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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do We Really Want Feedback?

By Peter DeWitt — August 10, 2015 5 min read
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You’re not as bad as you think you are and not as good as you want to be.” Doug Manion

The politically correct answer to the question about whether we really want feedback is “Yes.” What teacher would tell their principal they don’t want their feedback? As a principal I couldn’t imagine telling my superintendent that I didn’t want their feedback. However, I think some people really just want to be left alone and they don’t do much with the feedback they’re given.

Why?

Because in this day and age of increased workloads on the part of teachers and principals, there is a good chance that after the feedback is provided, there will never be any follow-up. After reading this blog about 3 reasons why teacher observations are a waste of time, 85% of the teachers who answered the survey that used to appear at the end, stated that their observations provided them with little feedback, and many stated they haven’t been observed in over a year.

So...chances are that feedback will be provided but there will be no follow-up, which is why something like instructional coaching is so important. Jim Knight, someone I work with as an instructional coaching trainer, says that without follow-up only about 10% of what is learned through professional development will ever be used. However, with ongoing follow-up, up to 90% of what is learned will be used.

However, I keep wondering if we have more of an issue than just a lack of feedback being provided to teachers. I wonder if some teachers really don’t want feedback at all. After posting this blog about 5 reasons schools need instructional coaches, a teacher Tweeted, “Do doctors need instructional coaches?” I think, with what I could understand from the Tweet, that she was trying to say that I was somehow talking down to teachers because I said they need coaches.

First and foremost, I would never talk down to teachers. The teachers I worked with as a principal and a teacher would be angry with me, and I have a great deal of respect for them. BUT, the reality is that we all have a blind spot (Read more by Otto Scharmer here), and high quality instructional coaches, or principals who embody the instructional coaching philosophy, can help us see those blind spots.

And by the way...yes, doctors do have coaches. Read more about that here.

Why Don’t We Want Feedback?

Feedback doesn’t always feel good. Believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of feedback that doesn’t feel good, so I understand that. But after we get over the initial shock and all of our insecurities about making everyone happy, we need to look at the feedback and see what we can learn from it. Not that having that mindset always makes the feedback feel good.

Sometimes the feedback doesn’t feel good because it’s wrong. Perhaps the person providing it didn’t see the whole lesson, or the feedback came from someone who wasn’t even there, and they were merely passing on the feedback the observer gave to them about you...yes, that happens. Other times the feedback comes without the observer really understanding the classroom make-up or what transpired before they walked in. This can be prevented when principals or instructional coaches have pre-conference conversations around a co-constructed goal with the person being observed.

There are many reasons why teachers may not like getting feedback from their administrator. First and foremost the teacher may not respect the principal or assistant principal. We are all 100% responsible for our 50%, so if the teacher merely doesn’t like administration because of preconceived notions, then they need to look at that. If the teachers lacks respect for the administrator because the administrator has little classroom experience and they do little to model what great instruction and learning look like, then the administrator needs to own that.

Ross Cooper, my friend over at Edutopia, recently posted a great blog about reimagining classroom walkthroughs. In the blog, Cooper provides 5 critical elements that will help make classroom walkthroughs much more helpful to everyone involved. Please read Ross Cooper’s entire post because it’s excellent. The 5 critical elements that he focused on are:

1. Summary - Often, administrators and teachers refer back to an old walkthrough form and cannot quite remember what took place on that day (making the feedback mostly useless). This section invites a brief, objective summary of what is seen in the classroom.

2. Specific Feedback - Under no circumstances should this feedback involve any checklist. This is the equivalent of giving students feedback along with a grade -- the feedback (the key, differentiated component meant to move the recipient forward) is mostly ignored.

3. Targeted Feedback - Unlike specific feedback, targeted feedback involves any observations related to current school or district initiatives. The form should reflect these initiatives with specific “I can” statements. “I can create higher-order thinking routines that promote deeper understanding of texts” is preferred to the ambiguous “Higher-order questioning.”

4. Teacher Reflection/Action Plan - If the form provides teachers with an opportunity to reflect upon the lesson and develop a four- to five-sentence brief action plan, eventually most teachers will not have to rely on administrator feedback to know what their next steps should be.

5. Multimedia - In this section of the form, administrators can add multimedia (photograph, video, drawing, comic strip, etc.) related their feedback.

In the End

In order for teachers to want feedback, there needs to be a feedback culture established in school. Providing feedback is so much more difficult than an administrator waking up one morning saying they want to start giving feedback. Everyone in a school needs to understand that feedback is not a one way street but includes multiple avenues.

A feedback culture is only established after stakeholders in a school work collaboratively to learn what effective feedback looks like and how it should be articulated. That it’s not about a “Gotcha” and is about continuous improvement. Maybe after that, feedback will be welcomed.

Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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