Feedback; How to do it right.

In our last post we opened up to the idea of developing teachers as Classroom Leaders. We began to see how shifting some of the responsibilities of the teacher creates an environment where students become more responsible for their own learning and development. As the 2019-2020 school year draws to a close locally in China, many teachers are receiving their end-of-year review and asked to provide feedback. This can create tension within working environments as beliefs and cultures can clash about what makes effective criteria for evaluation, and how this is given and received.


Today I want to introduce to a tool that will revolutionise the way you feel about feedback. It’s called FeedForward. This concept was introduced by Marshall Goldsmith, and it was originally created as a way to help businesses learn and grow. Like many tools, this is useful to adapt into education as it sets a much more positive tone in both the office and classroom environment. This is achieved by putting the responsibility back onto the learner, creating that same autonomy that the teacher as a Classroom Leader instils into their student.


In FeedForward there are two roles; Role One as The Learner, and Role Two as The Helper. You can assume that there are both smart and nice people in the room because it is possible that every human has the potential to be both of these things. If we can imagine this is true, we can suppose that you want to learn from the smart people and help the nice people. If you don’t believe me, just ask the smart/ nice people to raise their hands in your next meeting. So, if there are smart people we want to learn from and nice people we want to help, how can we do so? The answer is to focus on feeding forward.


There are only two rules with FeedForward. The first is NO feedback about the past. If it’s gone, done and can’t be changed, how does verbally repeating and berating mistakes serve to improve the teacher? It doesn’t. That is why it is always met with a silent or defensive stance that doesn’t actually help anyone. This type of feedback tears down their accomplishments, invalidates their efforts and chips away at the self-esteem. It also creates the idea that TEFL teachers are disposable, reinforcing the instability which leads to depression about the past and anxiety about the future. Over time this can create a vicious cycle, causing teacher burn-out and high staff turnover. No one wants that. So, the focus needs to remain on what is controllable- the future.


The second rule is that you can’t critique or judge ideas. It is easy to be critical; what is challenging is to allow the teacher to be in control of their own development and improvement. In order for FeedForward to be effective, there needs to be trust. The Seeker must be able to ask for input from the smart person and receive ideas from the nice person. The recommended philosophy is to treat the input like a gift. When it is received, regardless of what it is, the socially accepted response is to say thank you and accept it with gratitude. Even if it is an ugly Christmas sweater and you are never going to wear it except maybe at an ugly sweater competition. It’s okay to say thank you and let it go.


This method has been used in both small and large groups, with individuals or teams. It follows an effectivr simple, repeatable formula. A one-on-one conversation might look like this:


“Hi, my name is Pam and I’m looking for ways to improve my percentage of students completing homework.”


Then you give me two or three ideas that you might use, without past feedback or critical judgements.


I say “thank you”.


And then you say “Hi my name is ABC and I’m looking for ways to improve my cross-cultural communication.”


Then I give you two or three ideas that you might use, without past feedback or critical judgements.


And you say “thank you”.


And then we move on. Seems pretty simple right?


Here is where I challenge you Dear Reader, to take this exercise and implement it in your own life. Try it the next time someone wants to give you feedback, when you are asked for feedback, or even as a classroom activity.


And most importantly, don’t forget to FeedForward and tell me what you thought of this article by commenting, liking or sharing on social media!

Pam