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?

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