Can educators at all levels of a system learn how to use feedback with each other to improve teaching practice, and, in the process, create healthy cultures of learning and critical inquiry?
The number one investment an instructional leader can make is in strengthening teachers. Instructional leaders who are in roles meant to support teachers (e.g., principals, administrators, instructional coaches, teacher leaders, and mentors) are charged with designing professional learning experiences that maximize teachers’ potential and create space for teacher learning to transfer into classroom practice, thereby increasing student learning. There is no better way to know this transfer takes place than to provide supportive follow up after professional learning experiences and providing feedback on teacher practice (e.g., through observations and videotaping) and teacher work (e.g., on teacher-created assessments and by conducting student interviews).
In our experience working with teachers and other instructional leaders, we have discovered unique ways to engage in the feedback cycle. We will share two of these in this post: first, an engagement we call Pass the Feedback, which we have found to have successfully strengthened our own proficiency in offering quality feedback and second, an experience we call Feedback on the Fly, which is an effective way to provide quality feedback to teachers in authentic contexts.
Pass the Feedback
Learning tours or rounds of observations conducted by a team create space for instructional leaders to engage in professional learning. If instructional leaders observe together or in purposeful learning tours, they are able to practice inter-rater reliability. Multiple observers can debrief on the observations and talk through what they saw in the lessons. This practice can be an affirming one, if the instructional leaders are both well-versed in promising practices and offering quality feedback. However, if the instructional leaders are in different places in their learning, a learning tour can help all leaders grow. The stronger instructional leader may have to thoughtfully explain what she saw as strengths in the lesson and clarify areas for improvement, which serves as a model of thinking and word choice for the weaker instructional leader.
Another way to turn learning tours into a professional learning opportunity for instructional leaders is to engage all who toured in an activity we termed Pass the Feedback. After conducting a round of observations, the instructional leaders sit around a table and literally pass their written feedback to the person next to them. This activity allows instructional leaders a glimpse into classrooms that they did not visit, but more importantly, it gives everyone the opportunity to note the language of the quality feedback and examples of reflective questions offered to teachers by other instructional leaders. An effective way to get better at giving quality feedback is by reading examples of quality feedback.
Feedback on the Fly
While observing and filming teachers there have been times when we had to bite our tongues and make ourselves abstain from jumping in and offering feedback as the lesson was occurring. There have been occasions in the past while we were co-teaching lessons and observing struggling teachers when we decided to slide a sticky note to the teacher we were with because we did not want an opportunity to provide feedback to escape us in the moment. We knew it may be disruptive to interrupt the flow of the teacher’s lesson and could end up causing more anxiety for the teacher we were observing or filming. But, after careful consideration, we decided that perhaps we should ask teachers if they would be open to our chiming in and offering feedback and coaching on the fly. We neither invented the concept of feedback on the fly, nor are we experts in its implementation. However, we have found our version of it to be very rewarding to the professional growth of our teachers and ourselves, as well as beneficial for the students in the classrooms where we have implemented this method of feedback. Feedback on the fly has been practiced in the medical field for quite some time. In the environment of clinical medicine, corrective feedback often is given immediately and in front of others in order to improve patient care. The same benefits can occur with our “patients”: our students.
Feedback on the fly is perfect for novice teachers because oftentimes they are more open to this experience and less likely to turn down the opportunity to try something new. Using feedback on the fly can be even more effective with teachers who are struggling; however, the key to success in this situation is the relationship the instructional leader has built with the struggling teacher before embarking on this journey. The suggestion of feedback on the fly may be better received after the instructional leader and teacher have worked together in other classroom-based capacities. The beauty of feedback on the fly is that it incorporates timely feedback, is based on directly observable and modifiable behaviors, provides an avenue for modeling, and offers insight into what the teacher just did.
The Impact of Quality Feedback
These are two examples of the kind of professional learning that has a powerful impact on strengthening teacher practice and ultimately increasing student achievement. The role of instructional leaders continues to grow enormously in both schools and districts, and that network is desperate for a set of strategies that can help them accomplish these critical educational outcomes and skills that will lead to student growth.
Professional learning opportunities with a focus on feedback are designed to improve teacher practice which in turn will increase student learning. In our book, Using Quality Feedback to Guide Professional Learning: A Framework for Instructional Leaders, we offer more professional learning opportunities and ideas. We share ways to create opportunities to offer teachers quality feedback within the professional development structure already in place in schools or districts. Creating a systematic approach to feedback within a framework to guide professional learning using a collaborative process is key.