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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

The Power of Effective Feedback

By Peter DeWitt — August 29, 2012 4 min read
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“The term Feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking.” Grant Wiggins

As educators there are two types of impressions we can leave on our students. One is that we leave a positive impression and they remember us fondly as they move through life. The other is a negative impression, and those memories of us are not very fond at all. Both of those impressions can have a powerful impact on our students.

Even in our own formative educational experiences we remember the teachers who failed to say anything kind and those who always had a supportive word. We remember those teachers who challenged us to think deeper and those who wouldn’t notice if we were taking a nap in the back of the class.

Principals can have that same kind of impact on students and teachers based on the feedback they provide. They can only look for the mistakes or not notice an amazing lesson as they walk by the classroom. As principals, our words matter too and as Todd Whitaker says, “Don’t be so busy looking for problems that you forget to notice improvements.

When I was a teacher I remember getting a correspondence notebook with a new parent that she used with her child’s previous teacher. I took some time to read it and one of the final pages I saw a note from the mother that said, “I’m tired of hearing all the things my child did wrong. Has she done anything right this year?” That moment didn’t escape me, although I was happy that the comment was not directed my way. However, as a teacher I’m sure that I did not always have positive comments for my students and I regret that.

The reality is that all educators, including administrators, have opportunities to provide teachable moments to staff and students. Unfortunately, busy schedules or a fear of confrontation prevents principals from taking on these moments with teachers. Busy schedules and a list of other activities prevent teachers from taking them on with their students. However, it’s our job to do so and we have to find ways to make sure we are providing effective feedback to all stakeholders.

How to Provide Effective Feedback
Effective feedback doesn’t mean we have to only have positive comments that solely focus on self-esteem. Effective feedback, often found in formative assessment, means giving students and teachers something to work on so they can experience growth over the life of the assignment. We just need to remember it’s not just in the message but in the delivery as well. Constructive feedback can help students and teachers reach the next level.

In the September edition of Educational Leadership (ASCD. 2012) there is an article written by Grant Wiggins entitled 7 Ways to Effective Feedback. The whole edition of Educational Leadership focuses on Feedback for Learning which is a really important subject for educators.

Wiggins says that feedback should be,
Goal-referenced - the person has a goal, takes action to achieve the goal, and receives goal-related information about their actions.
Tangible and Transparent - It should involve tangible results. Wiggins uses the example of laughing when one hears a joke.

Actionable - It provides the person receiving the feedback something to look at. Saying “good job” doesn’t put them in a set direction. As the person providing the feedback, keep thinking “What kind of feedback can set them on the appropriate course?”

User-Friendly - the teacher or student receiving the feedback needs to understand it. How often have you received feedback for something outside your expertise (i.e. car issues, cooking, tech support, etc.) and not really understood what your next step was supposed to be?

Timely - The sooner the feedback is provided the better.

Ongoing - It’s not a one-time conversation. Feedback needs to be constant.
Consistent - These conversations, regardless of whether they are with students or teachers need to happen consistently (Wiggins. ASCD. 2012).

In the End
Wiggins, as always, does a great job of explaining what feedback is all about. It’s a timely issue as most of us get ready to begin another school year. Given all of the changes in education, it’s nice to read an article that forces you to remember why we are here, and it’s not to push higher scores on high stakes testing.

All in all, we have to remember that providing feedback to students is our main, and most important, job. Providing that same type of feedback to teachers is the job of the principal. An obligatory statement like “good job” is not feedback; it’s a compliment and as we enter another school year we should challenge ourselves to provide effective feedback to all the stakeholders in our educational community.

It should be an easy goal but too often we get caught in the rut of paperwork, budget conversations and quick conversations as we pass in the hallway. Life gets busy for us all but we have to create sacred time for such conversations to take place.

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Wiggins, Grant. (2012). 7 Ways to Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership. ASCD.

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.