The Illinois 5Essentials survey asks teachers many questions related to school climate, leadership and other factors. This is the second year that teachers and parents were asked to take the survey. The data is available to the public and I believe it’ll soon be used to partially evaluate schools. As I was reviewing the data, I noticed a few trends in particular. Like all schools, my school has strengths and areas that need bolstering. One area that jumped out to me was a question related to useful feedback. The question is below.
Teachers report that a member of the school leadership team provides me with useful feedback to improve my teaching.
The majority of Illinois teachers answered this question with strongly disagree, disagree, agree, or strongly agree. After speaking with a few colleagues the term useful in this question can mean many different things. What’s useful to some might not be useful to others. Generally, the majority of adminstrator feedback related to teaching comes directly from teacher observations. This isn’t always the case, but I’ve seen this happen throughout my teaching career. Teachers are often observed by administrators and educators receive some type of feedback shortly after the formal evaluation. The feedback is often related to the state’s Danielson evaluation model. The feedback fits into the categories of needs improvement, proficient or distinguished. Usually an administrator narrative follows each rating. This provides some feedback to the teacher, but I’m not sure if this brings the most value as far instructional impact is concerned. Although it’s mandatory from a policy perspective, useful feedback doesn’t always take the form of the evaluation cycle.
Based on the evaluation model, feedback is constructed based on the lesson that was observed. Feedback applied to that particular lesson might not be applicable for other lessons or subject areas that you teach. Understanding the scope and sequence of a unit will give the observer a better birds-eye view of what to expect and the feedback can be adjusted as needed. In some schools, the pre-observation session includes a conversation about what was taught before the lesson.
The usefulness of this particular feedback may lose value as it targets a specific lesson. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still valuable/useful, but there’s a ceiling to this type of feedback. Also, I’m not optimistic that it brings extended value to other content areas. Having a transparent non-evaluative system of feedback can bring more of a long-term impact. Here are a few other feedback options that don’t involve the formal observation process:
- Teachers and administrators travel to a different school within the district to collect data. Not being from that particular school brings a new perspective that may be less subjective. The data often follows district/school initiatives and can easily be collected without disturbing the instruction that’s happening. For example, three people quietly walk through your classroom and write down observations related to a checklist. The data is transparent and can be seen by the teacher. Some schools use Google Docs to document these observations and share them with the teacher.
Administrators are often the people that tell teachers what they’re looking for. Using the informal look-out model gives teachers the option to ask administrators to look for particular items as they enter the classroom. One teacher may want the administrator to give feedback regarding how effective their math stations are in relation to the objective. This feedback is informal and non-evaluative. The feedback will be useful as teachers are explicitly asking for particulars.
This isn’t really for administrators, but I believe peer observations provide value. Administrators can help organize the logistics involved with this model. Teachers visit other classrooms throughout the day, take notes, and have opportunities to debrief with each other. This is especially beneficial to specialist teachers as they can visit other buildings to see subject-alike classes. I’ve had the opportunity to partake in a peer observation and picked up strategies/ideas that are currently being used in my own classroom.
One of the keys to all of these feedback models involves trust between administrators and teachers. Without the trust it can be nearly impossible to provide feedback that will be deemed useful. Having the models be non-evaluative also plays a pivotal role.
How do you receive useful feedback?