Because For Educators and Parents, Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

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Last week, our educoach chat (a twitter chat dedicated to instructional coaching and professional learning) focused on the topic of giving feedback. We shared our own experiences giving and receiving feedback and reacted to articles from the most recent issue of Educational Leadership Feedback for Learning (September, 2012, Vol. 70, No.1). Feedback is a topic we delved into in depth this summer as part of our book discussion chat on John Hattie’s Visible Learning For Teachers. Synthesizing more than 900 educational meta-analyses, researcher John Hattie has found that effective feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn. (John Hattie, Know They Impact, Educational Leadership Feedback for Learning September 2012, Vol. 70, No. 1)

Feedback matters.

I’ve recently come to embrace the idea that great principals and great teachers have at least three important habits in common.

  • They offer feedback effectively.
  • They have strong feedback loops for themselves, learning and growing professionally by incorporating feedback they receive.
  • They show appreciation.

In 7 keys to effective feedback, an article in the most recent issue of Educational Leadership (Feedback for Learning: September, 2012; Vol. 70, No.1), Grant Wiggins writes: “the term feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking. Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.” Wiggins then shares that helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.

Giving feedback is not easy for principals for a variety of reasons. There is the challenge of time. With 56 teachers in my school, and only one of me, offering feedback that is timely, ongoing, and consistent has been difficult. There is the challenge of experience. Most of us have given and been given advice, praise, or evaluative critique rather than  feedback. And, perhaps most significantly, there is the challenge of role expectation. Principals, at least as I was trained years ago, have been viewed primarily as evaluators, giving “expert” advice and assessment, rather than sharing nonjudgmental observations with teachers for the purpose of professional learning and growth.

Despite the inherent challenges, I have come to recognize that giving feedback effectively to teachers can be among the most significant contributions a principal can make to improving the quality of learning in our schools. So, how can principals overcome the challenges and offer effective feedback? For your feedback, I share the seven steps to effective feedback I am using.

Step One: Schedule significant time be in classrooms.

What is in our calendar gets done. It is difficult to offer effective feedback without having experience of learning and teaching, day in and day out, in our own schools. My own practice is to schedule two hours daily to be present in classrooms for learning and teaching; either observing or preferably engaging with learning in whatever ways teachers request.

In addition to daily time in classrooms, I schedule six No Office days during the year, one with each grade K-5, on which I spend the entire day, from arrival to dismissal, with a grade. Teachers can assign me to do whatever they would like on these No Office Days. These days are valuable to me in assisting me to get a feel for the rhythm of the day in each grade.

This year, as a birthday gift to each of our teachers, I will be teaching one period of their class on their birthdays. I also hope to cover for an hour on the birthdays of our other building administrators, office staff, and perhaps even our maintenance crew. Teachers and staff members can schedule the birthday class so that they can come late, leave early, extend lunch, or remain and watch me. (There is already a line of teachers hoping to observe me teach physical education, which should be a class filled with good spirit, humility, and laughter.) Teachers and staff members can also take a rain-check for another day at their convenience if their birthday is not on a school day or even if another day will simply work better for them. In addition to offering teachers and staff members the gift of time, which I wish I could do even more often, teaching each class will offer me perspective on the joys and challenges of learning and teaching in our school.

Step Two: Schedule time for formal conversations with teachers to discuss professional learning goals, supports to reach goals, and to assess progress being made.

This year I will be scheduling three formal meetings during the year with each of our faculty members. At the first meeting, taking place between September and November, we will set together a professional goal, an action plan to meet the goal, supports to reach the goal, and criteria for measuring progress and success.  At the second meeting, scheduled between December and February, we will discuss progress toward the goal, confer on how supports are working, speak about whether feedback offered has been helpful, and make modifications as necessary. At the third meeting, taking place between March and the end of the academic year, we will reflect on professional growth during the year.

Success will not be determined based on whether teachers meet their goal. There could be a goal easily met without much growth or a stretch goal, not met yet with enormous professional growth. Each teacher will fill out rubrics we created together as a faculty for our school’s Standards for Professional Practice. I will fill out the rubrics for each teacher to the best of my ability based on observations and conversations we have throughout the year. These rubrics are not only an assessment for teachers, but are also an assessment for me and my knowledge of learning and teaching in each classroom. I will leave blank what I cannot complete based on direct knowledge of learning and teaching in each class, thereby recognizing those areas about which I need to learn more. Each teacher and I will compare the rubrics and discuss.

Step Three: Make feedback nonjudgmental and goal-focused

My notes on classroom visits will offer nonjudgmental feedback; phrased with the prompts we as a faculty have learned to use together on our learning walks in each other’s classrooms: I notice. I wonder. What if? How might? I will strive to connect feedback to each teacher’s professional learning goal. And, I will seek teachers’ input on what type of feedback and information will be most valuable to them as well as on whether the feedback I am offering is helpful.

Step Four Make use of technology as a support, but focus on the relationships and face to face interactions

I have created a notebook in my very favorite app, Evernote, titled “teachers” and I have created a note for each of our teachers. I will add to the note after each of our formal meetings and after each classroom visit. Each time I add to a teacher’s note, I will send the the teacher a copy with the most recent additions at the top of the note. These notes will become a record of our ongoing reflective conversation and will take the place of a formal evaluative end of year write-up.

Although utilizing Evernote to organize myself, I will focus on face to face interactions. I won’t bring my computer or Ipad into classrooms as teachers rightfully complained last year that I wrote on my Ipad in class rather than engaging in learning. I will carry my cell phone, primarily for emergencies during which my administrative assistant texts me. Having the phone with me does enable me to jot down a note if really worried I will forget. Generally, however, I remember what I want to write and record notes after students have left for the day. Some teachers write back to me, reflecting on feedback. Just as I have had meaningful conversations with colleagues in my professional learning network utilizing social media, I have had meaningful conversations with teachers in my school using e-mail. Other times teachers stop me in the halls or request time to speak to follow up on feedback offered and I love those ongoing face to face interactions. All teachers will have a minimum of three face to face conversations in which I focus my attention exclusively on their professional learning.

Step Five: Compliment

While in classrooms, if I am not interrupting, I will share  a compliment with each teacher on the spot. I recognize having a visitor in one’s class and hearing nothing can be disconcerting. Regardless of whether I can speak directly without interrupting, either in class or face to face afterward, I will share a compliment on something wonderful happening in the classroom along with the  brief, written feedback I send. While I accept Grant Wiggins’ explanation that feedback and compliments are not the same thing, and I do strive to make a clear distinction, it is important to me to ensure that I compliment and show appreciation for our teachers regularly.

Step Six: Be transparent about evaluation

I plan to function far more with a “coach’s hat” than an “evaluator’s hat”; yet if at any time I need to relay a concern as an evaluator, I will be direct in letting teachers know I have on my evaluator’s hat and am giving advice or clarifying expectations rather than sharing nonjudgemental feedback.

Step Seven: Seek feedback

It is vital for me not only to offer feedback, but also to receive feedback, opening myself to perspectives of teachers, staff members, parents, and students. I have thus sought to create a multitude of venues in which I request and strive to embrace feedback. As I share feedback with teachers, I simultaneously ask teachers for feedback. I was gratified when one of our new teachers shared that the two phrases she hears over and over are: How can we help you? And, give us feedback so we can do better. Our PTO provides valuable feedback from parents and I schedule parent-principal conferences on parent-teacher conference days and throughout the year, encouraging parents to speak with me directly. I continue to consider ways in which to receive feedback from teachers, other administrators, staff members, parents, and students. And, I will openly acknowledge, I appreciate the compliments I sometimes receive as well.

In line with seeking feedback, I ask for your thoughts. What do you notice and wonder about these seven steps and about effective feedback more generally? What other considerations might be helpful? How might you adapt or improve upon these steps?

I look forward to your feedback!

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Comments on: "7 Steps To Effective Feedback" (31)

  1. Jane Taubenfeld Cohen said:

    Shira,
    This is an amazing post which I am going to share on YUlead. Will you be journaling about this process? Are you going to be working with a coach on this? How different is this from your practice last year? I ask these questions because I am interested in how we grow as school leaders- what strategies and supports we use once we make a decision and create a plan.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Jane,
      This process is very much a work in progress. There are components of my practice last year; yet I have both modified and extended in order to focus and highlight effective feedback as a primary aspect of my efforts as a principal to improve the quality of learning in our school. I’ve worked with a leadership coach as well as with members of my professional learning network and, significantly for me, members of my own school’s faculty and educational leadership team. I hadn’t considered journaling about the process, yet it’s a very good idea and I can try. Thanks so much for your encouragement and questions. I look forward to continuing the conversation!

  2. Thanks for writing this post, Shira. I want to study it carefully and think about how it applies to the teacher-student relationship too.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Thanks, Maureen! Your efforts to offer feedback to students have guided me. I’ve often considered how your work in the classroom applies to professional learning for teachers. Please do share your reflections!

  3. faige meller said:

    I will share this with my division head. We have a very comprehensive evaluation system in place, but I like the idea of more frequent classroom visits and of course the birthday gift seems like a win-win situation to me. I, too, need time to study this post more thoroughly and want to reflect upon it from the teacher perspective. Thanks for sharing how you work with your faculty.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Faige,
      As you reflect, I would very much appreciate your insights from the teacher perspective. I am striving to support teacher growth and will continue to seek feedback on my own impact. Thank you!

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your process! I am learning so much from you and from participating in #educoach. I am still very new to this role of coach/evaluator/whatever I am! I created a Google Form with the prompts you shared as well as some basic data. I don’t know if I will come with or without my iPad. I like being able to note things right away because I do forget quickly and my day is filled with distractions. However, I don’t want to be a distracting presence in the classroom either.
    I need to find ways to seek feedback, both formally and informally, on how I am doing, if I am helping.
    Are you planning (willing?) to share samples of your rubric and your PD plans?

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Andrea,
      Thank you! Your feedback helps me consider next steps in this process. Perhaps we can consider together ways of seeking feedback, both formally and informally, on how we are impacting professional learning through our class visits, feedback, as well as other supports we provide. I wonder if there are teachers or other members of our leadership teams amenable to sharing such nonjudgmental feedback to us, helping us to consider our progress toward our goals. And, of course I’m happy to share our rubrics and PD plans.

  5. This is exactly what our leadership team is struggling with these days. Thanks for the food for thought. I need to return to the educoach chat.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Thank you! I think many of us are struggling with ways to provide feedback to support professional learning and growth. We’d love for you to come back to the educoach chat!

  6. Helena Hadef said:

    I love the philosophy behind what you have written. I think that teachers who are secure can benefit the most from the steps that provide feedback for the purpose of coaching whereas insecure teachers filter everything through an evaluator/critical lens. I will be curious to hear what is most effective with these types of teaxhers.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Helena,
      We do find that it takes security, confidence, and a sense of safety to embrace opportunities for professional learning and not filter the experience through the evaluators lense. We are hoping to help greater numbers of teachers embrace the opportunity to learn. It is an ongoing process. Thank you for the feedback!

  7. Renee Rudnick said:

    Shira,

    This blogpost is reverberating with me in so many ways! I have been working to formulate a workable and effective system of supervision and evaluation for the past few years, and many of your ideas jive with the process that has been evolving. Your ideas will help me to refine my process. I used Kim Marshall,s rubric for the teachers’ self evaluation which is quite extensive. I’d be very interested in your rubric. ILOVE your birthday gift idea. What a morale booster as well. Thank you for giving me so much to think about and to work with.

    Renee Rudnick

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Renee,
      I’m so glad the post is reverberating with you. I’ve also been working for the past several years on a workable and effective system of supervision and evaluation for the past few years. Kim Marshall’s Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation has made a profound impact on my thinking. I will be happy to e-mail you next week a copy of the rubrics we are using. How effective the rubrics will be remains for me an open question. Somehow, they don’t seem to me to yet capture nuanced enough information, yet they remain as the rest of our supervision approach, a work in progress. I’d love to learn more about your approach. Thanks so much for sharing!

  8. Shira,

    As a Feedback Enthusiast, I share your passion for feedback and have seen the wondrous benefits that comes from having a Feedback Framework in place. Yours models a living-systems approach, where the whole school can benefit from your actions, enabling the entire community to thrive.

    In fact, based on the comments in this post, the “glow” of your framework is extending to other networks so that others can benefit and glow.

    I am passionate about your approach because it models the vision that I describe in my new illustrated business book, The Apple in the Orchard: A story about about the courage to emerge as a leader.

    In my coaching practice, I advocate for a feedback framework that includes everyone, where everyone is trained on how to give it and receive it: teachers and students included. And yes, it is based on set expectations! It’s never too early to start teaching these important life skills.

    I will be ordered the issue of Educational Leadership Feedback for Learning – thank you so much for inviting me to your post and for helping me to continue my growth through your beautiful story.

    I applaud you on your Feedback Framework and look forward to staying connected.

    Yours in growth,
    Sonia

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Sonia,
      I’m now looking forward to reading The Apple in the Orchard and deepening my learning. “Feedback Enthusiast” is a wonderful way to describe oneself and a phrase I will borrow with gratitude. We’ve been working in our school on putting into place meaningful supports, emphasizing coaching and feedback. Your framework and training on how to give and receive feedback sounds like a wonderful model for us. Thanks for your thoughtful feedback! I look forward to continued learning together!

  9. arcadeprincipal said:

    Shira,
    I really enjoyed your post, particularly how feedback needs to be a two-way street between principal and teacher. I use to find myself not asking for feedback on my practice out of fear that it may be negative, even though logic tells me this is the only way I will grow as a leader. I have since found that teachers really respect leaders that show their vulnerable side and, as a result, teachers feel much less threatened when I provide them with feedback. Thanks again for the great ideas!

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      You raise such an important, honest obstacle toward giving and receiving feedback – the worry about hearing something negative. Once we move beyond judgement, negative or positive, toward monitoring progress toward a goal, it becomes far easier to give and receive feedback. I’m getting far better at it myself and I concur, once I take in areas that I could do better openly and non-defensively, teachers are also more amenable to embracing areas for growth.

  10. Missing from this list, and solving the problem of time for the principal/administrator and the threatening factor, is a model I was introduced to early in my career at a great international school in Hong Kong: teachers within a department are paired up (using good judgment about the pairings) and observe each other a minimum of three times throughout the course of the year. They schedule their own feedback sessions at their convenience, they plan together what the lesson will be focused on and what the teacher being observed that day wants to accomplish (the goal) and any concerns the teacher has and wants specific observation of. Then they debrief together and fill out a feedback form. It is NOT an evaluation — there is no ranking or rating, rather it’s just feedback, and no one else ever sees it or evaluates it (except perhaps to sign off that it was done). It’s for the teacher — its sole purpose is to get feedback against specific goals. It also provides an excellent byproduct of getting teachers observing other teachers more, which leads to the sharing of ideas and less working in isolation — a big plus in my book.

    This model was so incredibly helpful to me and really opened my eyes to the value of feedback. My administrators’ feedback has always felt like a judgment, even when it’s praise, but this model of feedback always felt like a conversation about growth and challenges.

    I do not recommend replacing traditional admin observation/feedback with this model but recommend using this in addition to help create a more feedback-friendly culture amongst teachers.

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Dear Alexis,
      What a fantastic approach! I’ve been wondering for some time about ways to include peer coaching and feedback within our schools model. I absolutely love your approach! Would you be amenable to sharing the feedback form you use? Is it generic or specific to each teachers’ goals? As our school continues to strengthen supports for teachers, we will most definitely consider ways of incorporating the ideas you are sharing. Thank you!

      • Sure — send me an email to remind me and I’ll send on what I’ve got. It is generic but asks the teacher to first write her specific goals for that particular observation, which makes the observer really have to think about what she wants observed — a good exercise in and of itself. Tweak it as you see fit for your school’s needs (or ask for teacher input on it as well) a.wiggins [ at ] mkis.edu.my

  11. cajuncopy said:

    Shira,

    This is an extremely helpful post. Even though I’m not evaluating teachers, you presented useful things for me to consider as I give feedback in my business. I especially liked your suggestion to make feedback nonjudgmental and goal-focused. The “hey, we’re in this together” aspect of your approach is refreshing. We’re on the same team, seeking the same outcome. It’s a partnership to get to that outcome, not a battle to win a person’s approval. Good stuff!

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      I’m so glad to hear the approach is valuable for you in a business setting. Once we speak about progress toward meaningful goals, the dynamic can shift from judgement to support. We can then focus together on making a positive impact. Thank you for the feedback.

  12. Dear Shira,,
    Thank you for such a practical example of implementing a feedback framework! I will be crediting you and citing this blog post as I develop my professional growth plan this year.
    Vicki Sullivan (@_vickisullivan)

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Dear Vicki,
      I’m so grateful you found the post helpful. I’d love to learn from you as well. Please do keep me posted on ways in which you implement a feedback framework.

  13. Hi Shira,
    Congratulations and good luck on your new role as Head of School!

    I was browsing through your blog and just read this one on feedback – a subject of never-ending interest to all of us. I believe that the greatest and ongoing challenge is building that trust between administrator and teacher to enable the conversations to be truly growth-focused, in spite of the two hats of coach and evaluator we wear. Your seven steps are a great guide.

    I have followed your blogs from one school to another and am always amazed at how you juggle administrative duties while continually not only growing professionally but sharing with the rest of us. Thank you!

    Would you be willing to share the rubrics you created as a faculty for the school’s Standards for Professional Practice?

    Thank you in advance!

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hi Chaya,
      Thanks for the encouragement! I continue to reflect on feedback, and I am beginning in my new school with compliments as I develop trusting relationships with teachers. As teachers gain comfort with my presence in their classrooms, I’ll move to non-evaluative, non-judgemental feedback. The rubrics we created are similar to Danielson’s, adapted for the school at which I was working. I would be happy to e-mail you a copy.

  14. Hello Dr. Leibowitz,
    I am the director of communications at the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS), and managing editor of our magazine, Vanguard. Our next issue is all about Effective Feedback, with the cover story being an interview with Grant Wiggins. I would love to add your 7 Steps to Effective Feedback to the Practices portion of our magazine – I think it would be a great resource to our readers, 8,000 school leaders throughout New York State. Please let me know if you would be agreeable to a reprint.
    Thank you, Michelle Hebert

    • Shira Leibowitz said:

      Hello Michelle,
      I would be very honored for you to reprint 7 Steps to Effective Feedback. Please do let me know how I can receive a copy of the magazine. Thank you for reaching out.

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