Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Feed 'Em!

In October of this year, I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak at the British Columbia Principals and Vice Principals Association "Connecting Leaders Conference".  I presented a piece called "Restructuring (not Remortgaging) to Improve Student Achievement" (mostly encapsulated in one of my earlier blogs here).  While it was not my first time presenting in front of a large group, I found the whole process incredibly invigorating--I did my best to prepare something that people could walk from with concrete ideas about creating time for people to collaborate in concert with an intervention system for students and a spark to go out there and do it.  The presentation was about an hour long, I received some applause and a few positive comments at the end, and as quickly as it began, it was done.  I hoped people go something out of it, but I wasn't really sure.

Today, my mail came to my office, and there was a package for me from the BCPVPA.  In the envelope were the feedback forms that people had filled out about my presentation.  I was shocked--I had actually forgotten that they had been done.  I got very excited to find out what 'the verdict' was.  Did people get something out of my presentation?  Did I make it relevant to them?  Was it what they expected?  Did I check for understanding, and allow people enough time to interact, dialogue and discuss?

I sat there for 15 minutes and scanned through the evaluation sheets.  It was fascinating!  While people were extraordinarily kind and hoped that I would present again, I realized a few things--I didn't give people enough time to ask questions at the end, and I should have allowed a bit more time to interact with eachother.  I only had an hour, but I should have made more of an attempt to carve out a few more moments for people to synthesize their thoughts.  An hour later, I picked them up again for a couple minutes.  And then it hit me.

I really enjoyed getting feedback.

Last night on #edchat, giving effective feedback to students was the topic.  In my role as Principal, I don't get as many opportunities as I would like to give students specific feedback about their learning.  However, I realize that our teachers need to get more feedback. Not only from me, but from their students!  I blogged a while ago about an outstanding book called called "Visible Learning", by John Hattie, a compilation of more than 800 meta-analyses of different factors that influence student achievement. Teachers seeking formative feedback ranks as #3 of 138 different factors, with an effect of 0.9 (very high) over nearly 4000 students in 38 studies.  Teachers being purposeful to innovations in that they are looking to see "what works" and "why it works" as well as looking for reasons why students do not do well lead to improvement in instruction and student achievement.

But how do we encourage educators (and I include administrators with teachers here) to actively seek out feedback from those who are learning with and from them?  A couple of ideas:
  • From an administrator's perspective, I tried something last June: I had 'exit interviews' with each of our 80 teachers.  I gave them a couple of guiding questions a few days in advance that would serve as conversation starters, but the discussion was mostly free-flowing.  It was extremely time consuming, incredibly humbling in some cases, a few "ouch"s in others, but it was the most valuable thing that I have done as an administrator.  I believe it made me better at what I do, and I feel that this year has been incredibly rewarding because I have a clearer sense of where people are at.
  • From a teacher's perspective, Brad Epp, one of our outstanding Math teachers, created a unit by unit assessment sheet as well as a student-survey that he gives at the end of his course.  These have been picked up by a number of our staff members who are hungry for feedback from their students, and they are adapting to the needs of their learners as a result.
I know that my PLN will have dozens of other ideas that will inspire educators to be hungry for feedback.  If you have some thoughts, please include them.

I say let's inspire people to be hungry for feedback, support them with mechanisms to get it and interpret it, and encourage them to act upon it.

Let's Feed 'Em!


  1. Then, does Brad allow for re-tests after the student has reflected on the incorrect answers (simple mistake and don't get its)? They can make a success plan and demonstrate further learning unit by unit or is this reflection in preparation for a final exam (if he gives one)?

  2. Cale, another thought provoking post. I would argue that when asking the question(seeking feedback) one must also be prepared for the answer. For some people this may be hard to accept. As we know, some peoples' perception is their reality. It might be quite a shock to hear the truth. However, a true professional would use that feedback to improve.

  3. Cale, I used Survey Monkey with my intermediate division students and teachers. Often, people are too kind and would never tell you directly when something is lacking, because for so many people, being critical of their teaching equals being critical of them (which shouldn't be the case, but I digress). They could be honest and I could gather the results to help me plan the next unit.
    I also like the Senteo SMART response system for the younger kids, and randomly grabbing people to write down their thoughts about a lesson or unit.

  4. Cale,

    I was one of those in your presentations last fall and I'm glad to hear that you received the feedback forms (albeit a little later than I would have liked). As a fellow presenter, I can tell you that I devour feedback whenever I present and it always improves my next presentation. My usual approach is to require it as a "ticket out the door".

    Your presentation last fall was fantastic. One of the excellent resources I have relied upon in the past few years is Garr Reynolds work - Presentation Zen and his latest, The Naked Presenter. His work really compliments Dan & Chip Heath's material around making ideas "sticky". You had a bunch of those elements in your presentation in October so you are definitely on the right track.


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