The Art of Giving Meaningful Feedback

Educators pour their hearts and souls into teaching. When I was a classroom teacher I started pinning posts about classroom decor and learning activities on the first day of summer break. I kid you not. I loved what I did and I wanted to give it 100%. I think this is true of most teachers. Teachers don’t enter the profession because of the pay or the recognition, they do it because they love kids and they love learning. They spend countless hours decorating, designing engaging curriculum, and grading papers on their evenings and weekends. And while many teachers want to be the best that they can be, it is sometimes hard to open up our classrooms to outside feedback and scrutiny. I think that is because we pour so much of our soul into our craft that feedback becomes a very personal thing and being vulnerable is hard. That is why it is vital that coaches take the time to develop trust with teachers and carefully think through how they can encourage, empower, and support teachers in their professional learning.  There are 3 different types of feedback. Each is important and needed in our schools.  While Coaches can be cheerleaders and highlight the various successes happening on campus, the main type of feedback they give is aimed at helping teachers reach their goals. Grant Wiggins defines feedback as “information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal” (2012). In extensive research done by John Hattie, it was found that giving formative feedback to teachers (aka offering coaching), has an effect size of .90 on student achievement (Bright Morning, 2016). If coaches can effectively offer teachers feedback, then we can have a tremendous impact on our students’ learning! So what goes into the art of giving meaningful feedback?  First, coaches need to take the time to develop trust and credibility with teachers (Bright Morning, 2016). This step should not be rushed since it is the foundation for future success. After this has been developed and nurtured, coaches can come alongside teachers and offer their support. Montini (2014) and Brown (2020) give great tips on how to support teachers emotionally and set the meeting up for success. When working with teachers make sure to sit on the same side of the table. Be mindful of your body language and start by saying we’re in this together. These steps can help a teacher feel comfortable and disarm a potentially disgruntled or nervous teacher.  After researching I compiled the following suggestions for coaches when giving feedback:  1. Ask permission Before giving feedback ask if it is okay and explain that your intention in giving feedback is coming from a place of care and concern, and a desire to help the teacher reach their goals (Aguilar, 2013). This could sound like, “Can I share a couple of things with you that I observed that might help you address those issues you’re raising?” (Aguilar, 2013).  2. Focus on data Instead of discussing what the teacher did well or where they struggled, focus the conversation on student data or non-judgmental observation notes. For example, noting how many students were participating during a lesson when a teacher’s goal was focused on student engagement. Wiggins (2012) argues that “Effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve that goal, and then receives goal-related information about his or her actions”. So ask yourself, what is the teacher’s goal? Stay specific and focused on feedback that gives the teacher information on how they are doing reaching that goal. If you’d like to learn more about structuring coaching conversations around data, my friend Megan Heineman has a great blog post on using a third point during coaching sessions.  3. Less is more  Elena Aguilar (2013) encourages coaches to keep critical feedback to one or two key points. We don’t want to overwhelm teachers with every bulleted point on our notes. Begin by affirming something the teacher did well and then give feedback related to their personal goal. Effective feedback is concrete and specific (Wiggins, 2012). 4. Plan next steps  After you’ve shared feedback with the teacher, invite them to share their thoughts and/or feelings. Does the teacher become defensive, embarrassed, curious, or relieved? Aguilar stresses how important it is to help teachers process these emotions so that they are ready to take the next step (2013). It’s important to ask “what’s next?” and “how can I support you?”. By asking these questions, the coach is putting the teacher into the driver’s seat. You’re not ending on a negative note, but a positive one of how you can proactively move forward.  5. Follow up! Too often we give feedback and then never return to see if it is being implemented (Bright Morning, 2016). Teachers need ongoing support, encouragement, and more feedback. By checking in with teachers we encourage this iterative cycle of professional learning where we try something out, reflect on the outcome, tweak it and then try again. Coaches can help by giving formative feedback that provides teachers with the opportunity to reshape their performance to achieve their personal goals (Wiggins, 2012).  What practices do you think are essential when giving feedback? I’d love to hear your thoughts from either a place of receiving or giving feedback to others. Works Cited  Aguilar, Elena. (2013, March 6). Giving Feedback. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/education/opinion-giving-feedback/2013/03  Aguilar, Elena. (2018). Receiving and Giving Feedback. Bright Morning. https://brightmorningteam.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Giving-and-Receiving-Feedback.pdf  Bright Morning. (2016, February 15). Common Mistakes When Giving Feedback. Bright Morning. https://brightmorningteam.com/2016/02/common-mistakes-when-giving-feedback/  Brown, Brené. (2020). Daring Greatly: Engaged Feedback Checklist. Retrieved from https://brenebrown.com/downloads/  Montini, Laura. (2014, October 16). 2 Things Great Leaders Do When They Give Feedback. Inc. https://www.inc.com/laura-montini/brene-brown-why-great-feedback-can-t-be-scripted.html  Wiggins, Grant. (2012, September). Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. ASCD. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx 

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Revamping Adult Learning

Three ways to differentiate your PD with tech and how they relate to adult learning theories. Just like students, teachers crave learning that is personalized, relevant, and fun. While best practices have shifted to include items like differentiation and personalized learning for students, school leaders are still in the process of revamping professional development (PD) for teachers that follow suit. Long lectures and “sit-and-get” PDs are a thing of the past! Technology offers new and engaging ways to deliver content and allow teachers a voice in their own continuing education. After taking the time to create your school’s vibrant and energizing culture of being life-long learners, check out some of the following ideas on how to shake up your PD with technology. Flipped PD  Traditional PD gives teachers a bunch of information, but rarely the time needed to play, design, and reflect on how to put it to work in their own classroom. Therefore, educators developed the idea of flipped PD. Kristin Daniels (2014) explains that their model of Flipped PD puts the experts where they are needed most – next to the teachers during the design process and implementation. The process begins as teachers complete a needs assessment or when they sit down with a coach to explore options for projects and set personal goals (Daniels, 2014). Before the next meeting, the coach or admin can provide customized digital resources for the teacher to review, including articles, inspiration, or tutorial videos (Daniels, 2014). Then at the next session, coaches can provide support and guidance as needed. If a coach is not available, teachers can team-up together with others who have similar interests. If the school does have coaches on staff, they are a powerful tool because they can come alongside teachers to co-design, model, troubleshoot, reflect, and empower teachers on their learning journey. An ISTE article, “Technology, Coaching, and Community” (2011), states: “Effective professional learning is intensive, ongoing, focused on the classroom, and occurs during the teacher’s workday” (p. 2). This job-embedded Flipped PD model makes learning relevant, gives teachers agency in their own learning, and continues to provide support for staff throughout implementation. Flipped PD connects with Malcolm Knowles’s beliefs on adult learning. Knowles believes that adults are driven by internal motives and are more willing to learn when the learning has immediate value (Navy Fleet and Family Readiness, 2018). So by allowing teachers to choose their own topics to explore for flipped PD and giving them job-embedded support while implementing, will ensure they are interested and it is relevant to their classroom. Knowles also argued that adults are independent learners and want to be in control of their own learning (Gutierrez, 2018). A flipped PD model allows teachers to complete their learning on their own time, compared to a traditional PD structure where teachers file into a room and listen to a presenter. Flipped PD also gives teachers a lot of say in how they learn, and in creating their own pathway to mastery. Probably most important, Flipped PD gives teachers hands-on experience with the support of a coach or collaborating with peers. Knowles believed that adults learn best when allowed to connect learning with real-world experiences (Navy Fleet and Family Readiness, 2018). Micro-credentials  In her blog post “OMG Becky. PD is Getting So Much Better!!” Jennifer Gonzalez (2018) talks about micro-credentials as a new form of tech-driven PD. Teachers select a topic and work at their own pace to complete a learning pathway or series of challenges to receive badges or micro-credentials. Similar to learning via Twitter chats or EdCamps, micro-credentials are another untraditional form of PD that teachers are embarking on. It’s a great way for teachers to pursue personalized learning that is interesting and valuable to them. Thank you technology for the wealth of information at our fingertips! Here are some examples of micro-credential courses online:  ISTE’s Learning Pathways Microsoft’s Learning Pathways Self-Directed Learning is another well-known adult learning theory developed by Tough in 1971. In self-directed learning, adults design and structure their own learning (SH!FT, 2019). Microcredentials are a great way to empower teachers to pursue their own continuing education that interests them and fits into their busy schedules. And perhaps, after they earn a digital badge they would opt to continue learning by joining a Twitter chat or by asking someone to mentor them while they try it out in their own classroom. However, the one downside is that self-directed learning hinges on adults taking responsibility for their own learning (SH!FT, 2019). So it would be prudent for school leadership to provide an accountability structure that gives teachers a time and place to collaborate on what they are learning, perhaps during a “Lunch and Learn” or a PLC.  Choice Boards or Cafe Menus A third way to revamp your PD time is to create a choice board or cafe menu for your staff giving them PD options to choose from. One awesome example I found was from Big Spring High School in Newville, PA. Their instructional coach, Niki Donato, designed a Best Practice Group Choice Board that allowed teachers to personalize their PD and choose how they wanted to engage with others (Gonzalez, 2018). Some options included participating in Teacher Labs, doing cross-curricular planning, or spending 1-1 time with a coach. While this option is not strictly on an online platform, technology can assist in so many ways! Teachers can collaborate asynchronously on shared documents, post reflections via FlipGrid, research topics online, or explore new technology together.  This PD structure made me think instantly of the experiential learning theory created by David Kolb. To put it simply, adults learn best by doing (Gutierrez, 2018). Compared to traditional PD where teachers sit and listen to an expert, choice boards or cafe menus have teachers participate as active learners! They read, design, collaborate, tinker, build, etc. These hands-on tasks let teachers apply their new learning and give them concrete experiences (Gutierrez, 2018).  Conclusion  I was fascinated when researching different ways to personalize and differentiate PD for teachers. There are a lot of good ideas out there and people are doing some amazing things! However, we have a long way still to go. Let us commit together to make PD more meaningful one session at a time. By using technology, we can truly start to meet our individual teacher’s needs and allow them to learn in ways that motivate them.  If you enjoyed this blog post, check out my other one: Shaking up PD. Works Cited  Coaching_Whitepaper_digital.pdf. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.ri-iste.org/Resources/Documents/Coaching_Whitepaper_digital.pdf Daniels, Kristin. (2014, April 18). The Flip Side of Professional Development. EdSurge. https://www.edsurge.com/news/2014-04-18-the-flip-side-of-professional-development  Gutierrez, Karla. (2018, April 24). Adult Learning Theories Every Instructional Designer Must Know. SH!FT. https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/adult-learning-theories-instructional-design Gonzalez, J. (2018, March 4). OMG Becky. PD is Getting So Much Better!! Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pd/  Moroder, Krista. (2014, April 7). Micro-credentials: Empowering Lifelong Learners. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/micro-credentials-empowering-lifelong-learners-krista-moroder  Navy Fleet and Family Readiness. (2018, February 12). Adult Learning Theory [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uk6QFlUYrkE Robinson, LaKetra. (2020, August 26). The Benefits of Differentiation in Professional Development. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/benefits-differentiation-professional-development  SH!FT. (2019, June 14). Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Self-Directed Learning at the Workplace. SH!FT. https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/self-directed-learning-workplace-trend  Wolpert-Gawron, Heather. (2018, October 30). The Importance of Choice in PD. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/importance-choice-pd 

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Righting the Ship

For years now, it has been recognized in the educational sector that professional development (PD) needs to change. Whether we focus on the unhappy and unfulfilled teachers, the principals who do not see the desired change in their staff, or the lackluster results from high-quality studies done on PD… one thing is very clear – we need to right the ship.  I sought to explore the question: What does research say about planning effective and meaningful professional development? While this question is too broad to come up with one succinct answer, I did uncover some thoughts to consider when planning your next PD session.  Choosing Less and Diving Deeper Schmoker (2015) argues that we choose topics for PD that have no empirical evidence to back it up as true “best practices” (p. 2). Instead, schools choose PD that follow current whims and fads, such as educational technology or differentiation (Schmoker, 2015, p. 2). In contrast, schools and districts should conduct a far more “methodical, painstaking study of any practice or program before they adopt it” (Schmoker, 2015, p. 3). Teachers should be given a say as well and leaders should be able to explain, with evidence, why those topics have been chosen for PD and how they will improve students learning. Another problem with our current professional development is that we choose way too many topics for PD and have limited, if any, follow up with teachers to coach them through until mastery. And then the next year we pile new initiatives atop the half-mastered ones. Schmoker explains “…we must direct all professional-development time and personnel, and teacher collaboration, to a severely reduced number of powerful and proven practices” (2015, p. 3). Otherwise, we overwhelm our staff with the onset of new initiatives and make very little progress in any of them. Agency and Collaboration Teachers want a say in their professional development. Classrooms around the nation are very diverse- in curriculums, supplies, and students’ needs. So naturally, teachers should participate in continuing ed on the topics that connect with their classrooms. On top of that, teachers’ have a huge range of backgrounds, training, and experiences, and need personalized training to fit where they are at professionally. Therefore, we should give teachers choice in their PD and make sure it is relevant to them. In a survey done by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014, teachers expressed that their ideal PD would be personalized, interactive, and sustained over time (p. 4). Likewise, McGrath (2020) encourages trainers to give teachers time to process, practice, and transfer new knowledge. A good rule of thumb is to spend about a third of the session on new information and the other two thirds on reflection and implementation (McGrath, 2020). Give teachers agency and the opportunity for hands-on learning, applying their learning to their specific classroom, and the opportunity to collaborate with others. Check out Elena Aguilar’s Principles of Adult Learning to gather other ideas of how to meet your adult learner’s needs.  Implementation and Coaching Another problem with our current formats of PD is the lack of support for teachers during implementation. It’s like giving them a map on how to get to point b or mastery and then helping them on their personal voyages. Valerie Strauss (2014) gave a powerful analogy as she compared implementation in the classroom to riding a bike. Would we show a picture of a bicycle, explain the theory behind the mechanism, and then just release teachers to try riding a new bike in the parking lot on their own time? No. Strauss states: “In the same way that riding a bike is more difficult than learning about riding a bike, employing a teaching strategy in the classroom is more difficult than learning the strategy itself” (2014, p. 1). In fact, studies show that it takes an average of 20 practice attempts before a teacher can master a new skill (Strauss, 2014, p. 1). Therefore, a goal of PD time should be to choose powerful practices to study and then support teachers as they practice, tinker, and improve their craft. Schmoker argues “mastery born of repeated practice and ongoing guidance must become the new goal of professional development” (2015, p. 3). Furthermore, teachers have indicated that they want sustained time to learn (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014, p. 4). During implementation, teachers would benefit from time collaborating with peers and receiving additional support from coaches. If implemented well, coaches can come alongside teachers and help with the implementation process by co-planning, co-teaching, modeling new instructional practices, or observing and giving feedback.  While it is always hard to right the ship, implement change, and break away from how things have traditionally been done, think of the benefit professional development can have on teaching and learning if done right. It would be like unlocking a vast treasure trove of skills, ideas, knowledge, and pedagogies that can transform education. For now, let’s begin by choosing just a few evidence-based practices for PD, giving teachers agency and hands-on learning opportunities, and supporting them through the learning process to mastery.  In your opinion, what is vital to consider when planning effective and meaningful professional development? I would love to hear from your experience participating and leading PD.  Works Cited  Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014, December). Teachers Know Best: Teachers’ Views on Professional Development. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0SUlzb19fX0lpaXM/view Bright Morning (n.d.). The Principles of Adult Learning. Retrieved from https://brightmorningteam.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Principles-of-Adult-Learning.pdf McGrath, Shannon. (2020, May 7). 3 Tips for Creating Effective PD. Eduptopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/3-tips-creating-effective-pd Schmoker, Mike. (2015, Oct. 20th). It’s Time to Restructure Teacher Professional Development. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/leadership/opinion-its-time-to-restructure-teacher-professional-development/2015/10  Strauss, Valerie. (2014, March 1). Why Most Professional Development For Teachers is Useless. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/01/why-most-professional-development-for-teachers-is-useless/ 

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Practical Communication Skills to Help Your Coaching Get Off The Ground

Communication is at the crux of our society. And while it is such an important part of our daily life we stop explicitly teaching it as our kids get older. Right now I have a baby and toddler at home and we spend a large part of our time teaching …

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