Choosing When to Give Feedback

As educators, our days are full of opportunities for giving reflective feedback. Typically, one of two situations appears as the time for giving feedback. One is the cycle of listen and give feedback; the other is observe and give feedback. Both are opportunities for growth.

Listen and Give Feedback. Listening and giving feedback is an opportunity for growth that consumes much of our day. A teacher stops you in the hall and says, “Is this okay for my first parent newsletter?” Once we move from the distraction that the question can be answered “yes” or “no” along with the temptation to give the quick response, “Good job!” we hesitate because we are reminded that this kind of feedback is short lived. It lacks the specificity of what constitutes a good job. Not only does the teacher leave with the uncertainty of what was good, the likelihood of repeating or sustaining the behavior or action is diminished. One option for our feedback may be a value/value potential statement coupled with a reflective question such as, “Knowing you want a consistent message to parents, what feedback are your teammates offering you regarding this plan?” Another option is to ask a clarifying question such as, “Who collaborated with you on this grade level information?” This question accomplishes two goals. It gains clarity about potential partners and holds up the expectation that the grade level was included in the development of the content. Depending on the response to the clarifying question, a reflective question may be, “How are you wanting to ensure you and your colleagues are on the same page?”

Now, it’s your turn. You receive an email from a fellow colleague asking for feedback on his/her plan for an upcoming professional learning day with staff.

What value/value potential statement would recognize the effort/core value of this person? _______________________________

What clarifying question, if any, might you ask? _______________________________

What reflective question for possibility will “push” the colleague’s thinking for additional considerations? _______________________________

Check Up – Ask someone to give you feedback on your language to ensure internalization of presumption of positive intent.

Observe and Give Feedback. The second situation where feedback can motivate and inspire growth is after a walk-through or a formal observation. This is where reflective feedback holds the potential to make the greatest difference. Many of you tell us about observation processes you are currently using in your schools. Often the conversation rolls around to the fact that the observation is well and good; yet, there is uncertainty about the language to use in the conversation following the observation. Because we know the potential for real learning IS the conversation, reflective feedback becomes even more critical. We know language matters because it will keep us engaged and listening or it will push us away. Hmm!  Here’s the real dilemma! A threat state is an inherent part of feedback. So, what can we do (say) that immediately moves the conversation to a safer state? One possibility is we can feed status with a value/value potential statement. Again, the brain calms down and we are all breathing again! Here are other possibilities that come from the work of Jenny Rogers in her Coaching Skills book.

  • Ask for permission, when appropriate – “Knowing you are working to incorporate language that presumes positive intent, what data would you like about the questions you asked?” or “Because we are all working to include literacy strategies in our classroom, what feedback would you like on your word wall activities?”
  • Stick to the facts – Use the specific data you have collected to offer feedback. Separate fact from opinion. “Of the ten questions you asked, half presumed positive intent. How might you flip the remaining five?” or “Of the ten questions you asked in this lesson, 2 were asked of girls with the remainder going to the boys. What system will ensure equitable opportunity to respond for your class?”
  • Avoid assumptions – We know about assuming! It can really get us in trouble. Making up our own stories about what is really going on or interpreting through our lens can be dangerous to hearing the real message. As a result, our feedback can be off-base and not heard because it may come across as advice.
  • Offer as “the truth” vs. “THE TRUTH” – When feedback is offered as “the truth” it comes across tentatively as possibility rather than the certainty of something being in fact “THE TRUTH” with ALL CAPS. Even a paraphrase, “You’re angry,” stated as if it were fact can affect me differently that you saying, “You seem to have strong feelings about this,” or even, “You seem angry about this.” It’s left to me to confirm or not; it’s possibility rather than a given. Another example might be when you are talking with another person and you sense there are two conversations going on at the same time. For the sake of clarity, you know you want to raise the intuition. It might sound like this, “It seems we might be talking about two things in this conversation. Let’s just put them on the table and see if there is any truth to that possibility.”

Another possibility, given today’s focus on transforming evaluation systems to the growth mindset is:

  • Know the teacher’s growth goal – Many of the current evaluation systems have a goal-setting component. Learn what is important to the teacher and you will have insight into the language of your value/value potential statements and your reflective questions.

Again, it’s your turn. Your campus has a peer review process for visiting classrooms to observe for specific areas of focus. High engagement for all students is the goal everyone is working on. On today’s walk-through visit, data was collected to show that three students were off-task without redirection for the duration of the visit.

What value/value potential statement would you say to this teacher? _______________________________

What clarifying question, if any, might you ask? _______________________________

What reflective question will hold up the data for the teacher in a question that presumes he or she wants to take action? _______________________________

Check Up – Ask someone to give you feedback on your language to ensure internalization of presumption of positive intent.

Feedback and coaching are the dynamic duo for promoting growth!

What evidence are you seeing that your feedback is growing others?

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Karen Anderson, PCC, M. Ed.

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