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This week’s article is a reflection from one of our team members Jane Kennedy about the type of feedback she received versus the type of feedback she needed as a teacher. And, while it is Jane’s personal experience, it is an experience that resonates with us all.

A Teacher Reflects on Her First Evaluation

Even thirty years on, I still remember the nervous feeling I had when my principal first walked into my classroom to observe a brand-new teacher (me) teaching. I quickly went from being a confident teacher in a roomful of students to an anxious adult. I silently hoped my students would behave and the lesson would go as I planned. I worked hard to keep my focus on the students and the lesson and exhaled when ten or so minutes later she stood up, dropped a note on my desk, and exited the room. I wanted to run to the desk to see what she had written, but exercised patience and continued with the lesson.

Once the students exited the classroom, I cautiously opened the note to see what she had written. Inside it said, “Great lesson.” I quickly smiled with relief that it went well. But then I began to pause. What did she mean by “great lesson”? What made it great? I knew as a six-month veteran teacher, that it wasn’t a “great” lesson. I felt it was good. I knew learning occurred. But it wasn’t “great”. I still had much to learn about my craft as a teacher before I could deliver a “great” lesson. Rather than the initial elation I felt from the praise of the note, it now felt meaningless. I felt let down.

A Teacher Needs Constructive Feedback

At the time I could not have articulated why the “great lesson” note felt meaningless. Today, I can. We know the importance of quality feedback. John Hattie and Helen Timperley’s research has told us that feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement. His work reminds us that, “…the main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current understandings and performance and a goal.” And that, “Effective feedback must answer three major questions…: Where am I going? (What are the goals?), How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?), and Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)”

The feedback my principal left me did not address any of these questions. As a school, we had not even defined what made a “great lesson.” We did not have an identified goal that we were all striving towards. I did not have an identified goal that I was individually striving towards. We were all just doing what we thought was best.

A Better Way

Today in Elevated Achievement’s work with schools and districts, I am excited to see how this has changed. We have schools that have defined performance outcomes they are working towards and these outcomes are focused on student achievement. Schools are taking advantage of technology that allows them to provide timely and specific feedback that answers the three questions and align with the decided outcomes. Schools are using the question-driven feedback strategy as a means to drive conversations, develop stronger decision-makers, and empower teachers as they strive towards excellence.

Unlike my early experience, teachers are now inviting administrators into their classrooms. They have a clear understanding of what the goal is for monitoring and how the question-driven feedback they have will help them make stronger decisions along the way.

What, Exactly, Is Question-Driven Feedback?

Question-driven feedback is one of the most effective methods to support stronger decision making for any learner.

Telling or asking closed questions saves people from having to think. Asking open questions causes them to think for themselves. (Whitmore, 2017, p. 39)

This method of discourse allows the teacher to own the feedback process by explaining, clarifying, and reflecting on the decisions they are making to implement the actions of the initiative. In other words, it is incumbent on the administrator to help teachers become more effective and efficient decision-makers regarding classroom practice by asking teachers how they make decisions and supporting their metacognition through the articulation of their thinking.

The value of this kind of feedback process is in the conversation. As an administrator, the goal is clear—to create awareness and responsibility in teachers regarding student achievement. What is said and done must reflect that goal. Thus, just giving vague feedback, like, “Great job!” is useless. Instead, principals must ask effective questions that drive a thoughtful conversation that allows the teachers to articulate, clarify, question, and solidify the decisions they are making.

How to Start Using Question-Driven Feedback

Begin each conversation with what was observed in the classroom. Questions should begin with broad brushstrokes and then increasingly focus on the details, always eliciting from the teacher the decisions made and the reasoning behind each decision. This questioning for more detail maintains the focus of the conversation.

But these questions are only a jumping-off point. As John Whitmore explains,

Questions are most commonly asked in order to elicit information. I may require information to resolve an issue for myself, or if I am proffering advice or a solution to someone else. If I am a [principal], however, the answers are of secondary importance. The information is not for me to make use of and may not have to be complete. I only need to know that the [teacher] has the necessary information. The answers given by the [teacher] frequently indicate to the [principal] the line to follow with subsequent questions, while at the same time enabling him to monitor whether the [teacher] is following a productive track, or one that is in line with the [initiative being implemented]. (p. 41)

Therefore, give yourself the freedom to take the conversation in any direction that allows you to better understand the teacher’s thinking. Remember, the aim of every conversation is to have the teacher articulate and better understand their own decision-making process.

Teachers play a crucial role in ensuring that students receive best, first instruction. The teacher is the key decision-maker for establishing effective learning design before, during, and after instruction. The role of the administrator is to help teachers become more effective and efficient decision-makers regarding classroom practice by asking teachers how they make decisions and support metacognition through the articulation of their thinking. Question-driven feedback supports administrators and teachers to move beyond positive praise and grow into the educators each and every student deserves.

Want to know more about question-driven feedback?

Check out our new book or buy it now with 20% discount when you use the code: EAG2021.

The Learning Brief

In this article you learned…
  • That teachers desire feedback on the craft of teaching and learning.
  • The most effective way to offer feedback is by asking questions.
  • The purpose of a question-driven feedback format is to allow teachers the time and space to process how they make decisions regarding teaching and learning.
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