4 Giving feedback
Gathering data can be a sensitive issue with your teachers; giving constructive feedback can be equally delicate. Although you may see a greater priority in giving feedback to an underperforming teacher, it is just as important to give positive feedback to the teachers who are doing well, so that they can know what you value in their working practices. This is vitally important in motivating your teachers and encouraging them to strive further. To be valuable to the teacher, your positive feedback should be specific and based on your observations, For example:
- ‘Your instructions to the students are very clear and then I noticed that you follow up with further advice while they are working in groups.’
- ‘I’ve noticed that you have new displays up in the classroom. I really think it encourages the students to feel pride in their work.’
- ‘I heard two students talking about your maths lesson in the corridor – they were grappling with a problem you had set and I could see that you had really inspired them.’
- ‘The test results for the girls in your class have risen by 25 per cent this year – congratulations!’
You may have more difficulty with giving less positive feedback – but when you base your feedback on evidence, this can help a great deal. Case Study 4 and Activity 6 look at the evidence-gathering process and how to offer feedback to an underperforming teacher. Both will help you to consider how to prepare for giving appropriate feedback.
Case Study 4: School leader Khan gathers evidence on a teacher
One Thursday the school leader, Mr Khan, was on his daily walk around the school. The previous Monday he had decided that during that week, he would gather evidence on the beginnings of classes. Two minutes before the bell rang for a change of lesson, he would take up his position at the far end of the corridor from which he could see all the activity in both corridors of classrooms. As the bell rang, he would watch teachers and students walk out of the classrooms they had been in and enter the classrooms where their new lesson was about to begin.
Today, Mr Khan was on the lookout for one person who he had noticed every day as the person who took a long time to get to class and then a long time to move out of it. It was Mr Mehta, the Hindi teacher. And like the other days, he watched as a teacher waited impatiently outside her class for five minutes until Mr Mehta emerged. Mr Khan watched Mr Mehta amble down the corridor. One of the classes he passed was the one he actually needed to go into, but he didn’t. He walked past it, straight to the staff room.
Five minutes later, Mr Mehta strolled out of the staff room in the direction of the class, which by now was so noisy that the neighbouring classes shut their doors to keep out the sound – despite this cutting off their ventilation.
Mr Khan followed Mr Mehta into class. He walked, as he usually did, to the back of the classroom, and the students made a place for him immediately. He glanced at a student’s book on the table in front of him – they were busy finishing the science homework for the next lesson. Mr Mehta began the class with an instruction that their Hindi homework should be submitted immediately. He then asked the students who had not submitted their homework to stand. Around half the class stood up. Mr Khan looked at his watch – it was 20 minutes into the lesson. Mr Mehta’s sermon to the students on the importance of homework was longer than usual. Mr Khan looked at the other students in class who had submitted their homework. He could see them getting restless and impatient. He quietly walked out of the class and made his way back to his room to prepare himself for a difficult conversation.
You may find Resource 1, ‘Monitoring and giving feedback’, useful. It has obvious parallels with this approach with your teachers.
Activity 6: Giving feedback to an underperforming teacher
Think about how you would approach giving feedback to Mr Mehta. Make some notes on:
- how you would start the conversation
- the main points you want to raise.
Remember, it is a good idea to consider structuring your feedback that so you start with a positive and then end with a plan to improve matters. A positive target to focus on at the end can lead to an agreement about a follow-up meeting.
There may be history to this observation that we are not told about in Case Study 4, such as previous high performance or a recent family bereavement; something that Mr Khan knows and would take account of in his feedback. We cannot plan now for any of those eventualities, but a very gentle opening is probably always advisable. Perhaps starting with ‘Tell me about the opening of the lesson that I observed the other day, ’ or similar, so that it is an opening for the teacher to explain why it was atypical or what was different about that day.
After the initial opening, the meeting might move to examining the observation in a little more detail – particularly if the teacher does not appear concerned about the opening of the lesson. The crucial point is the loss of learning time for these students. The lesson started late, it took time to settle and then there was the lecture about the homework, all taking valuable learning time. This might be an appropriate single focus for the feedback to the teacher: how to maximise learning time and the need to change the observed behaviour to allow this to happen.
You should note that there is no reason why you should not take time to plan your feedback when you talk with your own teachers. Feedback is a skill that develops over time and with practise, so making a few notes beforehand can really help you be specific.
Muralidharan and Sundararaman (2010) report on research where they found that it was not sufficient to simply provide feedback to teachers on their performance – even where this showed that their classes were not performing as well as other classes. The teachers changed their teaching behaviours in later classroom observation sessions, but no improvement was noted in student outcomes. They conclude that the teachers need much higher input, motivation or inducement to change their behaviour permanently.
One way to provide this higher input that has been shown to improve outcomes for students is to provide coaching to your teachers. You can learn more about coaching in the unit Developing your teachers: coaching and mentoring. You can also work with a teacher to develop a plan about how to develop new knowledge or skills. Activity 7 asks you to think about a plan of action that will be monitored.
Activity 7: Formulating a plan of action
Thinking of the research of Muralidharan and Sundararaman (2010) mentioned above, imagine you are Mr Khan from Case Study 4. Prepare a plan of actions on ways that you might work with Mr Mehta to enable him overcome his low performance in the classroom. Think about how this plan of actions will help the teacher in his development and how it can be monitored sensitively by you and by Mr Mehta himself. These case study activities are for you to practice skills that you can transfer to your own teachers and school setting.
- This could be a chance to be creative. If Mr Mehta had a physical reason to return to the staff room between lessons, why not have a monitor who gave out worksheets or books at the start of the lesson, and have the students start before he joined them?
- Is it possible to set up some team teaching so that there is another teacher to provide good starts to the lesson? Would Mr Mehta benefit from some coaching or mentoring?
- The plan would have to include follow-up observations, clear targets and regular meetings with someone to discuss the progress.
In the next activity you are going to provide feedback to a teacher who is doing well. This might be a teacher about whom you earlier gathered evidence or it might be a new observation. Make sure that you use evidence in this activity and not assumptions based on the teacher’s good reputation.
Activity 8: Feedback for a teacher who is performing well
Consider a teacher that you have observed teaching an excellent lesson. Select a specific section of the lesson or a particular aspect of this teacher’s work that you thought was particularly good. Think carefully about the feedback that you want to give and reassure yourself that you have appropriate evidence to support that feedback.
In your feedback you need to:
- describe the activity or aspect to them
- explain why you judged the activity to be high in quality
- offer praise supported by evidence
- choose and use relevant criteria upon which to base your discussion.
Plan what you are going to say and plan the environment for the meeting. During the course of the meeting, you could go on to ask the teacher to reflect on how they might extend their good practice to others, or to other areas of their teaching.
Make notes in your Learning Diary after the meeting on how you think the feedback was received by the teacher. What behaviours did you observe to help you reach that conclusion? Also make notes on how you felt during and after the meeting. If you have colleagues you can trust, discuss this with them.
Hopefully the meeting went well and your praise was well received. If this was the first such meeting you have arranged with a teacher in your school, both you and the teacher are likely to have been nervous. Conversations about performance are difficult even when they are positive. The criteria used are very important to keep the conversation on an objective, professional level. It is important that the feedback is on their performance, not on them as a person.