The Three Biggest Feedback Mistakes Leaders Make

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By Robyn Jackson

ASCD’s Conference on Educational Leadership is right around the corner and we are here to provide you with a sneak peek into the conference schedule. The conference promises to give school leaders like you new ideas for your leadership knowledge base, help you focus on what matters most in leadership, and connect you with global educational leaders.

Most leaders I know sincerely want to help teachers but are struggling to find the right way to give feedback that teachers will actually listen to and implement and that will actually result in significant improvements in their practice. I’ve found over the years that there are three huge barriers that get in the way of giving this kind of effective feedback. If you can avoid these feedback mistakes, you can immediately increase the power and potency of your feedback.

Mistake # 1: Giving Generic Feedback—”That was a fantastic class!” “You need to give more wait time.” “Try to find more ways to engage your students.” We’ve all heard generic remarks such as these at some point in our career. The problem? They don’t actually help teachers improve. What made the class so fantastic? When do I need to use more wait time? Why do my students need to be more engaged and in what way do they need to be engaged? Receiving feedback that answers these kinds of questions is what will actually change practice. If our feedback to teachers doesn’t identify the root cause of what is or is not working, explain why it is or is not working, and provide direction about what they should do next, it’s not very useful to them.

Mistake #2: Giving Too Much Feedback—I am often surprised at how much feedback teachers actually get from one observation. “You need to greet students at the door, you should use this teaching strategy instead, you spent too much time on the warm-up, you need better systems for transitions, you should use this graphic organizer instead, and you should use a formative assessment such as an exit ticket at the end of class.” This laundry list of improvements leaves the teacher confused about what to do first. Often, teachers pick and choose what changes they will make and see little improvement in their practice. A better practice is to limit our feedback to the root cause of why a class did or did not work. That way, teachers can focus on the one or two things that will be most helpful in improving their practice.

Mistake # 3: Taking Over a Teacher’s Practice—In my work with leaders, this one mistake is the hardest to undo. We go into a classroom and can see how to “fix” it right away. We give the teacher a favorite strategy or tell the teacher how to teach a particular lesson the “right” way, and we think we are helping. But, if you take over a teacher’s practice, you make yourself responsible for the success or failure of that classroom and you cheat the teacher out of achieving real improvement. If teachers never learn how to think through their practice for themselves, they will never get better. It’s the hardest thing to do as a leader, but you must resist taking over a teacher’s practice. Instead, help the teacher understand what isn’t working and why it isn’t working, and then help them figure out for themselves how to improve. In doing so, we not only empower teachers to ultimately become master teachers, we save ourselves from doing work that doesn’t belong to us—so that we can do the work that is most valuable to our role in the building.

If you want to learn how to avoid these feedback mistakes, join me at the ASCD Conference on Educational Leadership where I’ll be conducting a Pre-Conference Institute and sharing concrete strategies you can use to give effective feedback to teachers that motivates and equips them to become master teachers.

Read more posts from Robyn Jackson. 

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Robyn R. Jackson is the founder and CEO of Mindsteps Inc. (www.mindstepsinc.com). She is the author of nine books including the award-winning Never Underestimate Your Teachers and the best-selling Never Work Harder than Your Students.