The theory goes that as adults, we are self-driven learners thirsty for feedback as to how we might improve, and of course in the classroom, we’re well aware of how powerful feedback is with regard to student learning.
So why is it, that in the real world, there are many times that feedback rarely makes much difference at all?
We’ve all had the experience of sharing with people – adults or students – strategies they need to employ in order to improve, only to watch as they continue as they have previously.
To combat this, there are many frameworks for giving feedback, one of the most common being the Positive – Negative – Positive framework, which I’ve always been a little sceptical of.
The theory of this framework is that by starting with the positives, the recipient will be in the right frame of mind to hear in the negative, and by finishing with a positive, they’ll be suitably inspired to go and address the negative.
In reality of course, after such a debrief, the recipient usually finds a colleague with which to debrief on the debrief!
“You’re not going to believe what she said to me!” or “When was the last time he taught Year 5?!”
Typically, when we receive negative or constructive feedback, which might not even be all that negative – it could just be a question for example, “Why did you group the students in that way?” – we do two things.
First, we justify why we did what we did, and second we seek out someone who we feel will give us positive feedback about what we did.
We’ve probably been doing this since we were young, and it continues into the workplace.
Of course, if the positive feedback one receives, outweighs the negative, then little will change.
If we are giving feedback it turns out that before our negative feedback will be received, the recipient must feel a continued sense of belonging and being valued.
The culture of your staffroom will directly impact the effectiveness of your feedback.
If your staff feel they need to continually prove themselves to justify their place – which is a common mindset for temporary staff – then negative feedback will be seen as a risk or a threat, and, as with most psychological threats, the fight or flight response can kick in, and this rarely engenders learning or improvement.
But if your staff feel valued for their efforts and regularly receive this acknowledgment outside of formal feedback sessions then it gives you a far greater chance of making your feedback stick. The same could be said for students as well.