Giving feedback is an art. It’s something you have to learn to do the right way. Giving feedback involves working with people in a direct and personal way that will have a tremendous effect on their performance. As EdTech coaches, we must make it a priority to get better at it to better serve our faculty.
One of the first things that became a primary necessity in my job as an EdTech coach was providing meaningful feedback to the teachers I’m serving. I recently had the opportunity to read a wonderful post on feedback entitled 7 Steps to Effective Feedback, by Dr. Shira Leibowitz. In her post, Dr. Leibowitz offers insight into her own professional practice and paints a vision of what effective feedback looks like. She mentions the importance of feedback being non-judgmental, based on goals, and of acknowledging the great things that happen in the classroom. Based on this thoughtful piece of writing, I would like to offer my thoughts and experience on the art of giving feedback.
4 principles behind meaningful feedback:
1. Feedback needs to be well balanced.
What I mean by this is that coaches should strive to find the balance between saying the truth and saying it in an inspiring way. In other words, it’s stepping on someone’s shoes without ruining their shine. There are coaches that will only focus on saying what they have to say without considering necessarily how they say it. There are others who will beat around the bush; coaches who will say all the wonderful things they saw without ever mentioning what needs to be resolved, without saying that the lesson was disengaging or teacher-centered, for instance, for the sake of not hurting the teacher’s feelings. Neither extreme is helpful. Feedback needs to be well balanced.
In my approach to faculty at the school I work for, I try to make it crystal clear to them that my visits are not an evaluation, but simply a visit. They are not a formal observation. I prefer to use the word visit, as a visit encompasses a warmer and friendlier connotation. I let them know that my purpose there is not to offer an expert view, but to learn with them. On the same line of thought, when it’s time to praise an accomplishment, I don’t hesitate to do so.
2. Feedback needs to be based on standards and goals
At school we use two main frameworks for measuring the effective integration of technology in the classroom. We use the SAMR model of technology integration, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura and we also use the ISTE standards for teachers (formerly known as NETS for teachers). We began the year getting acquainted with these models and standards and reflecting on them enough that reaching the Redefinition level (SAMR) would become one of the progressive goals that teachers would attempt to reach during the year. Thus, feedback is provided having these goals in mind. It is also based on the different tiers that the ISTE standards offer such as: facilitating and inspiring student learning and creativity, modeling Digital Age work and learning, and designing Digital Age learning experiences.
Because these standards and goals are not unknown to faculty, in fact they are something that teachers take ownership in, then providing suggestions and ideas seems to be a natural thing in the process. The real advantage in this is that the person receiving feedback will know that those suggestions are not coming necessarily based on the coach’s personal bias or judgment, but rather from a larger perception of what could be called the big picture.
In his book Lessons from the Classroom: 20 Things Good Teachers Do, Dr. Hal Urban mentions that the fact that when kids actually create and write their own classroom rules, it makes them have more ownership of them, and are therefore more prone to complying and engaging with them. Same thing applies to teachers establishing their own professional growth goals: if they design and set them themselves, they will strive more to reach them and will probably be more open to feedback. This is why I closely concur with Dr. Leibowitz’s view on having goal-based feedback.
3. Feedback needs to be timely.
One of the things I appreciated the most about my Tennis coaches in MS & HS was that they didn’t wait until the end of the training to let me know I was taking my eyes off the ball. No, instead they would say it to me constantly, right there, on the spot, allowing me make an immediate correction and improve my game. The same principle applies to coaching teachers.
Whenever I visit a teacher, I do my very best to close the cycle of the visit in one day. I visit them during one period in which I take notes; I meet with them to provide immediate feedback the first available free period they have after my visit and I take another period to write a report, carefully selecting the words, to convey the message that I want to get across. That message may very well be “keep on innovating,” “meaningful learning experiences are being created here” or “alert: serious classroom management needs to take place.” An example of the used form can be found and downloaded here. It’s a simple form, which includes elements of positive integration seen, suggestions, and an appraisal of where that lesson might fit in the SAMR continuum.
4. Feedback ignites action
This is perhaps my favorite part. When we get to see that some of those suggestions, ideas, what ifs, and comments are actually being translated into action, this is when we know it has been worth it. Fortunately, I work with amazing teachers who have embraced a lot of the comments and suggestions I have provided. Out of these one-on-one talks we’ve had providing feedback and discussing possibilities, several new endeavors have originated. Science teachers have had students create infographics to reflect their learning on diseases. Language Arts teachers decided to get kids on board with publishing multi-touch textbooks. Several are recording their own videos to flip the classroom. A few are bringing in Google Earth to their lessons. They are purposefully using the Smart Board to create interactive activities. You name it. I believe PD sessions are wonderful opportunities to grow professionally, just as educational conferences are. However, 1:1 feedback can generate similar outcomes and it can take place any day of the year. It doesn’t make the institution incur any costs and you can measure its effect.
What are your thoughts on these principles about feedback? Your feedback, as a reader of this post, is highly valuable to me. Please share it!