TCHERS' VOICE / Coaching

The A-B-Cs of Giving Feedback to a Colleague

Providing feedback. It's so much more than sharing some helpful information with another person regarding his or her work. It's a gift -- a chance to help someone improve themselves or their work, and ultimately our students will benefit.

If you think about it, feedback is as much about you as the person you're providing it to. Your feedback is a reflection of you. The quality of it, and the time you spend giving it, shows how much (or how little) you value the feedback process. The fact that someone is asking you for your feedback speaks volumes. After all, someone has made himself or herself vulnerable to you. They have invested time in their work and trust you and your professional opinion. I hope thinking about feedback this way puts you in the right frame of mind when evaluating someone's work, or, more accurately, their labor of learning.

While there are many things to consider before providing feedback, narrowing the focus to a few simple A-B-Cs can be quite helpful.

A. Feedback should be accessible and action-oriented.

Any ideas you provide should be easy to understand and conveyed as suggestions or questions. Reactions need to be shared in a friendly, helpful way. Try to avoid expressing a feeling of "change this, or else what you've done won't be any good." Also, if it's fitting, suggest a possible action that the person you're providing feedback to can take that may lead to project or performance improvement. A great way to start an accessible, actionable feedback statement is in the form of a question that begins with the words "What if…?" or, "How could…?"

B. Feedback should be basic.

Don't bury your feedback in fluff. Keep it basic. If you're working on a lesson plan, for instance, focus your feedback on what you have in front of you. Your colleague simply wants to know what he/she has done well and what can be improved. You've been asked for your thoughts, so share them. Don't hide your message or lead your colleague astray with ambiguous, indirect communication.

Table 1

C. Feedback should be connected to the content.

Let's say you're reviewing a lesson plan or instructional unit for a colleague. Rather than going on and on about an instructional move you personally would make, consider quoting a specific section of the plan where growth can occur or improvement can be made; then ask a guiding question. Give your colleague (the lesson developer) a chance to self-discover answers. I think this leads to a stronger lesson and honors the lesson developer’s ownership. After all, feedback isn't about compliments. It's about helping one another to work better and providing meaningful instruction that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Table 2

Perhaps the best thing we can do when we're asked to provide feedback is to think about what we hope for when we are the recipients of feedback, and then provide our "hope-fors" to the colleagues we're helping. More specifically, I hope that the person reviewing my work is present and attentive, and that his or her goal is to provide insight that will help not only my learning process, but that of the students I have the fortune to guide. If I allow that thinking to guide my work, I can feel confident my focus and my motive are on point, and my feedback is Accessible and Action-oriented, Basic, and fully Connected to Content.

Resources

Video Playlist: Strengthening Lessons for the Common Core (Teaching Channel) - Watch how teachers use the EQuIP Rubric to check lessons for Common Core alignment, and then give effective feedback for improvement.

EQuIP Rubrics for ELA & Math (Achieve.org) - Get the tools you'll need to evaluate and discuss Common Core alignment.

7 Key Characteristics of Better Learning Feedback (TeachThought) - Grant Wiggins shares the criteria needed to craft meaningful feedback.

Podcast to Personalize Feedback (Teaching Channel) - Watch how Sarah Brown Wessling takes advantage of technology to give personal feedback to her students.

Note: I could not have completed this post without effective feedback shared by colleagues. Thank you, Jena Ball and Lisa Meade, for your presence, thoughts, and guidance as I worked to craft this post!

Ashley Hurley has been an educator for 19 years. She has served as a high school English teacher, a Smaller Learning Communities administrator, and an assistant principal at the elementary and high school levels. She is currently a professional development specialist for secondary literacy in North Carolina. Ashley is also a member of the Achieve EQuIP Peer Review Panel.

4 Comments
Just as the feedback we give to students needs to be specific, so too does the feedback we share with each other. Looking for the positives before suggesting a change in practice is an effective way to show that you view the other person as a fellow professional.
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Great post! It’s important to create the conditions so that teachers become more skillful in teaching because great teaching and high levels of learning go hand in hand. I too believe the key to creating these conditions and transforming a teacher’s thinking and perspective, is asking the right questions. The type of open-ended questions you shared in the post require a teacher to think cognitively and deeply about his/her own practice and if presented thoughtfully, can lead to collegial conversations. Thank you for sharing, Shawn
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