Different Feedback for Different TeachersSep 04, 2022
Direct, Indirect, or Not at All?
Imagine: it’s Monday morning. You just stepped into your office, coffee in hand, keys dangling from your wrist as you flick on the lights and open the blinds to greet the new day. It’s 7:15, you got to work early to prep for a busy week of observations and debriefs, and you’re looking forward to a productive morning as you leisurely sip your Starbucks and meander your way through your coaching plans.
You click through emails, tidy up the professional housekeeping on your laptop, and check the to-do list you left yourself on Monday. Your debriefs for the day are with Mr. Adams, Mrs. Berry, and Ms. Carter, in that order. You open up their files, refreshing yourself on their observations from the previous week, and start to put together a plan.
Mr. Adams is a new teacher to the school but has several years of experience from a neighboring district. He teaches math and does a good job of preparing weekly activities to engage his students with different modalities. Unfortunately, these weekly activities are just that - weekly - and he tends to spend a lot of time at the board when it's not “activity day.” You worry it's causing some dips in engagement and some confusion on critical standards in the curriculum.
Mrs. Berry is a veteran. She’s been teaching English almost as long as you’ve been alive, but her energy is unmatched. Even though you’ve never seen her with a cup of coffee in hand, she’s always seen dashing through the halls with stacks of books in her arms, or spiriting around the perimeter of her classroom as she guides her students through brainstorming exercises or plot interpretation. Unfortunately, Mrs. Berry doesn’t have the best organizational skills, and the data she collects isn’t the most useful to help plan what her students need.
Ms. Carter is the newbie - fresh out of college with a license to teach history, and a full schedule of junior varsity volleyball to coach. While she’s a force to be reckoned with on the sidelines of the court and a dutiful educator who always has her data ready for PLC, you find she’s having some trouble keeping a firm grip on her classroom from eight to three, and wonder if she’s struggling to find authority in a room where most of her students tower over her five foot two frame. Before you left your observation on Friday, she confided in you that she's growing frustrated with students’ attempts to cheat on her weekly quizzes.
You shake your head and reach for your coffee - thankfully still steaming - and begin to think about how to address these teachers’ strengths and needs. What kind of feedback do they need, and what is the best way to give it to them?
The purpose of this blog post isn’t so much about how to give teachers feedback, like make sure to create a “compliment sandwich” before telling your teachers how to improve (which isn't effective or authentic). It’s more about how to make sure you’re giving the right type of feedback to begin with, and that it’s actually useful, practical, and applicable for them. For example, I typically operate with three main modes of feedback: direct, indirect, or not at all.
Direct feedback is just like it sounds - it’s direct and to the point. This type of feedback is best used in circumstances where a change needs to happen stat, and there’s no time-allowance to wait for someone to figure out the change they need themselves. For example, a teacher who is failing to maintain a safe learning environment for their students would benefit from direct feedback that gives technical, step-by-step instructions to solve the problem.
Indirect feedback is less by-the-book, and more of an art form. It’s not about telling a teacher that an action is right or wrong, but more about identifying how an alternative pathway might lead to a better outcome. For example, a teacher who is struggling to prevent students from sleeping in class may not be helped if you simply say “wake them up!” While it’s direct and to the point, we all know that most students don’t just pop up like daisies just because we ask them to. Instead, we should guide that teacher to start asking questions about the root cause of the problem - why are they sleeping, and what’s within our locus of control to prevent this from happening. Through open-ended questioning, your teacher may discover the solution is as simple as a conversation with a student or their parent, and can start to work on resolving the issue quietly and efficiently.
The third type of feedback is a bit counterintuitive - no feedback. Sometimes - as crazy as it sounds - people don’t want solutions. They don’t want someone to temporarily solve their problems for them, they just want to vent. And to a degree, that’s extremely healthy. That verbal processing may be key for a teacher who has been keeping pent-up feelings about a parent who doesn’t understand appropriate response times for emails, and that verbal processing may also be the time when the teacher has a lightbulb moment themselves! As a matter of fact, many times it is, in my experience.
Now that you’ve heard the three types, how would you address the three teachers on your schedule today? Please note, obviously this differs based on your relationship with the teacher and the buy-in they have in a coaching program, but at the surface level, here’s a good plan:
For Mr. Adams, try the indirect route at first. Ask him if he’s noticed a few kids playing games while he’s writing equations on the board, or how the daily exit tickets look on days when he doesn’t do an activity. If he starts to put the pieces together, see if he can organically decide on his own that he should try to do a few more.
For Mrs. Berry, not having data may be hurting her planning when she can’t use it to guide her instruction. She also isn’t able to fully participate in PLC meetings. You can begin indirect by asking simply how she feels about her data collection, and get a little more direct about technical strategies to help her get onboarded to a better data management system.
Finally, Ms. Carter will probably need some strong direction for classroom management, with specific techniques to keep students from getting up out of their seats or shouting out in class. But when you get to the cheating, pause, and ask how she’s feeling about that. Ms. Carter has had a weekend to process after laying out the problem for you. Let her know that her feelings are valid, and let her know “I get it,” coming from an authentic place. Ask her if she wants your ideas, or if she just wants you to listen. She may want ideas, and she may want no feedback at all after a weekend of brainstorming her own solutions. Give her the option to pick what’s best for her, when it’s right for her.
At the end of the day, that’s what good feedback is all about - what’s best for the teacher, at that moment, to meet their needs and help them grow.
Looking for additional professional development in creating authentic human connection with your educators? Check out our upcoming free webinar "Happy Secret to Building Teacher Buy In".
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