In Children Should be Seen AND Heard (Part 1), I introduced "the one idea that changed the climate in my classroom 180 degrees for the better": a student feedback system. And now some guidelines for implementing this system in your classroom:
- Allow anonymity. Kids (adults too) tend to be more forthright with feedback when they don't have to identify themselves. So give them the option of submitting feedback forms anonymously--which my students usually did except when they were really mad at me, and wrote their names all over the forms.
- Post completed forms. Establish a board or wall in the back of your classroom so that students can read each other's feedback and your responses. Also give students the option of keeping their dialogue with you private--I included the following note on my feedback forms: For a private response, include your name and "private" beneath your comments.
- Set limits. Whether it relates to language or scope, establish up front what is and isn't acceptable for feedback forms in your classroom (e.g, I refused to publish or respond to comments about people other than me.)
- Focus on substance over style. What students think or feel about your classroom is more important than how they express those thoughts or feelings. So resist the temptation to correct students' word choice, grammar, etc., and respond instead only to their message.
- Respond honestly but also graciously, open-mindedly, and respectfully. Accept students' feedback rather than refute it, even when it may be inaccurate and insulting. Here's my response to a student who said I acted like a racist:
I completely respect your comments even though they hurt my feelings. I do NOT accept racism either, so please let me know what behavior of mine has given you this impression.
- Respond neutrally. Avoid value statements, including those that students would find validating such as "great point." View student feedback in this context as neither positive nor negative, neither right nor wrong, neither better nor worse. Feedback is simply feedback.
- Ask for clarity. Sometimes what students say is less important than why they're saying it. So be sure to ask students to write back with more information when their comments can have multiple or hidden meanings. I learned, for example, that "bored" meant different things for different students, including confused, afraid (e.g., math phobia), and yes, in some cases truly bored.
- Inject humor. Humor, in good taste of course, is great for classroom culture. Here's my response to a student who said I acted like his/her little brother:
I would have to see how your brother acts to completely understand your comments. I bet he's a cool guy!!
- Stand your ground. Students may see your openness to their feedback as a chance to always get what they want if they put enough pressure on you. So be sure to resist this pressure when what students want is not in their best interest. And again, do this respectfully and, if appropriate, lightheartedly. Here's my response to a student's suggestion that Friday should be a free day in my classroom:
Every day is free for you, but I have thought about charging $5 admission. But seriously, if you have ideas for fun educational activities/games, I will consider them.
This point about standing your ground reminds me of a student comment that really captures why feedback forms had such a positive impact on my classroom: "I like it when you give us a chance to speak for what we want."
That's right, the chance to speak for what they wanted. Whether or not I actually gave students what they wanted was irrelevant. What mattered was that I gave them a voice, and dignified what they had to say even when I disagreed with it. And my reward for doing so was the many benefits I described in Children Should be Seen AND Heard (Part 1). Teachers I've coached have similarly been rewarded for truly believing that students should be seen AND heard, and backing up that belief with the student feedback system I've described here. What about you?
Image provided by GECC, LLC with permission
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