Giving and receiving feedback is a delicate dance. Tell me what you think as long as I agree. Tell me the truth, but do not hurt my feelings. Be straightforward, but do not be rude. Be clear, but leave enough ambiguity for me not to be offended by your directness.
When considering how we provide feedback, we must give careful thought to the actions and behaviors that occur around our words. Instructional coaches, administrators, mentors, and colleagues all have opportunities to positively impact someone’s growth if they can hone the skill of successfully delivering effective feedback.
Spend time ahead of the conversation reflecting on what you want to achieve with your words or questions. In addition, proactively consider what you want to avoid. For example, if a staff member always blames students for the turnout of a lesson, then have a plan to address that perception ahead of time with details (not emotions) from the observations to back up your feedback.
Consider what your body is communicating:
Language is not just words. Make sure to pay attention to your tone, body language, and non-verbal communication. For example, standing over people or sitting with your arms crossed may communicate an authoritative stance and hinder your words from being well-received. Make sure your body is open and turned towards your receiver.
Check your state of mind:
Sometimes we have to give feedback that includes events or topics that are uncomfortable to discuss because it involves actions that may not align with our values or beliefs. This could cause us to have conversations while being in a state of frustration or anger with the recipient. These conversations seldom go well. Use the strategies that work best for you to ensure that you are calm and ready to hold a constructive and meaningful conversation. Try beginning in a state of curiosity to help ensure that you understand where the person is coming from and the intention of their behavior.
It is the little things that build the foundation of trust, and ultimately build solid, long lasting relationships. Start by making sure you always mean what you say. From small talk to compliments, ensure your words are genuine. Exaggerations or constant flattery can create a distrust in your relationships as staff begin to think you do not always mean what you say. Trust is also built on follow through. Doing what you say you are going to do communicates to colleagues that you can be counted on. If you offer to provide resources or give a date and time to observe a class or meet, then deliver on those promises. It does not take many cancellations or disregarded emails to erode belief in your ability to be a team player.
Have a purpose:
Be direct and intentional with your feedback. This means communicating a purpose for the feedback you are giving. Prior to observing or meeting, tell the recipient what you are looking for, what you will be giving feedback on, and an opportunity for the individual to request more information or more tailored feedback. Also make sure this purposeful conversation or interaction steers clear of any past stories or miscellaneous dialogue that may derail the message that is being delivered.
To give meaningful feedback we must connect with one another. In order to accomplish this we must be free of distractions and focused on the person we are conversing with. This not only allows us to fully understand where the person is at and what he or she may need moving forward, but also communicates that you are with them on their learning journey. This dedication to attention will lend itself to a reciprocity creating increased ownership in communication. If they witness your intentional investment and guidance they are more likely to partner with you and trust in the feedback you are offering.
Assess the best mode of delivery:
Different people and different situations call for varied responses. Based on the information you are providing, determine what should be handled in person and what can be done via email, phone, or through a synchronous or asynchronous video session. Constructive feedback is seldom interpreted well in an email. However, quick observations or walk-throughs are a great opportunity to provide positive feedback via email or a handwritten note in his or her mailbox. My rule of thumb is if the purpose of feedback is to encourage required action for learning, then face-to-face, whether in-person or over video is the best way to have that conversation.
Focus on the behavior, not the person:
No teacher should be defined by a singular moment. When we want to address or evoke change we must validate that this change is attainable. Changing a habit is manageable; changing who you are as an educator is an overwhelming undertaking. When offering feedback, make sure to talk about facts and observed events. Avoid assuming someone’s intentions or jumping to conclusions.
Follow up and allow for clarification:
To ensure that our message is clear we must offer frequent opportunities for our colleagues to ask clarifying questions both during our conversation as well as in the following days. Meaningful feedback takes time for digestion and reflection, which means that follow-up discussions can be just as, if not more powerful, than the initial conversation. Continued connection and support also communicates a commitment to your colleagues' sustained growth.
Communicating feedback in an effective way can be complex and overwhelming. Making the most of our conversations requires our attention and intention. To accomplish this, feedback must be seated in compassion and not used as an authoritative tool. Great leaders sit across from, not above those they lead and understand that constructive conversations are the starting point to growth not the finish line.