When you take a class, do you ever wonder whether the instructor bothers to read your class evaluations? Well, this instructor does, and they are invaluable to me for improving classes for future students.
Of course, getting a handful of 5’s and accolades is always fun, and learning that people enjoy my personality is a great boost to my confidence (especially on days when I’m not feeling so great). But the evaluations I scour and study the most are the less than stellar ones, especially when someone takes the time to explain why.
Getting a class ready for a national show is time-consuming, nerve-wracking, and ulcer-inducing because I want to make the class as great as it can be. I want the students to learn what they expected, leave the classroom confident and happy, and most of all, to have fun. I try to take control of every little detail as much in advance as I can, but you don’t always know what to expect when you walk into a classroom.
I can’t make everyone happy all of the time, but I strive to make enough improvements that it makes a difference in the overall delivery of and satisfaction with the class. Unfortunately, the folks who rate the class lower don’t usually get the benefit of the improvements, but I hope they realize that they do make a difference.
What Questions Am I Tracking?
Every show has different evaluations, and not every show gives me the results. So the most reliable results I have are from Houston Quilt Festival. When I travel to teach at guilds, I use my own evaluation form that is modeled on the Houston rating system; that way, I can do comparisons.
There are four main questions in the Houston surveys, with a 1-5 rating scale (5 being best):
- Class met my expectations as described.
- Instructor successfully demonstrated knowledge of topic.
- Instructor showed great commitment toward students.
- My desire to take another class from this instructor.
And then there is a place to leave comments.
What Your Ratings Do
For me, when someone rates a class as “excellent” without comments, I interpret that to mean that they learned what they came to learn, and that the way I taught and paced the class was spot on. I like getting top scores, but without comments all I can do is say “thanks” and give myself a little pat on the back for a job well done. It at least reinforces that I’m on the right track.
It gets a little bit more mixed when someone rates lower than 5. To me, the lower the score, the more valuable your comments are! I’m always puzzled by ratings of “fair” or “poor” that have no commentary. These are the ones I agonize over the most. What did I do wrong? Could I have helped this person more? Were they not learning? It can really mess with your confidence, especially if every other review is positive.
I try not to focus too much on the individual ratings; what I’m looking for is trends over time. These trends, coupled with the comments, is how I make adjustments to improve the class.
What Your Comments Do
Just like with the ratings, I look for overall trends, but I also pay attention to the outliers because this is often where class improvements come from. I read every single comment, and I try to read between the lines too. Here are couple of exmples from my popular class, Binding by Machine, which is based on my book, Get It Done Now! Binding a Quilt by Machine.
One year, I had a student get upset because I didn’t have enough rulers to sell in the classroom, and she reported that I had “[run] out of important class supplies for sale.” This comment bothered me in particular because my #1 rule is that anything critical for class is something that I bring to class and is covered by your material fee. That way I m confident everyone will have what they need.
If it’s something that will help you during class, I put that item on your supplies list. Sometimes, I have items on the supplies list that may be challenging for international students to acquire, or that students sometimes forget when packing, so I will bring some to sell in class.
However, if I put it on the supply list, I’m not also going to bring enough for every student. I bring around 7-10 extra – things like fabric, rulers, chalk, thread, seam rippers, pins, etc.
What happened to this student is that enough of her peers had also not followed the supply list, and they bought every extra set I had before she approached me. She was upset about it for the entire class, and it showed up in her evaluation.
This situation prompted me to rethink how I do supply lists, and the changes I’m looking through for all my classes is how I can start to do more kitting so that all you have to do is show up with only a couple of basic sewing supplies. The material fees are higher, but I’m getting good feedback so far about how much my students appreciate this new format.
Another thing that kept showing up in the evaluations was students being unhappy about not being able to finish their binding in class, so they were requesting that the class be all-day.
The first year I offered the class, I asked people to bring their own project. Lots of folks brought queen- or king-sized quilts, making it unlikely that they would finish, and this impacted the ratings across the board. Limiting the size of the project didn’t help either – people still brought what they wanted.
If everyone brings a different sized project, some people will be ready to move on and others will be behind. Then it turns into 25 individual binding classes instead of just one, and it ends in chaos. If we can’t get through all the material, and the class feels chaotic, then your impression of the class overall will be lower.
This past year, I decided that I would provide the project instead, and more people were able to finish successfully. Overall satisfaction ratings for this class went from 4.49 in 2017, to 4.88 in 2019.
I know I’ll be teaching this class again in 2020, and I’m already looking at ways to make this class even better.
Things You Can Do to Make Your Evaluations More Effective
If you want to make your evaluations really impactful, and help improve a show or the classes offered there, here are a few things you can do:
1. Separate the classroom from the teacher.
If there are environmental things – lighting, temperature, room too small, not enough irons, etc. – try not to let this influence how you rate the teacher. We walk in sometimes just hoping for everything to flow smoothly.
(As an aside – conference centers are notoriously hard to heat and cool satisfactorily. It’s a good idea to dress in layers, wear comfortable shoes, and have some coffee or tea in a Thermos just in case.)
Similarly, if you are in a machine classroom and for whatever reason, don’t have a good experience with the machine, try to separate that from the teacher if possible. If you come to my private studio for a class and don’t have a good classroom experience that’s one thing; but at a show, the teacher has little say in which classroom they are assigned to. They may have very limited experience with that specific machine or brand, and rely heavily on the machine rep supporting the classroom. Try not to let that influence your teacher evaluation, unless they are actively bashing the machines.
2. Leave comments, always.
If you think the teacher did a spectacular job and they shouldn’t change a thing, give them the highest marks and tell them so.
If you can’t give the teacher the highest marks, then comment on why you gave a lower rating. What expectation didn’t they meet? How could they present the content better? What didn’t you like? What do you want to make sure is kept?
3. Be specific.
“Great class!” is quick to write, but coupled with “I loved how you explained how to connect the ends of binding!” tells the instructor that she has connected with her students in an important area.
4. You can be unhappy and kind.
Saying something like, “This is the worst class I’ve ever taken” is not only unhelpful, it’s also unkind. Use your evaluations for good. Instead, focus on what made it a bad experience for you and try to make it actionable for the teacher. “The section on making binding confused me from the beginning and I wasn’t able to follow from that point forward” is something that a teacher can try to improve on.
Things to Take to the Show Organizers
In some cases, you really need to take things directly to a show organizer or their education department – both the exceptionally good and exceptionally bad – to make sure your voice is heard. Here are a few cases that I think should go beyond a written evaluation:
- An instructor bad mouths a machine or machine sponsor in the classroom. This goes back to early childhood: if you can’t say something nice, be quiet. Machine sponsors spend thousands and thousands of dollars to outfit a classroom, and if an instructor is saying less-than-flattering things about a sponsor, this has a direct impact on your ability to take classes in the future. If machine sponsors pull out of a show, it can dramatically reduce the classes available, and that can make it harder for a show to continue operations. In my opinion, teachers who malign the machines they are teaching on should not be invited back to teach at that show. It’s that serious.
- A class was completely different than described. The class description should give you a pretty good idea of what the class is about, but if you expected to learn how to hand-dye fabrics and the teacher shows up with RIT, you might want to say something.
- You want to make sure a class or teacher returns. Sure, you can put this on your evaluation, but if you tell the show organizers in person, it has more of an impact on selecting classes for the following year.
I hope this helps you understand just how important your class evaluations are to teachers. I appreciate you for taking the time to fill them out!