“But why?” my four year old asks.  In exasperation, this frazzled mom finds herself uttering those infamous words, “Because I told you so!”  Just as this response is unsatisfying to my own children so, too, is ill-phrased feedback often unsatisfying and unproductive to our colleagues.  As an internal coach or mentor, one of my responsibilities is to help guide and give constructive feedback to other teachers.  I’m a mom, and I like to “mother”-- to give advice.  Yet, is this truly effective feedback?  Does it simply leave teachers asking “why” while trying to silently please their mentor/administrator?  What kind of feedback is actually constructive in helping teachers achieve growth towards long-term goals?

            In order to satisfy my wonderings to these questions, I sought out current educational research.  In Grant Wiggins’s article “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback” (Educational Leadership, Sept. 2012), he first defined true feedback as “information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach our goal.”  This does not include comments that are advice (You need to ….) or value judgments (Great job!)  True feedback is geared toward long-term goals.  In his article, Wiggins outlines seven essential elements of effective feedback.  Effective feedback is:

  1. Goal-referenced- create clear goals; feedback should consist of information related to those goals
  2. Tangible and transparent- look at tangible results like video or audio; take counts
  3. Actionable- be very descriptive; information should be useful, concrete, and specific; facts should be neutral and goal-related
  4. User friendly- do not be too technical or overwhelming
  5. Timely- give feedback soon after the observation; the sooner the better
  6. Ongoing- give opportunities to reshape performance in order to achieve goals
  7. Consistent- ensure that observers are stable, accurate, trustworthy; built on a common vision of what high quality teaching is
            As teachers, we give feedback to our students so that they can grow and learn.  As mentors, our job is the same with our fellow teachers.  Before dispensing advice, the learner needs to first grasp and accept the descriptive feedback.  Then the mentor can ask, “Given the feedback, do you have some ideas about how to improve?”  This builds both confidence and autonomy in the learner.  “But why?” is unlikely to be an issue.

            What kind of feedback is truly effective in producing growth?  The key is descriptive observation based on long-term goals.  What have I learned?  This mentor “mom” needs to reign in my predisposition to dispense advice and accolades.  My goal is not to “fix” issues that other teachers might have but to guide those teachers in figuring out how to reach goals themselves.  Given with purest intentions, effective feedback results in greater learning for all.

Krista Bridenthal
Indianapolis, Indiana

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    Our authoring staff is based in Indianapolis, IN and work in a multiracial, urban, K-8 school setting.


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