I have a love-hate relationship with giving feedback. I love how potent a tool it is to help students move their learning forward. I love the occasions when I can get the feedback to students “just for them, just in time, and just helping nudge forward” as John Hattie said, and see their skills blossom. I hate when I see an intimidating pile of student work. I hate when I feel I don’t have time to give ideal feedback. And I hate when I commit time to giving feedback, but it doesn’t help students.
So, I’m spending some time this year re-thinking feedback.
So much of teaching is living in tension: giving more support vs. letting a student productively struggle. Following your own judgement vs. following the curriculum. Praise for good work vs. pushing for better.
And one tension I think about often is giving students my best vs. having more to give to future students. Burnout is a real risk in this profession. We have to find ways to do the job well and in a way that let’s us make it a career. As a teacher of high school English students and a father of a toddler, I feel this tension acutely. Fortunately, I’ve found some strategies to help make feedback more time-effective, without sacrificing the support and direction students need for their growth.
One of my favorite education books is The Courage to Teach. In that text, Parker Palmer explores teaching as a daily exercise in vulnerability. As teachers, we expose ourselves, and often the content we love, to an at-times unforgiving world. Difficult students, dud lessons, doubting colleagues, short-sighted initiatives, all exacerbated by the challenges of our lives outside the classroom, can eventually harden a teacher. And that skepticism can make it a lot harder to take the risks necessary to get better.
So finding the courage to continue to care deeply, to continue to seek feedback, can be challenging. But I’ve found, as scary as it may be, that student feedback has been an important catalyst for reflecting on and improving my practice. Hearing directly from students also aligns with my own deepest motivations. More than test scores, or my desire to introduce students to great novels and great questions, I teach so that students feel someone believes in them and they feel empowered to learn, grow, and succeed. Measuring success on that mission requires hearing directly from students.