Let's be honest, asking for feedback from colleagues is not the easiest thing to do. I find myself to be my own worst critic, so I do not know why I am always so nervous about asking my co-workers for feedback (in fact, they are a usually easier on me than I am on myself). I think the idea of someone else “judging” us or our work is what makes most of us nervous about putting ourselves out there.
Here is where many of us operate under the misguided notion about what effective feedback is and what it is not. Effective feedback should not include judgments or advice. A judgment is an opinion about a person or their work. Advice would include recommendations on how to do something.
WHAT IS EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK IN EDUCATION?
This post explores what effective feedback in education looks like and why principals and specialists should seek it out rather than be afraid of receiving it.
According to Grant Wiggins, effective feedback is, "information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal."
I subscribe to this definition of effective feedback because it focuses on reaching a goal. Feedback does not include judgments or advice, but rather focuses on a person's attempt(s) to attain a goal.
In Seven Keys to Effective Feedback by Grant Wiggins he explains the seven essentials to “effective feedback.”
Helpful feedback is:
tangible and transparent
Sadly, Grant Wiggins passed away on May 26, 2015, at the age of 64. I first became familiar with his work after I read his book Understanding by Design several years ago and I have been a fan ever since.
In honor of Wiggins’s passing, his colleague, friend and co-author of Understanding by Design, Jay McTighe, wrote a blog post entitled “Three Lessons for Teachers from Grant Wiggins”.
Lesson 1: Always keep the end in mind
Design curriculum, assessments and learning experiences "backwards." Start at the end with your learning goals or intended outcome and plan "backwards."
Lesson 2: Feedback is Key to Successful Learning and Performance
Truly effective feedback
Describes a student's specific strengths and weaknesses
- Uses student-friendly language
Gives the students opportunities for self-adjustment
Students should know exactly what’s on target and what needs to be fixed.
Lesson 3: Have Empathy for the Learner
Wiggins believed "we must strive unendingly to be empathetic to the learner's conceptual struggles if we are to succeed." McTighe paraphrases Wiggins, saying "Grant reminded us of the value of being sensitive to learners who do not have our expertise (and sometimes not even an interest) in the subject matter that we know so well."
Even though both Wiggins and McTighe were writing about effective feedback for students, I think the same basic ideas can be applied to principals and specialists as well.
USING EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK STRATEGIES WITH TEACHERS
Using SMART Goals, principals and specialists can also use the effective feedback strategies discussed above with their staff,
STRATEGY 1: SET A 'SMART' GOAL
Begin the school year by letting your staff know that you will be looking for feedback from them throughout the year. Explain that this feedback will be based on a personal goal of yours. Be sure to have your goal ready to share with the staff.
Your goal should be specific (S) to you, it should be measurable (M), and it should be reasonably attainable (A). You should also choose a goal that is realistic (R). Finally, your goal should be timely (T).
Even though it is a personal goal for you, if attained it should impact the whole school community in a positive way.
STRATEGY 2: BE TRANSPARENT
Explain your goal and WHY you chose that goal to work on. My best administrators have been the ones that really make themselves vulnerable and available to their staff. They are the ones that can say, "This is what I am working on it and this is why I need to work on it." I find these are the principals that develop the best rapport with their staff.
STRATEGY 3: MAKE YOUR GOAL ACTIONABLE
Tell your staff what your plan is to reach this goal. Be sure to think about the steps and actions that will enable you to reach your goal. Explain to the staff that they will be the ones holding you accountable for following through with your action plan.
STRATEGY 4: USER-FRIENDLY IS A MUST
Feedback for goal attainment must be easy to use or your staff will be reluctant to use it. You may want to gather feedback by using a rubric with a checklist, a brief form, an online survey, and so on. The more user-friendly a feedback vehicle is, the better.
STRATEGY 5 AND 6: TIMELY AND ONGOING
Do not wait until the end of the year to ask for feedback. Feedback should be timely (T), so ask your staff to fill out your checklist, form, or survey periodically throughout the year. They may also send you feedback as they see you taking steps or actions towards your goal. Note that your action plan may need to be adjusted based on initial and ongoing feedback.
STRATEGY 7: ASK FOR CONSISTENCY
Effective feedback needs to be consistent, accurate, and trustworthy. Let your staff know that you do not expect anything less from them than honesty. It is their honest feedback that will help you attain your goal.
Research has shown that effective feedback in education can have a significant impact on achievement. By looking to our colleagues for feedback about reaching a goal, we will be that much closer to attaining it. The best way to enhance performance and achieve goals is to seek feedback from teachers and those around us who are knowledgeable and trustworthy..
Available for download is the SMART Goal Map. This planning sheet can be used by almost any professional for mapping out the road to successful goal attainment.