Practicing What We Preach

It’s been awhile since we’ve posted to this site. But that doesn’t mean the work hasn’t been happening…

The deeper into this work on feedback we get, the more we realize relationships matter, the more we realize that models need to exist before practice can change. Teachers don’t necessarily know how to model good feedback practices with students because they don’t have models of effective feedback themselves. In places where teachers use feedback consistently with students, they have a feedback relationship with their colleagues or with their administrative team.

So how do we practice what we preach?

We must build a relationship of trust with one another. We must believe that we are working together for the same goal. Whether the goal is to score proficiency on the next state assessment, learn how to increase rigor in our class assignments, or shoot free throws with 85% accuracy, a well-defined goal will help us to work toward the same destination. Our relationship must be built upon an understanding of what success of that goal is and use conversation that supports and edifies one another as we work toward the goal.

The conversation of feedback must be a two-way street. Both the receiver and the giver of feedback must be willing to voice his/her thoughts, accept or rebut the thoughts and engage in conversation that helps both parties move toward the goal. I’ve participated in a number of feedback sessions where the conversation is one sided. “What should I change?” A list of recommendations is given, and then the receiver responds, “ok.” Did the receiver understand all of the recommendations? Did the receiver agree with all the recommendations? Does the receiver believe the recommendations will help to further the work toward accomplishing the goal? And there must be a way to check to see if the feedback pushes the receiver to act upon the suggestions. Do we know the feedback caused internalized change or was the receiver simply checking off items in a to-do list given as feedback?

We must also be vulnerable to ask for people to suggest ways to improve as well as have the humility to realize that we’re not experts at everything. Every Sunday I help out at a local coffee bar, and every Sunday there are ways to improve my technique on the espresso machine. Even when I get it “right” (which still isn’t very often since I’m still new at it), there are new latte art techniques I’d like to try or new flavor combinations to offer. Even in a safe, non-evaluative space, I can still get defensive if someone offers a tip for how to hold the pitcher at the right angle to ensure the foam is not too thick. I believe that most people initially get defensive when they’re told that they can improve, but if we’re willing to be vulnerable, we can open ourselves up to a world of possible alternatives. This is not an easy character trait to emulate and embody. However, we must recognize that there is always room for improvement. And as educators, we must model this attitude towards our students. Do we ask them to give us ways we could improve our classroom practice? Ways to improve our assessments or tasks? Ways to improve the classroom environment that opens more possibilities for collaboration? In order for students to be receptive to feedback, we must model what this looks like, including asking our peers for feedback. And that might mean inviting them into our classroom to observe our interaction, strategies, or techniques.

As educators, do we feel safe enough to practice what is preached? Who do you engage in authentic, conversational, professional feedback with on a regular basis?

“Just”

In life, many people qualify their identity with the word “just”. I am “just” a stay-at-home mom. I am “just” a teacher. I am “just” an accountant. The same qualification exists with work. I am “just” grading papers. I am “just” sitting in a meeting. I am “just”…

It’s as if we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe the work we’re doing isn’t meaningful, that we’re not meaningful.

At the core of #makingfeedbackmatter is the belief that the conversation is the relationship. When my colleague, Jay, and I go into schools and discuss this concept with some people, they respond with, “You’re ‘just’ going to come in and have a conversation?” Yes, yes we are. We need to begin to open a conversation about why teachers chose to become educators. Why they choose to come to work every day. How they best see their role in the classroom.

In “just” forming relationships with teachers, we begin a conversation which we hope will lead to deeper conversations the next time we are together. Eventually, we will “just” have a conversation about the essential role of feedback in the classroom, where teachers will understand how feedback can “just” impact student agency and achievement. A conversation which will be a relationship where real issues can be discussed without shame and blame, but instead will lead to dialogue about how to authentically provide feedback.

Although we believe there may be patterns in what “good” feedback looks and sounds like, we believe that meaningful feedback will rely heavily on an authentic relationship in the classroom. Feedback will be a developed conversation between teachers and students, not words from teacher to a student. The student will feel a sense of belonging in the conversation to voice their own views and feedback. This is how we believe we will “just” increase student agency.

We “just” have high hopes. We “just” believe in the desire of educators to make a difference. And we believe that feedback might “just” help that happen.

Sharing our Learning

In Henry County Schools, we are encouraging others to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Through our movement to personalize learning, we are asking our students to step outside the norms of what is established education and re-imagine what the educational environment could be like. If we are asking our students to be uncomfortable and develop a growth mindset, then it only makes sense that we as the leaders would also embody a growth mindset as well.

Last week I read a quote by Seth Gordin which has been bouncing around in my head. He says, “If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.” I believe that we are all leaders. In the lives of children, we have to take the lead. We have to model what we hope to see in our students. As Brene Brown articulates, we must become who we want our children to become, not just tell them. Evaluation systems for teachers are supposed to include feedback and conferencing, but because we lack clear models of how this looks in adult lives, we don’t know how to model healthy feedback loops for students. Are we, as the adults in the lives of students, seeking feedback from our students on our teaching skill? Are we, as the life-long educators, seeking ways to improve through collaborative conversations with peers and our evaluators? If we want our students to engage in healthy feedback, are we modeling healthy feedback amongst the adult students in the school building?

Next week, I’ll be attending the Jobs For the Future Summit where I’ll share our work on feedback loops to increase student agency with people who sit on all sides of the education, workforce, and policy table. I’ll participate on a panel where we discuss Assessments to Support Deeper Learning with fellow Assessment for Learning grantees. I’m excited to discuss how we believe that feedback loops will help increase student agency which will impact social mobility. Follow us next week at #jffsummit

I’m curious, have you had a model for effective feedback in your life? Might you be willing to share?

 

 

The Importance of Relationships

As we continue to dig deeper into fostering a feedback-rich system, we have begun to discuss the role of relationships in the process of being able to become vulnerable to giving and receiving meaningful feedback. If we expect to change the role of feedback loops in classrooms, we must first examine trust and opennness and willingness to put oneself in uncomfortable situations in educational settings.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

The very wise Theodore Roosevelt first said this, and I’ve heard many people repeat it over the years, especially in education circles. We repeat this often, but I wonder how many of us have really stopped to think how true the statement really is. If I examine this statement from my role as a student, I can say that I had so many teachers that showed me they cared over the years.

Caring in the classroom

I had one teacher in high school who offered different kinds of patterned band-aids in his classroom. They were accessible to all students, and if we were having a bad day, and we wanted him to know about it, we put that band-aid over our heart as a sign that we needed a little more caring that day. He didn’t always ask questions, but in his tone, we knew he took notice. Even if I wasn’t willing to talk in class, just knowing he acknowledged my heart helped me feel supported in class.

Caring beyond the classroom

There was another teacher who came to my wedding, years after I was in her 7th grade Social Studies class. Throughout the years in between, she kept contact with my parents, always asking how I was doing, ensuring she kept inserting words of wisdom into my life. She was also sure to send a High School and College graduation card, showing me that she was consatantly cheering me on.

Caring for first year educators

Then there was my principal when I was a first year teacher. She found opportunities to handwrite notes and put them in my mailbox when she saw me step outside of my comfort zone to try something new as a beginning educator. This small act showed me that she really saw my efforts, and encouraged me to keep trying new things.

Students need to know we care. In today’s society, there are so many forces at work in our classrooms. Students come to school without full bellies, without nurturing at home, without friends, without foundational skills. No situation is ever black and white, and why some students form strong relationships with teachers and why others don’t is not a simple answer. There is no formula for forming strong relationships in the classroom to ensure that all students will learn, but there are words of wisdom from other educators from which we can glean insight.

Reaching out…

  • Do relationships really matter in the classroom?
  • What are some ways you’ve promoted strong relationships in your classroom?
  • What are some ways someone has built a strong relationship with you where you were able to learn something new?
  • Do you believe the current classroom environment is a space where teachers and students can become vulnerable to give and receive authentic and meaningful feedback?

Learning in the Field

Do you want to know more about how we are thinking about feedback? A great place to start is to look at the learning community we are a part of in the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP). See some of the work here in the ALP Milestones Report.  By engaging in conversations with groups around the country who are also rethinking assessment, our minds and our philosophies are challenged in how we can authentically assess and provide meaningful feedback to our students.

Then, check out some of the recent articles from around the country on how others are rethinking assessment:

And then, maybe a Ted Talk from Bill Gates on how teachers need more valuable feedback to improve their craft.