A feedback story, as a student:
“You are a good writer. Would you consider tutoring students in writing at the Tutoring Center?”
Then, I was. A good writer, even a teacher of writing.
That was all it took.
I was a junior at Grand Valley State University. It is the only time I remember a teacher identifying a strength in such a specific way.
I was 20 years old.
A feedback story, as a young teacher:
In my first couple years of teaching, there were times when teacher leaders or administrators would recognize a strength they saw in me.
In those instances, I was driven to capitalize on that strength for the benefit of my students. I would read books, talk to others to get new ideas, take risks, and work hard to grow even stronger in that area.
When I was criticized by an administrator, I felt defeated, weak, and unsure I was in the right profession.
Through my experiences as a student and a young teacher, and now a leader, I learned that strengths-based feedback is the most powerful feedback. It has the greatest potential to affect continuous improvement, and isn’t that the goal in the first place?
Giving students and colleagues feedback about strengths empowers them. When we are strong, we feel like can accomplish anything. We experience joy through or work.
On the other hand, giving others criticism and making judgements helps them feel weak and defeated. When we are weak, it doesn’t feel like we can do anything. Everything feels overwhelming and we drag our feet to work.
Given these realities, how do we uplift the strength of others while promoting continuous improvement in our classrooms and schools? Does this mean we shy away from addressing concerns and growing in areas that need to be strengthened? Absolutely not. Our students and our staff deserve better than that.
How do we implement strengths-based feedback AND honest conversations about areas that need to improve? As a school leader, I believe the answers lies in learning together, asking the right questions of each other, and being an avid learner myself.
A different model of teacher observation
This year, my staff was open to a different model of classroom observations. Instead observing their classrooms and providing feedback just a couple times per year, they were open to shorter, monthly observations with feedback meetings within 24 hours after the observation. The goals are to identify strengths, and then to figure out a way to move forward together with a next step. The next step evolves out of the feedback conversation.
These same concepts can be applied to the classroom--students benefit from timely feedback that identifies strengths and next steps just as much as educators do. We want the same things for our students as we want for ourselves...to feel empowered, to believe that they can accomplish anything, and to find joy in the work they do at school.
The story of the new observation model we are implementing is certainly to be continued. The real testament of the effectiveness will come at the end of the school year, when we reflect and provide feedback on whether the new model added value to teaching and student learning.
I can tell you without a doubt that I have grown so much as an instructional leader based upon the new model. I know so much more about the teaching and learning in the classrooms at our school. I have always been in classrooms and out and about in the school a lot (see my post about my standing desk), but this year my focus and purpose has shifted to more frequently watching teaching and student cognitive engagement. Our feedback conversations open the door to learning together, and having those conversations monthly not only fuels our relationships but helps us get to know each other as educators and to share ideas.
Forward motion together
I observe teachers and have follow up conversations to add value to student learning, to highlight and uplift teacher strengths, and to learn together as educational professionals. The strengths-based feedback model empowers students and staff rather than weakens them; it does not invite fear into the environment, rather it invites collaboration and risk-taking.
What successes have you had with strengths-based feedback, and what challenges has it brought?
The new model of observation and feedback was inspired by what I learned with Debbie McFalone during a Leverage Leadership training series. Leverage Leadership is written by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo.