Some of us are familiar with how to give feedback. We learned at some point in our career about the good old sandwich method of feedback. Begin with positive comments, then add something to work on, and lastly end on a positive note. But each individual is different and the feedback that is given shouldn’t be so systematic and rigid. The receiver will automatically focus on the negative, knowing that it’s coming.
A few years ago, I had read an article that discussed how teachers new to the profession preferred to have more positive feedback than negative. They felt the purpose of feedback should be encouragement and to build their confidence. Veteran teachers however, preferred feedback that focused on their areas of opportunities. They were confident in their skills but wanted to focus on areas where they could improve. What is the best way to provide honest, meaningful feedback?
Before any feedback can be given, rapport must exist between the person receiving the feedback, and the person giving it. This relationship should be built on mutual trust and respect, especially when the feedback is constructive. Tension, anxiety, and an uneasiness can kick in. Our mind immediately tries to reconcile the difference (usually by blaming the person giving the feedback), and can leave the receiver in a defensive state. Even if you were the one asking for the advice, you will still likely have the gut reaction of “they’re wrong”. You must develop a rapport with the person giving the feedback, take emotion out of the feedback equation, and accept it for what it is.
Asking for permission is paramount.The giver of feedback should always ask the receiver permission to give it. A simple “Hey, can I give you some feedback”, then waiting for their response is absolutely necessary. Having the individual’s permission is important because, the receiver needs to be in the right frame of mind to receive it. They need to be willing to hear it, in order for it to be effective.
One could argue that timely feedback is the most critical step. Feedback must be timely if it is to be effective. This means it is consistent, immediate, and ongoing. Feedback must also be targeted. It should be communicated directly to the learner and have a specific focus. Feedback has to be timely, because otherwise the learning opportunity will be lost. It should be in the moment. Waiting too long could cost it’s effectiveness.
“Feedback when given well, should not alienate the receiver of the feedback, but should motivate them to perform better” ~ M.O. Manager, Fortune 500 Company
I often think many do not know how to give proper feedback because, it’s difficult to pinpoint the meaning of it. For those receiving it, they need to understand that it’s not disciplinary action, or a redirection of behavior. It is not someone telling you, you did something wrong. On the opposite end, if you are giving feedback you must keep in mind that neither is it “coaching”. We do not deliver feedback to tell another what they should do differently. The delivery and word choice play a critical part as well. But how? Feedback should focus on two things: behavior and impact.
When providing feedback, it’s important to state what you see. For it to be effective, it must be observable and something a person can control. It focuses on the ability to give specific examples and avoid being judgmental. The feedback giver will point out the direct impact that resulted from the behavior, again trying to be as specific as possible. For example,”When you took the pencil from the student to write the word for him, I noticed that he was disappointed”. Behavior – what happened, impact – how the behavior affected the student, the teacher, or the school. Using phrases such as “made me feel”, or “I noticed that…”, will keep the feedback session from turning into a debate (and coaching).
So, is it possible to give honest, meaningful feedback on a continuous basis, in a school setting? I believe it is. It would require buy-in from staff, PD and training. But I do think it is possible. Effective feedback is short and specific. It should only take a few minutes. Anything more may not be feedback, and creep towards coaching. It’s important for the giver of feedback to remember to not add suggestions, or advice once the behavior and impact is given. If the receiver wants to know those things, then the receiver can ask for it. The feedback moment ends, and the discussion or coaching begins.
When receiving feedback, you must remember, it isn’t about you personally. Step back and think of the bigger picture. It’s about your students, your team, and ultimately your teaching. They (and you) are all working together to make you better.