Good feedback is priceless, but what you do with the feedback you receive is far more valuable.
Eight years ago I completed my teacher training qualification.
Having had six years of teaching experience prior to the course, I felt like it came at the right time for me. I had some experience of classroom management. I was studying, applying and reflecting on different methodologies and educational theories and the teaching Diploma was to be the next step in my progress.
My expectations were high and I knew feedback from an expert would benefit me beyond measure. It was my chance at an educational performance review.
I received a lot of feedback during the year, but honestly can only remember one experience, which was strangely the worst and simultaneously the most useful feedback I have ever experienced.
But first, what is good feedback?
Feedback is about closing the gap between where a student is and where you think they should be. It lets the student/performer know how they are progressing and the steps they should take to improve further. Its goal is to motivate and encourage mastery learning and mastery performance.
Here are some important factors to consider in providing good feedback;
- Focused on one or two specific action points related to how the person can develop
- Helps build a path that can guide students in the future
- Encourages and assists in setting SMART stretch goals
- Needs to be a two-way conversation to build trust and guide progress more effectively.
- Occurs continuous. Learning is a journey with many variations along the way. Feedback can help adjust and focus that journey
Quality of feedback
Inspector observations and feedback is a core part of the teaching course and this was something my ego was really worried about! But part of me needed to know how to improve and this idea excited me.
I vaguely remember the feedback being ok. There was no paradigm shifting experience throughout the year; simply adjust some minor things, which have since been changed, forgotten and become automatic. That is, apart from one experience during my final observation and feedback.
Feedback was provided on my final class, in both verbal and written form. I remember being seated on one of the school desks, my ego a little worried about what was being said. My legs were swinging back and forth while hanging from the desk and I was thinking through what changes needed to be made and why. The observation feedback, written and verbal, ended and I believe I was happy about being given the chance to improve.
But then my legs stopped swinging. My ego had been hit hard with a single final, unexpected (and also undocumented) comment.
“You’re a good teacher. You’re just not a great one.”
Words have power.
And those words held power over me for a long time.
More about Feedback
There are two forms of growth-based feedback in my experience; Instructional and Coaching.
Instructional feedback tells students exactly what to do to improve and to achieve a better outcome. It is a mentor driven approach that can benefit more novice students.
Coaching feedback places the mentor and mentee on a more even footing. Two-way discussion, hints, tips and questions are keys to improve student work without telling them exclusively what to do. It is aimed at having students evaluate themselves and use their own insights to improve.
The choice of feedback type is determined by the experience and skill level of the student. Instructional feedback is good for novice students and can help change misunderstandings or mis-direction as well as (to some extent) encourage transferability of skills and knowledge if used correctly. Coaching feedback on the other hand relies heavily on meta-cognition, so students need to be more proficient with the skill they are receiving feedback with.
The Timing of feedback
The time between a learning event and the feedback offered is also important. Again I consider there to be two forms of feedback; immediate and delayed.
Immediate feedback works best for novice learners and for those that are struggling at a task. Delayed feedback benefits students with a higher skill level in a task and with more experience in meta-cognition because it gives them space to think about their progress and make changes themselves.
Trust and vulnerability
Feedback is more than just a process of pushing people to learn better however. It is about building a trusting relationship where both parties can demonstrate acceptance and openness to improvement and a willingness to develop.
Having a growth mind-set, modelling thought processes out loud and demonstrating how to respond to feedback are all essential roles for the teaching/mentor in building trust and openness with students. Continuous modelling of these processes can teach students that mistakes and failure are an important part of their learning experience.
If students don’t realise that mistakes are a normal part of the learning process then their journey will never be fully complete and failure will continue to be barrier to their improvement.
So, why was That feedback an issue?
Feedback without suggesting a direction to change is just an observation. A negative observation is just criticism and I was being criticised.
In addition, it was a uni-directional comment made at the end of a process rather than as part of my continuous development. Being a form of delayed feedback I should have received more hints, tips and discussions with the inspector. Guidance should have been continuous to achieve the maximum positive effect of the feedback.
No goals were set either and it did not feel like the type of comment that could inspire someone to push themselves beyond their current limitations.
But it was the most effective feedback I have ever received
Having gotten over the initial effects I am beginning to use my story as a positive experience.
The importance of feedback and guidance tailored to each individual is now a core aspect of my training and education and, following much time researching and experimenting with feedback and performance reviews, also an important part of my strategies to motivate improved engagement with materials and improvements in the learning experience.
As for the provider of the feedback/observation (or maybe criticism) many years ago, perhaps he knew that those words would have this effect. Perhaps he didn’t.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter.
Hundreds of people have benefitted from his words and that is what matters most.
- Good feedback should be
- Focused on one, maybe two things
- Help build a path for the receiver to develop along
- Encourage goal setting
- Two-way in terms of communication
- Trust building
- Continuous to guide the receiver
- Beneficial to the long-term growth of the receiver
- Build a relationship, not damage it
- Choice and timing of feedback depends on the skill of the student/mentee.
- Modelling thought processes and how to respond to feedback is important.
- Good feedback is priceless, but what you do with the feedback you receive is far more valuable.