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How do you give teachers honest feedback? In her packed Sunday morning session titled "Fail-Safe Feedback: Successfully Navigating Feedback Conversations with Teachers," Robyn Jackson shared ways to ensure that feedback is meaningful and useful for teachers.
Jackson listed four reasons why feedback often fails: it is not specific enough, a teacher is given too much feedback, the feedback isn't targeted to the teacher's needs, or there is no call to action.
To ensure feedback is specific, Jackson suggests following statements, especially ones including jargon, with clarification—something like, "What I mean by that is…" This approach will require you to explain more specifically what is intended by the feedback.
Too much feedback is an issue because teachers can only address so much at a time. This reminds me of working with students in reading and writing conferences. It is important to choose one teaching point for focus, rather than bombarding the student with many areas on which to work. The same is true for teachers.
If feedback is not targeted to a teacher's needs, the teacher will not be able to make use of the feedback, and there will be no forward movement.
Finally, without a call to action, teachers often don't know what to do with the feedback. The call to action can come from the person giving the feedback or the person receiving the feedback, or it can be developed together, but it must be stated clearly to be useful.
Jackson described teachers as needing support with either skill or will. If teachers need support with skill, they are ready to grow and learn from feedback. If teachers are struggling with will, no support for skill will matter. In both instances, it is crucial to get to the root cause of what is happening in the lesson or the classroom, but a teacher struggling with will may have a harder time accepting the root cause. According to Jackson, as long as a teacher is able to argue about what is happening, the root cause has not been identified. Symptoms are debatable; the root cause is not. Once the root cause is stated, teachers may be unhappy or complain, but they will be unable to make an argument against it.
In addition, Jackson discussed four different types of teachers and the types of feedback each requires. Novice teachers are working to acquire skills, so they need diagnostic feedback. Apprentice teachers are working to apply their skills and therefore need prescriptive feedback. Practitioners (teachers who are navigating their role successfully) are working to assimilate their skills and knowledge and need descriptive feedback. Master teachers—those whom Jackson calls "unconsciously competent"—will work to adapt their skills and need micro-feedback.
Jackson herself is a master educator and presenter who leaves her audience with much to consider and reflect upon. The excited crowd filled the room at least 10 minutes before the session was due to start, so if you want to see one of Jackson's Monday sessions, then I highly recommend getting there early. It will be worth it.
Want to hear more from Robyn Jackson? Check out her Monday learning sessions:
Jennifer Orr is a National Board–certified teacher at Lynbrook Elementary in Springfield, Virginia. She has taught elementary school for two decades at various grades in Title I schools. When she’s not at Lynbrook, she can be found on Twitter @jenorr or at www.jenorr.com.
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