Frequent, specific feedback is shown to be one of the most powerful ways to improve teacher instructional practice and, ultimately, student growth. But what does helpful, growth-promoting feedback look like? The best feedback conferences are framed as comfortable, open conversations. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: when you are confiding in a friend or someone you are comfortable with, you allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to advice. According to Bracken and Rose's 2005 book, When Does 360-Degree Feedback Create Behavior Change? And How Would We Know It When It Does?, great feedback should have the following characteristics:
- Specific and accurate
- Objective and action-oriented
- Checked for understanding
Specific and Accurate
Feedback should always be clear and factual. If teachers misinterpret the message, then the message becomes null and void. We strive to deliver clear, concise feedback. Think of a dart board: feedback should be precise and hit the bullseye every time in order to be effective and productive. Although comments such as “Great lesson!” can be a confidence boost, they are shallow and meaningless. Instead, aim to tell the teacher WHAT was great about the lesson. For example, discussing why a formative assessment was outstanding is much more fruitful than just saying “great lesson” or even “great assessment.”
Objective and Action-oriented
It is important that feedback remain unbiased and unprejudiced. Remember the old adage, “there is more than one way to skin a cat?” The same goes for great teaching. There is not just one way to effectively deliver instruction. An easy way to ensure that feedback is objective and unbiased is to keep it action-oriented. Focus on a specific practice and rely on direct observation. Then work with the teacher to create a practical plan to meet his or her established goals. Remember, useful feedback ties directly to teacher goals and the specific steps they need to take to achieve them.
Feedback should always be given as soon as possible after the observation takes place. Research has shown the importance of quick feedback for students, and the same principle applies to teachers.
No matter how effective feedback is, it does no good if it is delivered weeks after the observation. We have had some of the best conversations with our teachers over observations completed earlier the same day. Timing feedback in this way keeps it relevant and fresh, which in turn produces the most growth.
Checked for Understanding
Last but not certainly not least, teachers must actually understand the feedback they receive. We actively listen to our teachers, repeat back their statements, and give them opportunities to paraphrase our feedback during conferences. Doing this ensures that teachers walk away with the right picture of success and an understanding of how to get there.
There are many specific characteristics of effective feedback and various methods of delivery, but these four characteristics are those that we find to be the most effective. By directly implementing these four characteristics into our feedback practice, we have witnessed incredible growth from our teachers.