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Are you getting in the way of the feedback you really need to grow?

It is questionable whether teachers and leaders are given regular feedback in order to grow professionally. When teachers work with students feedback is given in most lessons throughout the learning journey. The same does not happen for the adults in the school. We need to change this.

When busy, teacher feedback is often the first thing that drops off a school leader’s plate. Teachers, in the classroom, establish peer and self-feedback opportunities for students yet we do not manage to provide enough of this for the adults. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are providing a good avenue for peer teacher feedback, though a genuine PLC culture is difficult to achieve and many schools have seen their PLC attempts fall by the wayside, though it is great to see schools that are successfully persevering in developing a PLC culture, as the benefits are enormous.

The problem for both teachers and school leaders in not receiving feedback is that when feedback comes in a critical form, we often struggle to deal with it. The feedback often arrives late and its timing, in light of where we may be at, is often off. As a result of this, teachers and leaders do not always take the scarce critical feedback that comes their way particularly well, unless the feedback is positive.

For a moment, let’s flip this around, to the perspective of the leader, or colleague, giving the feedback. Giving feedback that is positive is easy. Most of us like to be affirmed, especially in a profession that is challenging and one that we are deeply passionate about. Delivering feedback that is not positive, however, is far more confronting; we are often afraid of how the other person will react. For this reason, we may choose not provide each other with the critical feedback that will make us better. As a result, in not receiving essential feedback, we do not get to know the habits we have that frustrate our colleagues. We do not always find out how a particular action we have taken may have affected another person, as the person who should give us this feedback is afraid of doing so, possibly because of the way we appear to them.

Feedback that involves any sort of criticism requires the strength of character willing to have difficult, courageous conversations. That said, the role of giving feedback is not just about the person communicating the feedback, it is also about the person on the receiving end. Note that not all criticism can be framed constructively and we do need to hear some home truths in order to help us move forward.

If we take some time to reflect on our own behaviour, this could be a reason why we are not getting the necessary feedback that we need to improve. We, therefore, need to be more open to inviting feedback and view it as a key stepping stone to helping us grow as education professionals. Even if we were to invite feedback, we may only get the nice stuff, so it is often worth asking either, or both, of the following questions:

  1. Can you please tell me one thing that I do that you would like me to stop?
  2. What do you think should be an area of high priority for me to become a better educator and / or colleague?

Be prepared, you may receive some tough responses, or some soft ones, but nonetheless it is an opportunity for further professional growth. If you only receive soft responses, they may go a long way to showing you how others may feel in terms of how you may react to any criticism that is offered.

 

Richard Bruford View All

Richard is currently Secondary School Principal of Suzhou Singapore International School, one of China's leading international schools. He leads workshops across the Asia-Pacific region for the International Baccalaureate in the areas of pedagogical leadership and approaches to teaching and learning. Richard consults with schools on the topics of school improvement and effective implementation and use of technology.

With a background in public and independent school education in the UK and Australia, Richard is enjoying his international school adventure in China. He is passionate about developing and supporting educational leaders, as it is essential to improving all schools.

Richard is a proud family man and feels lucky to be married to Kim and father of their son Austin.

In his spare time Richard enjoys to swim, bike and run and is a now retired football player and coach (with occasional guest appearances)

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