Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

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.

Teaching Profession Opinion

It’s Time to Give Feedback Another Chance. Here Are 3 Ways to Get It Right

By Peter DeWitt — April 27, 2022 6 min read
Feedback
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Feedback is one of those words that teachers and school leaders (i.e., principals, head teachers (U.K.) love and hate at the same time. I say that because there is no doubt about the importance of feedback, because Hattie and Timperley found that it is one of the most effective influences on student learning (2007). However, what most educators do not like about feedback is how it is used against them. For example, feedback is often the purpose of walk-throughs, learning walks, and formal observations, but all too often the content of the feedback focuses on an area that teachers and school leaders never discussed beforehand, or the school leader lacks the credibility to provide feedback in the first place.

In a study of over 400 teachers and 4,000 students, Dawson et al. (2018) found that there are four reasons students and teachers believe are the main purposes of feedback: justifying grades, identifying strengths and weaknesses of work, improvement, and affective purposes.

A great deal of the feedback literature focuses on feedback to students, but what inspired this post was the idea that most of that literature was conducive to feedback between teachers and school leaders as well.

There are three ways to get feedback between teachers and school leaders right.

Feedback is a process, not a one-sided message
The first way to get feedback right is to look at it as a process and not a one and done event to tick off a box. Too often, walk-throughs, learning walks, and formal observations are seen as something to get done as opposed to a process to engage in that could be truly impactful to everyone involved. When we look at feedback as something to get done, we miss a great learning opportunity. In Dawson’s study, the researchers asked what made the feedback experience effective, and the prominent themes were, “the content of the comments, aspects of the feedback design and the source of the feedback information.”

Additionally, Dawson et al. (2018) write that, “The early 2010s marked a shift in how feedback was positioned within the literature, with understandings of feedback moving from something ‘given’ to students towards feedback as a process in which students have an active role to play.” When reading the research on feedback, as well as the above quotation, it makes me think of the feedback often given between teachers and school leaders. If teachers are expected to look at feedback as a process, and not something they just give to students in isolation, shouldn’t feedback be seen as a process between school leaders and teachers, too?

After all, Robinson (2001) looked at the organizational-learning (how an organization learns together) research by Argyris and Schön, and she writes that there are two strands by which an organization learns, which are:

  • Descriptive strand—Has its roots in social and cognitive psychology, seeks to understand the processes by which organizations learn and adapt.
  • Normative strand—Is sometimes referred to as research on the “learning organization,” is concerned more with how organizations can direct their learning in ways that bring them closer to an ideal.

The feedback process certainly can help the adults in a school achieve those two goals.

Three conditions necessary for effective feedback
The second way to get feedback right is by understanding the conditions necessary to provide effective feedback. Nicole, D. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) suggest three conditions that must be clarified for anyone to benefit from feedback. In fact, in a recent review of feedback models, Lipnevich and Panadero (2021) refer to the study by Nicole and Macfarlane-Dick as “one of the most important readings in the formative assessment literature.”

The three conditions Nicole and Macfarlane highlight that are necessary to benefit from feedback are:

  • The desired performance
  • The current performance
  • How to close the gap between the two

Where teachers and school leaders are concerned, I believe the three conditions highlight the importance of feedback being seen as a process and not a “one and done” activity. For this to happen, teachers and leaders would have to have a common understanding of the desired performance, as well as a clear understanding of the current performance. To be clear, these conditions should not be seen as top-down from school leaders to teachers. The reality is that any credible school leader would be asking teachers and students what they want out of a school leader and have a clear understanding of their current performance as a school leader.

What makes the third condition so difficult for the relationship between teachers and school leaders is whether either one truly knows how to close the gap. It is yet another reason to look at feedback as a process, because through faculty meetings that focus on learning instead of management tasks and instructional-leadership team meetings that focus on how and what leadership teams learn together, as well as effective professional learning communities PLC, can a school community truly engage in a feedback process that is worthwhile? In these learning sessions that take place at the faculty meeting, leadership-team meetings, or PLC’s, educators can discuss what Dawson et al. refer to as, “the content of the comments, aspects of the feedback design and the source of the feedback information.”

In education, we commonly hear that we need to be lifelong learners, and for that to happen, feedback in schools needs to be seen as an effective way to inspire self-regulated learning on the part of students, teachers, and school leaders alike. This leads us to the third way to get feedback right.

What inspires self-regulated learning?
In order to get feedback right, the third way to approach it is through understanding that there are seven feedback principles. Nicole and Macfarlane (2006) go on to write that those seven principles that influence self-regulated learning:

  • Help clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards);
  • Facilitate the development of self-assessment;
  • Deliver high-quality information to students (or adults) about their learning;
  • Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning;
  • Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem;
  • Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance; and
  • Provide information to teachers (and school leaders) that can be used to help shape teaching (and leading).

In the End
Over the last decade or longer, we have heard so much about feedback. At first, the word “feedback” was like our favorite song that we wanted to hear all the time, but then somewhere along the way, feedback became the song we no longer wanted to hear. Some of that was due to the fact that teachers and school leaders lack a common language and a common understanding of what feedback is all about.

If we are to show our school communities, and the rest of the world for that matter, that our schools are more than child care during the day and that school leaders and teachers engage in learning that is equally as powerful as the learning students are supposed to engage in, then we have to understand what feedback is all about and how it can be impactful.

Maybe it’s time to give feedback another chance.

Citations
David J. Nicol & Debra Macfarlane‐Dick (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice, Studies in Higher Education, 31:2, 199-218, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572090

Hattie, J., and H. Timperley. 2007. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research 77 (1): 81–112.

Lipnevich, Anastasiya A. and Panadero, Ernesto (2021). A Review of Feedback Models and Theories: Descriptions, Definitions, and Conclusions. Frontiers in Education. Volume 6. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/feduc.2021.720195

Phillip Dawson, Michael Henderson, Paige Mahoney, Michael Phillips, Tracii Ryan, David Boud & Elizabeth Molloy (2019) What makes for effective feedback: staff and student perspectives, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44:1, 25-36, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1467877

Robinson, V.M.J. (2001), “Descriptive and normative research on organizational learning: locating the contribution of Argyris and Schön,” International Journal of Educational Management, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 58-67.

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.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Q&A 'Brown v. Board' Decimated the Black Educator Pipeline. A Scholar Explains How
A new book digs into a lesser-known and negative consequence of one of the nation's most significant civil rights milestones.
9 min read
As her pupils bend themselves to their books, teacher Marie Donnelly guides them along in their studies at P.S. 77 in the Glendale section of Queens, New York, Sept. 28, 1959. In her 40 years of teaching, never has Donnelly had so many African-American students in a class. The youngsters were bused to the school from Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, a predominantly black neighborhood where schools are overcrowded. P.S. 77, which had an enrollment of 368 all-white students, can handle 1000 children comfortably. Parents in the Queens neighborhoods objected to influx, but the children themselves adjusted to one another without incident.
A white teacher teaches a newly integrated class at P.S. 77 in the Glendale section of Queens, N.Y., in September 1959.
AP
Teaching Profession Opinion Short On Substitute Teachers? Here's Something States Can Do
Student teachers can make good substitutes, but the rules often don't allow them to step in, write two researchers.
Dan Goldhaber & Sydney Payne
4 min read
Conceptual illustration of a new employee fitting into the workplace puzzle
Sergey Tarasov/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession In Their Own Words 'I'm Afraid to Return to the Classroom': A Gay Teacher of the Year Speaks Out
Willie Carver, Jr., the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, is questioning his future as a teacher given recent anti-LGBTQ legislative efforts.
8 min read
Montgomery County teacher and Kentucky Teacher of the Year, Willie Carver, in downtown Mt. Sterling, Ky., on May 11, 2022.
Willie Carver is the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and teaches high school English and French in the Montgomery County, Ky., public schools.
Arden Barnes for Education Week
Teaching Profession Teacher Morale Is at a Low Point. Here's Where Some Are Finding Hope
It’s been a hard few years for teachers. These are the moments with students that are keeping them going.
8 min read
Conceptual Illustration of figure wallpapering blue sky over a dark night
francescoch/iStock via Getty