Teachers are given a great deal of trust in giving feedback to students. Feedback is crucial to supporting students grow and develop in becoming lifelong learners able to take on the responsibility of making a positive contribution to society and the environment. Feedback that students receive from teachers is not just about their academic progress, it is often more than that. As educators, focused on a holistic education, feedback given to students will often include comments regarding both individual and collaborative behaviour, particularly motivation and effort, along with other learner attributes.
Yet, while we so often give students feedback, how often do we seek feedback from our students? During my time working in schools, I have seen only a small percentage of teachers, both formally and informally, invite feedback from students. In recently suggesting to a a colleague that they ask their students for some feedback, the teacher replied that “the students will only give me nice answers, which is not very helpful.” Over the years, I have heard similar responses from teachers who do not wish to seek meaningful feedback from their students. Which is why, I believe, we need to push this a bit more in our schools.
I think it is important, however, that as education leaders we seek feedback ourselves, so that we model the way for teachers to embrace the need to get feedback to support professional growth and development. This could be either in creating avenues for teachers to give us feedback about our leadership, or, if the schedule allows, take a class and demonstrate how feedback can be collected from students and utilized to improve learning for those students in that class.
It does, however, take courage to seek feedback because there is the risk that one will receive comments that they do not like or do not agree with. This, however, is not reason enough to avoid soliciting feedback. The fact that we wish to improve the education that we provide for our students should be reason enough to put our personal insecurities aside.
In fact, one of the most powerful moments that I had as a teacher was when students of one particular class, back in 2002, gave me some really honest feedback, which allowed me to reflect on my behaviour towards a small group of students in that class. While most of the feedback that I received was very positive, some students pointed out that I became frustrated with 3 or 4 less motivated students in the class and they felt that that I did not make myself as approachable to those students as I did to the other students in the class. This struck a chord with me, as they were right. Upon reflection, while I did not intentionally set out to make myself less approachable to this small group of students, this possibly was a ‘blind spot’ for me and I most likely carried an air of frustration towards them. I learned from that one piece of student feedback that every student mattered in my class and that I needed to persevere with them and find the necessary means to try to understand the students I teach to better support them.
As educators we need to remember that to improve learning, feedback cannot just be a one-way process from teacher to student. We need teachers with courage and dedication to ask their students what they thought of a lesson, a course, and, most importantly, what they think of their teacher.