There is nothing more difficult in leadership than giving effective feedback after a lesson observation. It is also difficult to receive feedback. Why? Well, teaching is highly personal. For most teachers, performance in a lesson is an extension of our personality and therefore any comments reflect on us as human beings. So, when giving and receiving feedback it is important to learn how to do this effectively.
Receiving feedback is about active listening. You need to listen to everything that is said. There is a temptation to only hear the negatives, to be waiting to be told that you are not good enough. Worse still, you don’t listen to anything until the observer tells you the judgement they have come to. Will anything other than outstanding be good enough for you? If they tell you that you require improvement, will you stop hearing the ways that you can improve.
So, you need to make a point of listening and to use strategies that will help with this. Ask the observer if you can take notes and bullet point the main ideas. Better still, bullet point the ideas in two columns – whether it is positives or room for improvement. Ask the observer, after receiving the judgement, if you can have 5 minutes to take in the information before hearing any more. Consider if you should read the feedback sheet before you listen to the points that the observer makes. What will help you make the most of experience?
If it helps, the observer’s task is much more difficult. Knowing how to give great feedback is an art, though it is certainly something that should be made a more prominent part of middle and senior leader training. Do you give the judgement first? Do you give feedback straight after the lesson? Do you allow the observed teacher to choose when and where the feedback is given? Are you allowed to ask someone else to assist you give the feedback?
There are those that suggest giving feedback as a sandwich. First, what was great, then what needed improvement and then finishing with what you enjoyed. Some argue that this can deflect away from important messages about improvement. Some observers insist on giving feedback within 24 hours, whilst others insist that you should give feedback at the most convenient moment. Some schools tell you not to give a judgement, even if the teacher asks. Some observers believe that without a metric scale, it is difficult to contextualise performance in the classroom.
The most important advice to the observer is to respect the dignity and emotional well-being of the teacher being observed. Make choices that best represent care for the individual at a time when they are vulnerable. Yes, there is a duty to improve the teaching and learning in a school to help improve the experience for students. However, no teacher battered by poor feedback again and again is going to do any good for any student anyway. So, deliver important messages within a framework of constructive advice – in fact, the same way you would suggest improvement to a student.