Student Surveys: A Course of Action for Administrators

Carissa Gray

March 7, 2023


As a former Department Chair of English, Arts, and Humanities, Carissa Gray knows the dedication and diligence it takes to successfully serve students and faculty. She had the honor to serve over 30 full and part-time faculty members. It was her responsibility to hire, orient, train, evaluate, and retain them. Her goal was to create an atmosphere where colleagues and students were appreciated, respected, and supported.

At colleges across the country, students assess their instructors’ teaching style and classroom management skills each semester. Administrators have the complicated task of interpreting the evaluations. Based on her experience as Department Chair, Carissa Gray offers the following guidance on improving teaching effectiveness through student evaluations.

To determine a course of action, administrators must first put the students’ feedback into context. Instructors should not be evaluated each term in a vacuum. The administrator should take instructors’ teaching experience, past performance, and development plans into consideration.

The following questions could direct administrators to a reasonable, systematic, and fair interpretation of student evaluations. This approach could ensure consistency and accountability:

  • Is the instructor new to teaching, or is he/she a veteran instructor? A mid-course meeting with a novice may involve coaching, training, and mentoring. On the other hand, veterans may need professional development and continuing education in best practices.
  • Is there a pattern of feedback developing across sessions, courses, or students? Recognizing instructor successes in the classroom boosts morale and inspires continued improvement. However, overreacting to isolated complaints may discourage instructors and increase the instructor turnover rate.
  • Has the administrator observed the instructor’s teaching this term? Administrators should be familiar with each instructor’s area of expertise, teaching style, and classroom management skills. This knowledge gives the administrator a reference point, without which, student responses could be taken out of context.
  • Is the instructor currently under a teaching development plan? Instructors who are working to develop teaching effectiveness should show measurable improvement during each survey cycle.

With these caveats in mind, a plan of action may be established for new instructors, as well as veterans.

Meeting Objective Feedback to Instructor Course of Action

⦁ Knowledge, approachability, and amicability are commendable.

⦁ Set clear expectations at the beginning of the course. The syllabus should clarify how much preparation is needed for the course, how many study hours will be expected outside of class, how much class time will be spent on each concept, and how students can get additional help outside of class.

⦁ Explain how to study for the course.

⦁ Communicate the value of the course related to students’ professional goals.

⦁ Positively reinforce strengths.

⦁ Share tools on best practices: “A Brief Summary of the Best Practices in College Teaching”

Train ⦁ Engage students in the classroom, so they do not feel that they are falling behind.


⦁ Regularly ask questions to check for understanding.

⦁ Use instructional time wisely.

⦁ Share tools about engaging adult learners:              “Barriers to Adult Learning: Bridging the Gap


⦁ Share tools on engaging different generations of learners: “Teaching  Millennials, Our Newest Cultural Cohort

Mentor ⦁ Schedule follow-up meetings with the administrator to develop teaching strategies.


⦁ Meet with assigned veteran mentor for advice.

⦁ Share tools on creating a Teaching Philosophy: “Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement
Develop ⦁ Take teaching refresher courses in areas of deficiency.

⦁ Engage with mentee.

⦁ Share tools on teaching portfolios: “Creating a Teaching Portfolio


⦁ Share tools on mentoring:    “Faculty Mentoring

Continue Education ⦁ Stay current in field of expertise.

⦁ Get discipline-related certifications.

⦁ Get pedagogy-related certifications.

⦁ Recommend lectures, conferences, and workshops in various disciplines:    

Professional Development Plan
After comprehensive review of student surveys, classroom observations, and annual evaluations, the administrator may need to create Professional Development Plans with certain instructors. The written plan could include the following items:

  • Specific goals
  • Activities to achieve the goals
  • Timeline for achieving the goals
  • Evaluation to determine if goals have been achieved

Excellence in teaching is the result of preparation and practice. To that end, administrators should facilitate training sessions with faculty to build skills, encourage camaraderie, and ensure academic integrity. If a pattern of feedback surfaces across full and part-time instructors, an administrator could give the following presentation:

“Philosophy of Engagement: Teaching Adult Learners”

⦁ Introduction: What is a Teaching Philosophy? (10 Minutes)

  • Objectives
  • Methods
  • Measurement
  • Activity: “What’s Your Philosophy” Jeopardy Round

⦁ Body: What Do Adult Learners Expect? (20 Minutes)

  • Involvement
  • Acknowledgement
  • Relevance
  • Application

⦁ Conclusion: How do I Measure Results? (10)

  • Administrator Evaluations
  • Peer Review
  • Instructor Reflection
  • Student Evaluations

⦁ Q&A (5 Minutes)