Feedback. As a teacher, it’s an essential part of helping students understand areas for improvement and strategies for supporting their growth. Whether it comes in the form of grades, one-on-one discussions or real-time in-class callouts, students are constantly part of a feedback loop designed to help them progress. But oftentimes, consistent feedback can be elusive for teachers, even though it’s just as critical to their success.
That’s why we’ve pulled together a few ideas for how you can seek out more actionable feedback throughout the year, not just during traditional observation times:
- Flip the script. The idea of turning the tables and asking students for feedback is enough to give even the most seasoned teacher pause. But the fact remains that your students have more experience with your teaching than any mentor ever could—and they understand exactly what it takes to get through to highschoolers. Just remember that teens’ responses are often more brutal and less finessed than a colleague’s might be, so don’t take their delivery too personally. Also, be sure to use specific prompts to glean feedback and give students enough time to truly consider their responses. Some teachers find it easier to pass out slips of paper with prompts on them (such as, “What’s one thing you think I should do differently?”) to each student at the beginning of class and have them return them anonymously at the end of class. This takes the pressure off students so they can be more honest. Plus, it allows you to receive their feedback more openly, without it being colored by the particular student providing it. Incorporating student feedback regularly—and truly being open to hearing it—can have a major and immediate impact on your ability to grow as an educator.
- Watch yourself. This approach can seem pretty challenging at first. After all, how can you truly step outside yourself enough to provide objective feedback? Recording yourself teaching a lesson is a great start. Having video of yourself in action provides you with an invaluable tool for self-analysis. It allows you to stay in the moment and give your students 100 percent of your attention because you’re not trying to dissect your delivery and approach at the same time. And it enables you to see yourself from a different perspective—pretty much assuring you’ll notice something you otherwise wouldn’t have at the time. Having a video also provides you more time to analyze how your students react to different aspects of your lessons and the ways you deliver them. Plus, you can review the footage more than once, which can open your eyes to subtleties you didn’t pick up on at first pass. Recording yourself regularly is also great for tracking your improvement because you can more easily see the changes you’ve made throughout the year. (TIP: To avoid liability issues, be sure to get written permission from students’ parents before doing any recording in your classroom.)
- Meet up with a mentor. If you’ve already recorded yourself teaching a lesson and examined it, consider sharing that same footage with a mentor. Set up a time when the two of you can sit down together and watch your video. Being able to get feedback while watching yourself can often provide more insight than simply receiving notes after a live lesson is observed. That’s because you’ve switched your perspective from that of an active participant to an observer, which makes it easier to understand what others are seeing. It also allows you to pause for discussion and rewind to be able to dissect or identify recurring issues. Plus, coming to this meeting having already analyzed yourself means you’ll be bringing your own insights to the table, which makes for an added layer of examination. Discussing things you noticed about your own performance before your mentor chimes in gives them a better grasp of what you know you need to work on versus the areas you still might have blind spots in. If you’re already working on something specific, be clear about what you want out of the feedback. Don’t be afraid to limit the scope of their constructive criticism. Generally, it’s better to tackle and master one thing at a time than to bite off more than you can chew and get overwhelmed in the process.
- Gain perspective from peers. Oftentimes, the best way to see our own flaws and areas for improvement is to examine others’. For example, it might take seeing someone else’s lack of organization to make you realize your own. Consider forming a small group of teachers, from different grades and subjects, who are willing to open their classrooms for on-the-fly observations. Then, use your planning period for sporadic visits to their classrooms to watch how they instruct and invite them to do the same with yours. This practice benefits everyone involved. First, you’ll be able to get peer feedback on the things you’re doing well and the things you could be doing better. Secondly, by observing their teaching, you’ll be able to provide each colleague with kudos and constructive feedback which will encourage greater collaboration. Actively pursuing constructive criticism for yourself can be intimidating, but it will more than pay off in the long run with stronger relationships and more engaged classrooms.
Now that you’re armed with ideas for gathering feedback, it’s important to remember a few things about how you receive it. First, don’t take things personally and be open to it all, even if it doesn’t resonate at first. Defensiveness is the greatest impediment to growth. Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask for more clarity or examples. The better you understand the root of the issue, the more likely you are to overcome it. Lastly, remember that feedback is simply an opportunity for improvement—and actively seeking it out shows a lot of character on your part.