Candles receiving feedback

So there’s a big emphasis on effective feedback in schools at the moment.

Feedback has to be more than praise, it has to be immediate (or at least as soon as possible), it has to include specific information about what the student did well and also how they can improve next time, and everyone needs to be involved in giving it: teachers, students, admin staff and parents.

But what about receiving feedback?

I know every time someone tries to give me feedback, all I hear is “what you’re doing is not good enough, and it should be by now”. Effectively, when I’m supposed to be a candle- a shining beacon of appropriate behaviour- I’m dishing out what I can’t even hack myself.

I believe in a growth mindset. I know that tackling hard things makes you smarter and that mistakes are part of life. But I also like to think that I don’t make mistakes, and that other people have more “growing” to do than I do.

So I downloaded an interesting book onto my kindle; “Thanks for the feedback”- the science and art of receiving feedback well”. And as I read it, I found myself nodding and saying “exactly!” a lot.

It says there are three different types of feedback. Appreciation, coaching and evaluation.

We need all three but evaluation is often the loudest and can drown out the other two. When we want a particular type and are given one of the others, all we hear is white noise.  We need to be proactive in seeking feedback, and very specific as to which type is to be given.

Feedback is supposed to be a gift, which we can take or leave. The book says that the way we hear feedback can be dependent on who is giving it and why we think they are giving it to us. Often our reaction to feedback tells us more about the way we see and value ourselves than about the information itself or the person delivering it.

For feedback to be most effective, it needs to be invited or requested, not unsolicited. Anyone not ready and open to hearing about how they can improve will only hear criticism.

Those with a tendency to berate themselves internally may need their feedback delivered in the form of a feedback sandwich. Positive first, negative second, followed up with another positive.

Feedback is also incredibly powerful when arrived at by self-reflection first. A clever mentor or leader will allow the subject of an observation to reflect on their lesson first. You’d be surprised how well people can pick up on their own areas of weakness without having to have them pointed out.

Feedback must be accompanied by strategies for improvement, or feed-forward. Even the very best and the most experienced educators should be willing to consider a pedagogical shift which may result in improved outcomes for their students.

And, perhaps most importantly, a feedback culture needs to be viewed positively; as a non-threatening but powerful methodology that supercharges the teaching that goes on in a school. Where everyone is in it together.

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  1. […] 2. Make mentoring mandatory. Arguably one of the best ways to force teachers to reflect on their own practice is to align them with preservice teachers and early career teacher mentees. In schools these days, this process is voluntary (and paid!) and yet the majority of classroom teachers opt out. Why? Because it’s difficult. It opens up your lesson delivery to scrutiny, feedback and criticism. Which is all the more reason why it should be commonplace. […]


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