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Seeking Feedback

November 16, 2010
A few weeks ago I read an article in Education Week about getting feedback by Alexis Wiggins. She is a former teacher who is now a consultant.  (I assume that is how she now has time to write articles for Ed Week.)   “As a middle and high school English teacher, I can say unequivocally that nothing has made me more uncomfortable than having a supervisor sitting in my classroom, scribbling away on his or her legal pad as I teach,” says Alexis Wiggins in this thoughtful Education Week article. Although she sometimes got helpful insights from administrators’ comments, Wiggins says the most helpful feedback she’s received over the years has come from students.

Wiggins noted that she didn’t get truly helpful feedback from students until she had learned two lessons.  First, there was limited utility in standard end-of-course feedback forms and questionnaires. She learned that mid-course feedback allowed her to make improvements in real time. “I’ve found this feedback infinitely more honest, detailed, and helpful than end-of-course reviews, which come at a time when students have less incentive to be constructive in their criticism,” says Wiggins.

Second, not all students were really open in the hand-written mid-course evaluation surveys she used at first. The “aha” moment came when Wiggins’s principal asked the staff to fill out a questionnaire evaluating a new-faculty orientation program. “Will they recognize my handwriting?” Wiggins fretted. “In the end, I was too afraid to be as honest as I wanted to be, because I worried that the administration would single me out later.”

This experience persuaded her to have students fill out their mid-course evaluations in the computer lab while she stepped out of the room, with one student designated to collect the anonymous printed-out copies and deliver them to her. She found the feedback was more direct and helpful.

“A part of all of us wants only to hear good things about what we do,” Wiggins concludes. “But that part is not the teacher, but the child in us. The teacher truly wants to keep learning how to be better, and feedback is a mechanism for doing that. Regular, authentic feedback is one of the best forms of professional development. It’s free, easy, not time-consuming, and it pays big dividends. Teachers should shake off their fear and welcome it into their classrooms. If we want to be serious about students’ learning, we need to be serious about our own.”

As a leader, I need to continually seek ideas, help, and criticism. It’s not always easy, but I am convinced that consistent feedback will help Saline Area Schools improve.

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