Saturday, June 30, 2018

Feedback: Avoiding the Whine

Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success. 

Jim Trinka and Les Wallace

When we give feedback, we are hoping to provide “information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source” (  But I wonder how often feedback feels like another definition of this word: “a rumbling, whining, or whistling sound,” an annoying signal that has been returned and retransmitted.  Hopefully the suggestions below will ensure that coaching feedback is of the helpful, not the whiny, kind.  

The closer to the observed event, the better.  Teachers are prepared for and expecting feedback soon after sharing a lesson plan or being observed.  They’re more likely to be primed for and open to ideas. It takes no more time to respond sooner rather than later.  Remind yourself of that as you prioritize your busy schedule.

Be Prepared
Although you don’t want the conversation to be scripted, it’s best to think through, in advance, the feedback you’ll provide.  Preparation helps you be clear and focused about what you are going to say.  Finding the time to prepare for a feedback conversation can be tricky.  Preparing sooner, right after an observation, for example, ends up taking less time because memories are fresh. With this in mind, make a habit of scheduling time for your reflection right after an observation.  If you are responding to lesson plans, use the “touch it once” rule to save time.  Unless it’s a tough situation that you need to ponder, jotting down notes as you initially review the plan is more efficient than a quick review when you download and then returning later.  Even with a busy schedule, we can be prepared for effective feedback.

Be Discrete
If your intended feedback might be perceived as criticism, find an opportunity to speak with the teacher individually. Praising publicly and recommending privately builds trust.

Ask permission
Before offering feedback, ask, “Do mind if I share some feedback with you?” Even though offering feedback is an expectation of your coaching role, asking for the teacher’s approval before launching in increases the likelihood of uptake.

Be Specific
When your feedback is specific, there is less room for confusion and more likelihood of acceptance. Be clear and accurate.  Don’t exaggerate to make a point.  Avoid superlatives like “never,” “all,” and “always.” Overgeneralizations make people defensive, and rightfully so.  Avoid evaluative words like “good” and “bad” and harsh modal verbs like “should” and “must.”  “Might” and “may,” their softer cousins, are better received, and show that our views are tentative and awaiting consideration.  Don’t be vague, however.  Use specific examples and connect actions to the impact they have.

It’s also helpful to limit your focus.  One or two take-aways are plenty.  Any more and the feedback may feel overwhelming. 

Feedback Frames
If we want feedback to be effective, we need to choose our words with care. Others will be influenced by the words we use even more than the ideas we share. Here are two feedback sentence starters that open the way for listening.

I noticed….
Stating an objective noticing (something you saw, heard, or read) can encourage the teacher to self-evaluate.  “I noticed several students asked ‘What am I supposed to do?’ at the beginning of their independent work time.”  “I noticed students laughed and smiled during the video; they made an emotional connection.”

What if….
Beginning a recommendation with the words, “What if….” demonstrates curiosity on your part and hopefully elicits openness in the receiver.  “What if students generated their own questions before reading?”  “What if Marisol was in a group with other ELs?”

Allow Response
After you’ve provided an observation or suggestion, ask the teacher to give her perspective.  Ask, “Is that what you noticed?” or “What do you think?” Be sure there’s plenty of time for the reply.  What the teacher says is ultimately more important than what you say, so be prepared to prompt, encourage, and listen.

Offering feedback is a way to show that I care about teaching and learning and about the teacher.  I want to help those I am working with to grow and develop, make better decisions, solve problems, and learn new skills.   

Interestingly, the feedback I give is as much about me as about the person I’m coaching.  My feedback is a reflection of what I value, my beliefs and experience, and what I consider to be best practice.  It is also a reflection of my people skills: how sensitive I am to the responses of others, how aware and thoughtful I am of their state of mind.  The feedback I give reveals my skill as a coach.  That is something I could seek feedback on!

This week, you might want to take a look at:

Ideas by Grant Wiggins (of UbD fame) for more about effective feedback:

Making writing feedback manageable:

Great Ed Leadership issue on fighting educator burnout:

Previewing as a strategy to support retelling:

What to do when you don’t feel like coaching (especially look at #3, Take steps to shift mood and approach):

That’s it for this week.  Happy Coaching!

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