Making Enough Time for Good Feedback
Did you ever wonder why on smartphones there is an option to have a clicking sound when you touch a key? It is a kind of feedback. It is the message that your touch or pushing of the button worked. Click, it worked. No click, push again. We look for feedback to give us information about the world we live and work in. Most are received as information prompting us to act or not to act and are received as a matter of course. This type of feedback directs our behavior and we think very little about it. Feedback from other humans is a more complex story and can be helpful and productive or not. Done well, feedback will contribute to movement toward a goal, to improvement, to growth. The word feedback, however, is sometimes misused. Too often, it means the act of someone telling another person what is wrong, what is weak and it is tainted with judgment.
Are Educators Prepared?
For educators, feedback is meant to be an empowering exchange between teacher and student, supervisor and teacher, a coach and the person coached, or between any two people who have something to offer each other. The art of offering feedback is rarely taught in teacher preparation programs or in most administrative leadership programs, leaving the adults to learn this on their own. Teacher preparation programs are focused upon techniques, curriculum and classroom management; all are important. Administrator preparation programs are focused on the nuts and bolts, legal, personnel, financial, and curricular responsibilities, with the supervisory responsibilities limited to the 'how' of observation and evaluation.
Without studying, understanding and practicing the facets of feedback, the rush of the school day can contribute to a tilt from a reflective and positive feedback exchange to a shortcut, one way communication that may hold judgment or criticism. Teachers are given time in minutes to accomplish lesson objectives. It is much quicker for a teacher to mark a paper indicating what is wrong than having a feedback conversation. As a result, there can be a tendency to offer feedback more with negative than positive illustrations. In turn, the same happens to the teachers. Valuable feedback, positive and constructive, takes care, time and skill. It cannot be cut short. Skilled administrators and teachers who are skilled in the art of effective feedback create opportunities for growth.
Conversations Take Time
Conversations between supervisors and teachers and teachers and students, between people in any kind of relationship, hold the potential for empowerment and improvement. Educational environments are learning environments and learning environments call for humans, all, to be open, take risks, set and meet goals and grow together. These feedback conversations take time and know-how and can't be developed when rushing to the next task. Training and experience leave us well prepared to get things done, to meet objectives and in the service of time to correct errors and move on.
Work is the commonplace and feeds the enormous need in humans for getting things done; but also for money, respect, community, conflict, meaning, and spectacle (Whyte.p.19)
We want students to be engaged in their learning and teachers and leaders to become active participants in a learning community. We want leaders to invite and engage the entire learning community in decisions and in the journey forward. Effective leaders and teachers understand the effect feedback can have and pivot away from criticism toward the type of feedback Grant Wiggins wrote about in 2012:
Whether feedback is just there to be grasped or is provided by another person, helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.
Now Is the Time
With proper feedback, the learning environment becomes one of truth telling and trust building. It spawns growth, risk taking, learning from failure, and risk taking again. That is a foundation of 21st century life in and out of schools. It is good for adults and good for children. Take the examples of integrating technology, moving from a single subject course to a trans-disciplinary one, from teaching alone to teaching with a partner from the business or higher education world, or teaching an inclusion class with a special education partner. These are all changes in practice and come with some level of discomfort as the newness begins to unfold into a new practice.
These experiences are not for the teachers alone. These are now new teaching and learning practices that the leaders, who may have even been the ones to spark these changes, can best support by becoming a partner in the goal setting that feedback requires. Grant Wiggins defined the feedback process, following the goal setting, as being tangible, transparent, actionable, easily understandable, timely, ongoing, consistent, and measured as progress toward the agreed upon goal.
In the End
Feedback is not advice, nor is it evaluative. That is difficult in a world of work that seems to always not have enough time. But two things are clear. One is, we cannot expect formative assessment used in classrooms with students without considering the value of modeling it with teachers in the same way. Developing capacity of teachers and their students, improving practice, moving toward stated goals is a journey in which feedback can be the accelerator. It is something teachers and leaders can learn together. With all the time spent on evaluation of students, teachers, and principals, isn't it worth learning the art of effective feedback? Then, time spent has a better chance of bringing about a desired change... teachers and principals with growing and developing strengths and students who find more success in their work.
Whyte, D. (1994). The Heart Aroused. New York:Doubleday