There really isn't a secret formula for the best way to provide feedback to teachers—different kinds of teachers require different kinds of feedback. This can make the challenge of giving adequate but constructive feedback hard for those who provide it. Teaching can feel like a very personal and even private endeavor for teachers, so any critique or criticism about instruction can feel more personal than it probably should. However, feedback is critical for teachers to have. We know that without effective feedback, it is very hard to improve in any meaningful way. Even though some teachers may not be comfortable or accustomed to receiving it, they still need it in order to improve their practice.
What are some ways we can provide feedback that works for all different kinds of teachers? Without a one-size-fits-all model, it can feel like an impossible task.
The Importance of a Growth Mindset
For starters, it’s important to make sure that all adults in the building have a growth mindset. This should be firmly established and administrators should ensure there's a working understanding of what a “growth mindset” actually means. By having this in place, it helps to create the desire to receive feedback from the teacher's point of view. Teachers who want to grow will crave feedback in order to improve.
It is also critical to maintain a focus on a common goal. If there is clarity around the core concept that teachers are working to improve, they will expect to get feedback on that concept. For example, a principal might describe a plan to increase positive interactions between teachers and students. When the principal then gives feedback to the teacher about this, it doesn’t feel like an attack, but more like feedback—progress monitoring, if you will—about the common goal that is in place.
This can be described as a third point communication—one that is neither in the hands of the teacher or the administrator providing the feedback. It can be a data point or a video of a lesson. It is an objective piece of data that can be referenced by both parties to discuss progress toward a goal.
Finding the Right Model
Even with these strategies for how to provide better data, there still needs to be a core relationship between the person giving the feedback and the person receiving it. Just as there must be a mutual respect between teachers and students in order for good feedback to occur, the same is true for teachers. If the person receiving the feedback does not trust the person giving it or believe that they have their best interest at heart, the feedback may fall on deaf ears. Those providing feedback need to have strong working relationships built on trust with those they are providing feedback to.
Differentiating feedback for different types of teachers is also very important. New and veteran teachers require a very specific kind of approach. Elementary teachers probably have a different need for feedback than secondary teachers. Some teachers love getting feedback and others are more hesitant. In a way, this circles back to having a trusting relationship. The administrator or coach should know the teacher well enough to understand which kind of feedback they will benefit most from. This does not mean that those teachers who don’t appreciate the feedback don’t still need to hear it. Some teachers respond poorly because they do not want to improve or change (look back to the paragraph on growth mindset). All teachers need feedback—some just need it in different ways or methods than others.
Finally, we need to consider the question of what kind of feedback will actually help the teacher to improve. Just like with students, feedback should be immediate, clear, frequent, and direct. This is the downfall of most evaluation tools—there may be days or even weeks between the actual observation and the feedback provided. The best model for providing feedback is to coach alongside the teacher. This kind of teaching feedback moves the needle more than any other. Side-by-side coaching gives teachers real-time feedback and the ability to reflect and correct right away when something comes up. This can be intense for the coach and the teacher, and can at times be a little awkward, but it does have great results and helps to change practices more quickly.
Giving feedback to teachers is not a simple process. By knowing the teacher, his or her strengths, needs, willingness to improve, and style of teaching, it is possible to improve instruction in a meaningful way.
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