Do we not ask for feedback because we are afraid of what we might hear?
When I taught in the classroom, I did end of term surveys almost every year. In my new role in the Learning Commons, I regularly seek formal and informal feedback from students and teachers. That feedback is what I use to determine what to keep doing and what to change up or toss out. Personally, I’m ok with feedback and see it as a valuable tool. I fear far too many of us only like seeking feedback if it confirms our actions or beliefs. Having said that, I think there are things we must keep in mind as we seek feedback from our students or peers.
You Must Respond
I often think of the beloved “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” books when discussing feedback. If you ask someone for feedback, you better be prepared to respond to it. If a majority of my students are sharing with me something is not working for them, I need to respond. Be clear, responding does not always mean changing something or getting rid of something. Sometimes the response is simply leading a discussion with students about why we are doing some of the things we are doing. This can be a great way for teachers to reflect and reaffirm the work we are doing.
However, if there is something not sitting right with kids or teachers, responding is 100% necessary. Administrators who seek feedback from staff but do nothing with the input, are doomed to have an environment where trust is lost and negativity will breed. The same goes for teachers who ignore the feedback of students. It doesn’t take long for a kid to realize their voice doesn’t matter and their thoughts are not valued. Change based on feedback is not always imperative, but a response certainly is.
If as teachers we can’t handle the tough truth, we may not be cut out for the work. What would your reaction be if a kid said your class was the worst part of their day? How about the parent who emails you to say your communication is lacking and makes them feel left out? If a colleague criticizes a project you’ve come up with, how will you react? What will you do when your student test data indicates your students are not making enough growth compared to your teaching peers’ classes?
All of these are forms of feedback teachers often receive. It has been my experience, the best teachers are those who look at each one of them as an opportunity to learn and grow. Rather than make excuses or place blame, they own the feedback and take steps to move forward and improve.
Consider the Source
When we reach out and gather feedback we do have to be careful when thinking about the source. Yes, I know I just stated we have to take the feedback seriously even if it hurts and we don’t like it. However, we also have to be mindful that some people are never happy and that includes kids. We will always have those who are unhappy with our work and we can’t take every single comment, note or feedback personally. What we must do is see every element of feedback as an opportunity to learn about ourselves or the person who left the feedback. Both will lead to deeper understanding of the work we are doing.
As teachers, we often ask our students to reflect on their learning and in many cases, get feedback from their classmates. If we know the value of this practice, we must embrace it as educators if we truly want to improve at what we are doing. There will be times where the feedback will hurt to hear. There will also be times when the feedback will reaffirm the great work we are doing. Both have a value and both must be sought out.