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More on the Feedback Question: 4 Ways to Make it Work

This year we have featured a couple of newsletter pieces on feedback question, even highlighting the role that the feedback receiver has in the whole complex way in which feedback is acted upon…or not.

It is a popular and important topic and further evidence of this is found in the latest Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) published by the OECD. In a chapter of the report titled 'Improving Teaching Using Appraisal and Feedback' some quite striking results emerged about the situation regarding appraisal and feedback, in the Australian data in particular. While nearly all teachers in the Australian sample (97% of over 2000) reported being formally appraised and receiving feedback, over 43% reported that,

“…the appraisal and feedback systems in their schools have had little or no impact on the way they teach in the classroom. The majority (62%) believe that appraisal and feedback is primarily an administrative exercise, and this has a detrimental effect on their job satisfaction.”
These are quite alarming, though not entirely surprising, comments and findings suggesting that the whole feedback process in Australian schools is quite often having the opposite effect of what is intended. Instead of positive influence on teaching practice, providing feedback is often making little difference and indeed feedback processes are contributing to disengagement and cynicism.

As school leaders what kind of response is there to make to these findings? Consider the 4 following suggestions to get started …

1. Incorporate feedback into a coaching process

Locke (1996) makes an important point about feedback when he says…

“Feedback is most effective in motivating improved performance when it is used to set goals. Feedback alone is just information.”
In addition when feedback is incorporated into a coaching process that is clearly about helping people get better, stretching feedback is more likely to be received in constructive and helpful ways.

2. Ensure that positive feedback is also part of the feedback process

Too often feedback is solely perceived as being about what needs improving or what is not working well. Providing positive feedback is an art in itself and there is increasing comment related to how developing people’s strengths further is where they are more likely to grow (Buckingham,2001)

3. Normalise it – build a feedback culture

An earlier comment indicated that what comes after the feedback – the goal setting – is the critical component of the feedback process and it can also be argued that what comes before any feedback conversation is just as important. What kind of expectations about feedback conversations are part of the culture in your school? Do they actually happen apart from formal review processes? Are feedback conversations only when things have got really bad? Is positive feedback provided as well as any challenging or stretching feedback? The answers to these questions will provide some indication as to how well the environment has been prepared for helpful feedback conversations. More ‘normalisation’ of feedback means the groundwork has been done before the feedback conversation to help set it up for success.

4. Involve yourself in the feedback process

As a leader, one helpful practice that can go a long way towards creating a positive feedback culture is inviting feedback yourself. Inviting comments on your leadership from people in your team sends a strong positive message about the whole feedback process. While sophisticated 360 feedback processes have their place the simplest forms of feedback can be the most helpful. In fact there is increasing argument that comment based feedback that is contextualised is more helpful and meaningful than anonymous 360 rating scales. In some of our programs we invite leaders to consider inviting comments on three questions…

  • What is one thing I do well as a leader for you?
  • What is one thing I could do differently to be a better leader for you?
  • How do you suggest I might do that?

Feedback is critical as part of helping ourselves and others grow but as the TALIS report has indicated unless it is positioned and prepared for well it can sometimes have unintended negative consequences. Situating feedback within a well-developed coaching process can make all the difference.



References:

  • Buckingham, M.(2001) Now Discover your strengths. New York. Free Press
  • Locke, E.A (1996) Motivation through conscious goal setting. Journal of Applied and Preventive Psychology, (5) 117-124
  • OECD(2013,)Key findings from the teaching and learning international survey. Country note: Australia. Retrieved August 2014 from http://www.oecd.org/australia/TALIS-2013-country-note-Australia.pdf

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