Wit & Wisdom

Game Changers & Tales of Triumph and Woe

The Double Whammy "F" Word: Fear of Feedback

CJ Westerberg, January 20, 2012 9:54 AM


Editor's Note:   We liked this post, in particular, in that it addresses a topic that makes many in edu-circles squeamish, but maybe it shouldn't as Birk suggests.  I'll not forget a recently  shared anecdote related to this post from a teacher I greatly admire.  She took it upon herself to be video-taped during a few of her (first grade) classes.  Her observation?   "I realized that I talk too much during class," was her magical moment of self-revelation, which also gave us both a huge LOL.  Priceless. 
                                                   - C.J. Westerberg

Feed 'Em!

by Cale Birk

How many times have we presented to our peers on a topic, hosted a staff meeting, had a
parent night, or given a lesson in a class, and the wrapped up our topic, folded up our laptop
and walked away wondering if "they got it" and "Did I do a good job?".

I would endeavor to guess that this is fairly common for educators, but how often do we
actually take the time to find out if the message that we were hoping to deliver was the
message that was actually received? Getting feedback from our audience is one of the
most important things we can do to improve our practice, but it requires a process to get
the feedback, effort to collect it, and the courage to accept constructive criticism and
change as a result.

" . . I say let's inspire people to be hungry for feedback, support them with mechanisms to get it and interpret it,
and encourage them to act upon it.
. . ."

In October of this year, I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak at the British Columbia Principals and Vice Principals Association "Connecting Leaders Conference".  I presented a piece called "Restructuring (not Remortgaging) to Improve Student Achievement" (mostly encapsulated in one of my earlier blogs here).  While it was not my first time presenting in front of a large group, I found the whole process incredibly invigorating - I did my best to prepare something that people could walk from with concrete ideas about creating time for people to collaborate in concert with an intervention system for students and a spark to go out there and do it.  The presentation was about an hour long, I received some applause and a few positive comments at the end, and as quickly as it began, it was done.  I hoped people go something out of it, but I wasn't really sure.

Today, my mail came to my office, and there was a package for me from the BCPVPA.  In the envelope were the feedback forms that people had filled out about my presentation.  I was shocked - I had actually forgotten that they had been done.  I got very excited to find out what 'the verdict' was.  Did people get something out of my presentation?  Did I make it relevant to them?  Was it what they expected?  Did I check for understanding, and allow people enough time to interact, dialogue and discuss?

I sat there for 15 minutes and scanned through the evaluation sheets.  It was fascinating!  While people were extraordinarily kind and hoped that I would present again, I realized a few things - I didn't give people enough time to ask questions at the end, and I should have allowed a bit more time to interact with each other.  I only had an hour, but I should have made more of an attempt to carve out a few more moments for people to synthesize their thoughts.  An hour later, I picked them up again for a couple minutes.  And then it hit me.

I really enjoyed getting feedback.

Last night on #edchat, giving effective feedback to students was the topic.  In my role as Principal, I don't get as many opportunities as I would like to give students specific feedback about their learning.  However, I realize that our teachers need to get more feedback. Not only from me, but from their students!  I blogged a while ago about an outstanding book called called "Visible Learning", by John Hattie, a compilation of more than 800 meta-analyses of different factors that influence student achievement.

Teachers seeking formative feedback ranks as #3 of 138 different factors, with an effect of 0.9 (very high) over nearly 4000 students in 38 studies.  Teachers being purposeful to innovations in that they are looking to see "what works" and "why it works" as well as looking for reasons why students do not do well lead to improvement in instruction and student achievement.

But how do we encourage educators (and I include administrators with teachers here) to actively seek out feedback from those who are learning with and from them?  A couple of ideas:

From an administrator's perspective, I tried something last June: I had "exit interviews" with each of our 80 teachers.  I gave them a couple of guiding questions a few days in advance that would serve as conversation starters, but the discussion was mostly free-flowing.  It was extremely time consuming, incredibly humbling in some cases, a few 'ouch's' in others, but it was the most valuable thing that I have done as an administrator.  I believe it made me better at what I do, and I feel that this year has been incredibly rewarding because I have a clearer sense of where people are at.

From a teacher's perspective, Brad Epp, one of our outstanding Math teachers, created a unit by unit assessment sheet as well as a student-survey that he gives at the end of his course.  These have been picked up by a number of our staff members who are hungry for feedback from their students, and they are adapting to the needs of their learners as a result.
I know that my PLN will have dozens of other ideas that will inspire educators to be hungry for feedback.  If you have some thoughts, please include them.

I say let's inspire people to be hungry for feedback, support them with mechanisms to get it and interpret it, and encourage them to act upon it.

Let's Feed 'Em!


Cale Birk is Principal of South Kamloops Secondary School, passionate about Professional Learning Communities, Assessment, and 21st Century Learning.  He can be found at his blog,
The Learning Nation, and at the Connected Principals group blog, where this post originally appeared.  We recommend both as good reads, especially to gain insight into the world of school leaders who want to make a difference.

Posted March 2011

Related The Daily Riff:
A School Leader Chooses Student Potential over Test Scores

School Leadership:  Jumping from "Good to Great:  The Top Ten

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