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Teachers Need Feedback Too

31 October 2010
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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.

Thanks for this blog. When I

Thanks for this blog. When I was teaching in the classroom, I used to periodically open up the discussion for what was working and what was not, as far as teaching methods, directions, instructions, and communication was concerned. I never thought of doing it anonymously, but I like the idea. I found that even though it was done as a group discussion, I learned a lot about what I could do better as a teacher and what some students felt was working. I also found that once one student bravely expressed ideas about what could be improved, others felt more open and welcome to express their views as well. These discussions often paved the way to further discussions on ideas such as learning styles and learning strengths of both the teacher and the students. I would like to try anonymous feedback as a way of driving instruction.

Thanks.