Another year is upon us and many individuals may have made resolutions to kick off a successful start to the new year. We may be wondering if we are going to achieve the resolution. It also is a consideration of if we are effective along the way. Guess what!?!? We also like encouragement of our progress. When we feel supported, we are open to listening. When we are able to listen, we are open to feedback. It is all connected like a puzzle. It also starts with a positive mindset.
How can I be supportive and give feedback at the same time?
I crave feedback. Considering the innovative learning mindset I have, I always enjoy learning something new. I also like to improve. The characteristics of the feedback I recall being most helpful follow a trend – supportive. I like to hear what I am specifically doing well and the relevance of the tips. Most importantly having a choice of next steps. How can all of that fit together? Here are a few tips that promote giving and receiving feedback effectively.
Tip #1: Think Positive Thoughts
There is something to be said about starting your day feeling like it is going to be a good day versus having the thought that it’s going to be tough to get through the day. More than likely, the positive thinking will promote an easier day or at least make the issues that arise easier to deal with. What is interesting about humans, is the need to think on the bright side. I remember promoting this with my grandmother right after she had a severe heart attack and was in ICU. We started a notebook and I encouraged her to think of 3 things she was thankful for each day. It helped her. She progressed and gained enough strength to eventually go home.
Some of the teachers I work with on a day-to-day basis will also tell you that I encourage a similar thought process. We even sometimes text each other what we are thankful for when we know it is going to be a more challenging day. Recently, I was on the phone with my sister. She asked if I wanted to join my nieces and nephews in their morning ritual on their way to school. I bet you can’t guess what she asked them!?!? What is one thing you are thankful for this morning? Both, because you have to copy off each other as young kids, said, “Aunt Amanda!” I smiled from ear-to-ear, while thinking all kids need to uncover this practice.
How does this all connect to being a teacher? If we can remind ourselves of the joys of being a teacher then a natural by-product would be the hope of making a difference with our students. Being a model of positive thinking for our students, then the domino effect of positive thinking promotes student learning.
Reflection: How can you promote positive thoughts with students, colleagues and yourself?
Tip #2: Consider How You Listen
Listening can help us to understand students (and others) and maintain relationships, so that learning can take place. The work of Cornelius Minor has intrigued me when it comes to really listening to students. He outlines listening in three parts. First, is the act of listening itself, more specifically, hearing. Second, we have a bit of thinking to do where we seek to understand. Finally, because of what is heard, we then ask questions. How do I make revisions to my teaching and my classroom community? How do I adjust to how everything around me operates? How do we listen to understand what students are communicating? So, I think of these parts in three easy steps.
Consider the types of support other teachers you work with may need as you listen, especially beginning teachers. I find the way that Tina Boogren describes the types of support to be most interesting. More importantly three of the four: physical, instructional and emotional. Do your co-workers need help with physical aspects, like the copier? What about instructional needs, like how to teach a specific reading strategy? Or, is it emotional needs, like struggling with how to help a student who is experiencing trauma? Whatever the type of support that is needed, we have to first listen and then respond with feedback.
Tip #3: Be Receivers of feedback
I first heard of giving strengths-based feedback when I began my role as a coach. I learned to use a 3-step process with Diane Sweeney. First was asking clarifying questions. Then, value what is working followed by uncovering possibilities for next steps. I have since taken those parts and essentially made them a part of many conversations. I really like to think of the value component as a way to recognize a colleague’s strengths and success with their students as a focus. The last part is very much a way to brainstorm with a colleague by helping them devise a goal and next step(s).
Have you ever heard of the sandwich approach? Most know it as a negative or area of need shared in between two positive comments, not all necessarily about the same focus. Well, I may still use that at times, like with my husband! I have since taken that approach and combined it with using some of the strengths-based feedback parts with new teachers and mentors, but in more of a two-step process. I have found that mentors and mentees know each other on a more in-depth level and may not need the clarification step to occur or is more likely to be blended into the brainstorm phase.
Consider the first step of recognizing to be more about a specific skill or action and that is relevant in the moment. Also, try to use language that is focused around students. A favorite of mine is, ‘Students really responded to…’ The second step of brainstorming includes collaborating around ideas based upon the recognition. Of course, my favorite action of setting a goal can then take place.
Giving feedback using this process with a student-centered focus can then support a teacher in making amazing growth with students. The first step is one of the most important because it sets the stage for the recipient to be positive in their thinking. Plus, we all need to know what we are doing well so that we can continue that practice. More than anything, it helps our mindset to be open to hearing further ideas.
The work around feedback is neverending. I find that adding to our toolbox of supporting colleagues is not only important, but continuous. We need the encouragement and support of others to learn and grow. A part of that support is not only giving feedback, but having collaborative conversations, or brainstorming. So, look out for more in that area!
- Boogren, T. (2015). Supporting beginning teachers. Bloomington, Indiana: Marzano Research.
- Minor, C. (2019). We got this: Equity, access, and the quest to be who our students need us to be. Heinemann.
- Sweeney, D., & Harris, L. (2020). The essential guide to student-centered coaching: What every K-12 coach and school leader needs to know. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.