Written by Christophe Mullings
Feedback is an important and necessary part of any educator’s career path. Whether they’re in their first, fifth or fifteenth year of teaching, feedback from senior leaders and peers is critical to identifying performance weaknesses and strengths while providing teachers with opportunities to grow and develop their practice. What’s more, it often improves communication and better understanding of expectations.
But there is a world of difference between just giving someone feedback and giving them effective feedback.
What is effective feedback?
“It’s the quality of the feedback rather than its existence or absence that determines its power.” – Stiggins et al (2004).
Professor John Hattie has proven that effective feedback is the most important factor impacting on student progress. For the same reasons, effective feedback can also be a powerful tool for teacher’s professional learning and development.
Unlike simple feedback, effective feedback is developmental and encourages behaviour change. For feedback to be effective, it must be meaningful and personalised with one-off judgements avoided.
The key to giving effective feedback isn’t how much time you dedicate to doing it, but the quality of the information that you give.
To make a coaching session as beneficial as possible, any feedback given needs to be as effective as it can be. So, whether you’re giving effective feedback to teachers or to students, here are 5 tips to help you get it right.
1. Goal oriented
The point of feedback is to give people information about their progress towards a goal. So, if your feedback is going to be effective, it needs to have a clear connection to the learning or professional goal of the person.
It must also let them know how close they are to achieving that goal and offer them the best next steps to take in order to achieve that goal.
2. Tangible and Transparent
Any useful feedback involves not only a clear goal, but also tangible results related to the goal. For example, the goal could be for the teacher to increase student engagement. The tangible results related to the goal would be if students are highly attentive, somewhat attentive or inattentive to the teaching.
Sometimes, even when the information is tangible and transparent, teachers don’t get it, either because they don’t look for it or because they are too busy performing to focus on the effects. For instance, new teachers are sometimes so busy concentrating on ‘teaching’ that they fail to notice if students are listening or learning.
That’s why, in addition to feedback from coaches or other observers, video recordings can help them to see things that they may not notice as they teach.
“I recommend that all teachers videotape their own classes at least once a month. It was a transformative experience for me when I did it as a beginning teacher. Concepts that had been crystal clear to me when I was teaching seemed opaque and downright confusing on tape – captured also in the many quizzical looks on the faces of my students, which I had missed in the moment.” – Grant Wiggins.
Effective feedback also provides actionable information. Therefore, comments like ‘Good job!’ and ‘You did that wrong’ are not feedback at all because they don’t specify what the teacher should do more or less of next time.
To be an effective coach, you need to work hard to carefully observe and comment on what you see based on the teacher’s goals. Make sure you point out what went right as well as what didn’t work.
So, instead of simply saying ‘The students were not engaged’, it’s a lot more powerful to say, ‘When you spent 10 minutes working through a problem on the board, I noticed that although all students were initially paying attention, about 3 minutes into your explanation, 10 of your students were texting under the table, passing notes, and talking to other students. However, after the small group exercise began, I saw such behaviour in only one student.’
4. Timely and targeted
There is a big difference between feedback and evaluation. Evaluation provides an assessment of someone’s performance on a specific occasion, usually indicating whether they are effective or ineffective.
Feedback, as mentioned earlier, provides teachers with ongoing information on how they are doing and how close they are to achieving their goals. So, for feedback to be effective, you must give teachers feedback before they are evaluated so they have a chance to make adjustments to their practice and get closer to their goal.
There is also a big difference between feedback and advice. Advice offers suggestions for improvement. Feedback, on the other hand, provides data on the teacher’s current performance. It points to specific actions or behaviours and the effect these have on the teacher reaching their goal.
For a teacher to improve their practice, they not only need to receive effective feedback, they also need opportunities to use it. So, creating an ongoing coaching process using an effective PLD coaching tool is key.
In addition, the more feedback a teacher can receive in real time, the better their teaching will be. Live coaching is a proven technique to help teachers quickly and effectively embed new teaching strategies into their daily practice.
IRIS Connect is an impactful PLD coaching tool that allows you to give your colleagues effective feedback on their teaching performance and strategies via time-stamped comments on the secure cloud system.