting their feedback, and using it to help you improve.

Now, my student focus groups worked so well that I started doing it with parents, I would have a parent coffee in the morning, and I'd invite parents to come and have coffee with me or have something in the afternoon. So the parents who were picking their students up could also share information. And again, though, conducting those focus groups, I did not do it in a formal way, like in a PTA meeting or anything like that. I just invited them in and did the same exact process, same exact questions with them that I did with their students. And again, it's a great way to help parents stay connected as well. You can also do teacher focus groups where you sit down with teachers as an administrative team, and ask them their feedback, you can sit down in a team meeting or PLC, and do the same thing. But focus groups give you data that goes beyond numbers that goes beyond serve anonymous survey data. It gives you real qualitative data that you can use to gauge how well you are serving the teachers and the students in your school. It is so powerful.

You know, quite frankly, that's what Builders do. 

Builders are service oriented. We're constantly thinking about how do we best serve our students and our teachers. And one of the ways we do that we remember feedback is a two way street. A lot of us are spent all of our time in classrooms, giving teachers feedback, giving kids feedback in the hall, how often do we take time to collect feedback from them. And focus groups gives you a powerful way to do that. So I want to challenge all of you who are listening before the school year is up, try it, invite some students into your office and conduct a student focus group. And then let me know on LinkedIn, how it went. I want to hear the success stories. But I also want to hear the fails. Because if you have a question or it didn't quite work out, so hit me up on LinkedIn and tell me about it and I'll see what I can do to help you figure out how to make it work better. At the end of the day, all of us should be collecting feedback from our students, because they're the reason that we are here. And in focus groups are powerful way to do that. They're a powerful way to help you collect feedback from your students, #LikeABuilder. 

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at Buildership University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to join Buildership University. Just go to and get started writing your school success story today.

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