Dr. Bruce Beairsto is a speaker and consultant who retired as Superintendent of Schools in Richmond, British Columbia, and now spends his time as an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, a board member for Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education and The Critical Thinking Consortium. You can follow him on Twitter at @bbeairsto and online at http://public.sd38.bc.ca/~bbeairsto/.
Teachers Need Feedback Too
Just as teachers assess their students’ learning and provide feedback about it, so too should students assess their teacher and provide feedback.
This is not a quest for popularity, or even approval, but rather the common sense response to a teacher’s duty to enable learning, not simply present information. Since communication occurs in the listener, one has to seek feedback in order to know what is being communicated and how. Students’ perception is the reality within which a teacher works.
So how might one ask students to provide feedback? Actually, you don’t even have to ask. Their moment-to- moment and day-to-day response is generally highly informative, except that you have to disentangle it from the heavy overburden of compliance and approval seeking that permeates school life, and the social norms that often mask students’ true feelings, especially in adolescence.
However, its also useful to make an explicit request for feedback. This signals your desire to be supportive, yields useful information and creates an opportunity to catch serious issues early in the year. I found the following simple questions, answered anonymously, to be be very informative after a month or so.
- In general, how are you feeling about the course so far? [Likert Scale]
- Is there anything you think I should … to help you learn better? - Stop [Open Ended], Start [Open Ended], Continue [Open Ended], or Change [Open Ended]
- How satisfied are you with your own effort and engagement so far? [Likert Scale]
- Is there anything in particular you think I should know? [Open Ended]
Having asked for feedback, it is important to report the results to your students along with any comments on the results, particularly any adjustments you intend to make. Generally, I found a range of responses that invited some explanation about why I did what I did, but only relatively minor adjustments to procedures. Occasionally, however, I learned something more substantial, and perhaps even challenging. Sometimes, I got a distressing response from an individual student that I would have liked to follow-up on but since the responses were anonymous my only option was to reinforce for all students my previous invitation to see me individually if they had any questions or concerns.
Whatever the particular response, this was a very productive exercise that helped to establish open communication with my students and helped me to be a better teacher.