Teacher Reflection: Questions to process the barrage of student feedback

9781118575239.pdfI recently read Michael Fullan’s book, The Principal, Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, where he argues the importance and methods of the Principal as instructional leader.  He does not suggest the Principal individually mentors and/or provides feedback for each teacher in the school.  Doing so would stretch the Principal’s time too thin and also not leverage the many other professionals in the building who can provide feedback to teachers.  Instead, the Principal should create a learning culture among teachers with high expectations and openness to receiving and responding to feedback from peers.  Helping set the conditions for a truly effective professional learning community is paramount.

The book’s purpose is to share why and how Principal’s should do this and while I fully support the conclusions of the book and learned from the process of implementation, I also kept thinking about the varied forms of feedback teachers receive on a daily, even period by period, basis from their students, rather than colleagues.  So, rather than attempt to summarize Fullan’s argument in 700 words in this blog post, I will share some questions educators can ask to take advantage of the feedback they receive from students.  Creating a culture of collaboration where teachers can inspire and learn from each other is important.  As is creating culture of reflection, where teachers have the motivation and capacity to reflect on their practice by recognizing and taking advantage of the potentially overwhelming amount of feedback teachers receive from students.

Before diving in, it is useful to note what objectives for which the teacher is looking for feedback.  While teachers may have their own goals, I have found the three goals below, simply stated but anything but simple, summarize what I hope for my students:

  1. Love learning – be engaged in learning and eager to learn more
  2. Learn a lot – develop understandings and competencies that make them more thoughtful and capable.
  3. Find learning purposeful – be interested in putting their learning to use for their benefit, the benefit of others and for the natural world.

 

1.  Love Learning

The focus of my growth plan is to measure student engagement in a less subjective way but teachers can ask the following questions to determine levels of student engagement:

  • Were my students on task and self-directed? Did they need frequent redirection to focus on the task?
  • Were students surprised or disappointed to find out the period was almost over?
  • Did students do their best work?
  • Were students keen to share their learning with others, such as their peers, their teachers, and their families?

 

  1. Learn a Lot

The proof is in the pudding.  The traditional feedback for whether we are doing a good job as teachers is student achievement.

 

  1. Find Learning Purposeful

“Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done.”  The aphorism is true of education as well.  Educators know that student learning is purposeful, but it must be seen as purposeful by the learner as well.  Asking students the following questions is helpful in finding out if they understand that their learning is purposeful:

  • What do you know now that you didn’t at the start of the day? Why does it matter?
  • What can you do better now than at the start of the day? How is this helpful?
  • What do you want to do with your learning?

 

And a few questions not for students but for the teacher him or herself:

  • What did I do today that ensures my students know I care about their well-being and growth as learners?
  • What did I learn today? How will I put this learning to use?

Being a member of a professional learning community that shares innovative ideas and helps educators reflect on their practice is of vital importance.  The incredible work of the Network of Innovation and Inquiry in BC, the work of Innovation Teams in West Vancouver, and the continuous work of colleagues in schools has made this clear to me.  But as teachers are exposed to unceasing feedback from students, being mindful, reflective and open to this feedback is also of essential importance.

What other questions are helpful to make the most of student feedback?

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Most educators frequently reflect on their practice including why and how they do things. They are constantly refining their pedagogy asking themselves the questions: Why am I doing it this way? What am I achieving? What outcomes are my actions leading to?  Why do I do what I do?

It may be just as enlightening for educators who wish to create engaging learning environments to ask this last question, “Why do I do what I do?” of how they spend their leisure time.  As a child, why did I enjoy playing hockey so much?  Why do I enjoy kayaking? What is so exhilarating about skiing in powder?

It is usually pretty obvious to us what we enjoy and don’t enjoy so the question might seem unnecessary. But digging further and determining what we enjoy about activities can enlighten some key elements of an engaging learning environment.

So, as fall arrives and I start dreaming of the ski season, I’ll examine this last point, “Why do I enjoy skiing in powder?” and try to pull out some insights about engaging learning environments.Winter in Whistler

Despite the immense amount of technology needed to ski in powder comfortably (boots, bindings, skis, clothing…) there is also a synergistic connection one has with the natural world – of working with gravity, rather than against it, of playing within gravity’s rules but with just a little room to bend them. Like catching a wave on a surfboard or laughing uncontrollably, skiing can capture my complete attention so that nothing else – nothing stressful, nothing negative, not more than one thing – occupies my mind and I escape time. Falling in soft powder is of little worry and even necessary as I try to push my limits in order to enjoy the inherent satisfaction of improvement. There is a little bit of freedom to choose my path, even if the saying is true that, Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads.” And to be outside all day, in cold fresh air, scanning vast mountain ranges which are on such a grander scale than what I normally see during the week.

I pull from this that I, and I assume most other learners too, crave entering a state of flow; want a challenging and supportive learning culture where mistakes have soft landings; where improvement happens and is recognized as happening; where there is synergy, whether among participant and nature, or among participants; where we are pulled away from what we normally see or get to do; and where there is some level of choice, some decision making, even – because life is like this – if factors like gravity or a mountain guide the way.  

My professional growth plan this year focuses on learner engagement: What is it? What are the key factors? And how do we truly know that learners are engaged and not just compliant? I’m keen to learn more and will share it in blog posts throughout the year.