Providing feedback to teachers can be a tricky prospect at times. Teaching, and instruction in particular, is a very personal undertaking. Getting up in front of a room of children takes a great deal of nerve at first, so as teachers become more and more accustomed to it, they tend to become more and more fixed in their approach to it.
This is a generalization, of course—not all teachers are like this. Some of the best teachers I have worked with love feedback and work hard to reflect upon and improve their instruction.
So, for these teachers, how can principals and coaches help them to become even better? Here are a few suggestions:
Brainstorm and Generate Ideas: A simple coaching session with a teacher is a great place to start as they are looking to improve. I have used a model in the past where we reflect on four different aspects of the classroom: the environment, the learner, the curriculum, and the instruction. By going through each of these, teachers might see areas of strength and areas where a specific focus could greatly help.
Collaborate on an Area of Focus: In my opinion, the area of focus for a teacher should come from them. They might not see every blind spot in the room, but with some time for reflection, teachers can typically determine something that they want feedback on. This is an important distinction to make for those of us who provide feedback. It isn't necessarily an area of weakness for a teacher—I’ve had teachers ask me before to come help with a new piece of technology they want to use or give feedback about a student in the room. These aren't necessarily bad things going on in as much as they are areas the teacher feels feedback would help them improve. Remember, we are talking about good and great teachers here who probably have learned to manage around any weaknesses that they have. For newer teachers or teachers who struggle, the feedback might have to be more targeted and direct.
Provide a Mirror for That Focus Area: After the teacher has chosen an area of focus, try not to become an expert in whatever you are observing. By simply providing a mirror for the teacher, it can help them to improve. Give the teacher objective feedback on what you see, how it goes, and how students respond. If appropriate, you can provide some naive questions about what is going on to stimulate the thinking of the teacher who is getting the feedback. An example is, "Why did you group the students the way you did?" There isn't a right answer; it is simply for the teacher to think about why they did something a certain way.
Become the Marie Kondo of Education: If you haven't seen Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix, you may not understand the reference. Marie Kondo is a Japanese woman who comes to homes to help them de-clutter and tidy up their houses. Much of what she shares on the show is helpful to the homeowners, but it looks like common sense from the outside. Her simple suggestions of throwing things away—things we don't use—have a big impact on the people who are organizing. I think the real power in what she does is that she is simply providing a second set of eyes in the home. She suggests to move a shelf to create more space for something and it seems like a no-brainer, but for the people living in the home for all those years, they were never able to "see" it. This is what outside feedback can provide for teachers—simply a second set of eyes in the room to help them "see" things that could be improved. Not all suggestions work for every person, but overall, getting feedback from the new vantage point is tremendously helpful.
"Stir the Pot" of Instructional Skills in the Building: I recently attended a training in which we used a collaboration strategy called "stir the pot." After a set period of time, each group would send one person clockwise to another group. On the next rotation, a different person would move again. This created a "stirring" of the room where groups were always having new ideas injected into them. This can easily happen in a school as well.
These are just a few ideas to help our best teachers become even better. Part of what makes a teacher great is his/her ability to reflect in order to continuously improve. By providing a structure to this improvement cycle, teachers can maximize their learning and improve their impact.
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