"Feedback is the breakfast of champions." Kenneth Blanchard
For administrators, giving feedback to teachers can be challenging. This week I had two very different conversations regarding classroom practice that had me reflecting on the process of providing feedback, and how it is received by teachers. Feedback is something that I have valued throughout my life as a student, athlete, teacher, learning coordinator and administrator. For those that are open to feedback it is a powerful tool for growth. However, the challenging conversations that occur when discussing classroom practice can be good, bad and even ugly.
The culture that is prevalent in the school will have an impact on how these conversations go, but as the leader you must instill the idea that feedback is always for support. Create that culture by valuing your staff as the professionals they are and demonstrate that you are willing to take risks and lead by example. Of course you will most likely come across those that are unwilling to change or be open to feedback. Thankfully they are few and far between. Most teachers I have had the privilege to work with are constantly looking for ways to improve classroom practice because they understand the shared priority of student's first. There are so many elements that can be discussed when describing feedback. Below are my observations and advice for anyone that needs to give feedback.
- Be prepared. Before providing feedback it is important to plan where, and how you want the conversation to go. My philosophy is to enter into the conversation with the concept of "win-win". I win by providing explicit feedback on how to improve classroom practice, and the teacher wins by learning something in a safe, caring environment.
- Ask for clarification about your observations. This sets the tone that you want to know the entire context, that you are listening to the teacher.
- Make sure the feedback is timely. Having a conversation weeks after your observation doesn't support the teacher, or the students.
- Preface the conversation with the idea that you are both learning something together. A recent article I read had great advice to start difficult conversations with questions like "How do you feel that lesson went?" or "Where do you think things went wrong today?"
- Have resources such as websites, videos and curriculum documents ready to help support the teacher. It is also important, however, not to overwhelm them with a lot of information. Let them take what they think will help them implement change in their classroom.
- Have a plan for further professional development like visiting other classrooms. This will involve talking to other administrators or teachers about their willingness to lend their expertise and support.
- Keep the conversation about practices that work best for students.
- Be explicit in the conversation about pedagogy, curriculum and best practice.
- Know what you are talking about. As the learning leader in the building it's your job.
- Follow-up with a note of appreciation to let the teacher know that they are a valued professional.
- Letting the teacher direct the conversation to something other than the feedback you are trying to give. This is a defense mechanism to deflect from the issue. Keep the focus on learning something together that will benefit them and ultimately the students.
- Recognize when teachers feel the conversation is about them. It's not, it is always about students first. It's at these times in conversations that things can get heated so it's important that you recognize when teachers are feeling this way.
- Unable to answer questions can really take the wind out of your sails. It demonstrates that you, as the learning leader, are not knowledgeable on the topic. It also promotes a lack of confidence in your leadership in the eyes of staff. In a sense you are nullifying the feedback you are trying to give, therefore be prepared.
- If you are unfortunate to have been involved in a conversation that hasn't gone well you'll probably agree that it happens quickly. This is when you need to know how to end the conversation. Suggesting that you meet at a later date will give both parties time to reflect on what happened.
- Body language is usually your first indication that the teacher is uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation. Recognize those signs and consider how to end the conversation.
Feedback is something that we receive everyday. It can come from colleagues, administrators, students, parents even computers and software. What we do with the feedback is what's important. We can use it to grow professionally or personally or we can let it drag us down. If we build a culture in our schools of a shared vision and leadership, one of putting students first, feedback will improve all of us.
As always I welcome your thoughts, ideas and feedback.