Great teachers matter. This is a fact that I don’t think can be emphasized enough.
Unfortunately, according to the US Department of Education’s report, Providing Effective Teachers for All Students: Examples from Five Districts, traditional methods of identifying and promoting educators’ effectiveness – such as credentials from education and experience – aren’t reliable indicators of a teachers’ ability to impact student achievement.
Simply put, research has failed to find a strong relationship between heightened credentials (more advanced degrees, licenses, and endorsements) and teachers’ performance. However, research has continuously identified one factor that leads to growth: feedback.
According to an article from the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Can Teacher Evaluation Improve Teaching? numerous studies have pointed to feedback as the catalyst for positive changes in educator performance.
But as Grant Wiggins pointed out in his Educational Leadership post, all feedback is not created equal – and it’s certainly not all helpful. So how can you know whether the feedback you provide teachers is effective?
Here are three quick self-reflection questions to check:
#1. Is your feedback growth-based?
This one may seem obvious, but it’s not always so simple in practice. I work with school leaders nearly every day who struggle to find the right balance in their educator effectiveness systems between what I call the “growth vs. gotcha” factor. In many districts and schools, observations are still seen as just accountability measures, which can make it hard for observers to provide – and teachers to accept – feedback.
To shift this perception, feedback needs to be productive – not punitive – and focused on both short and long-term goals. In truly growth-based observation and coaching processes, teachers and observers develop strong professional relationships and work together to achieve goals.
#2. Do you feel knowledgeable in the subject matter you are observing?
As Wiggins points out, effective feedback is, among other qualities, tangible, actionable, and specific. But is that really possible all the time?
My background as an educator is in English, so you can imagine that I wasn’t much help to the geometry and chemistry teachers as an observer. And it was really no surprise to me that in a recent poll Insight conducted with SmartBrief Education, 70% of teachers said that they did not receive enough meaningful feedback from observations.
While you obviously can’t go back to school and get a degree in every content area, districts and schools can try to match observers to their areas of expertise. There’s also a lot of emerging research pointing to the benefits of qualified outside observers to provide teachers with effective, content-specific feedback.
#3. Have you received enough training?
If you were unsure how to answer either of the questions above, chances are the answer to this one is no. According to Ensuring Accurate Feedback from Observations, a report released by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, inaccurate, inconsistent, and/or unclear feedback can be particularly detrimental to teachers and the overall success of a school’s educator effectiveness system. In order to accept feedback, teachers must see observations as equitable and observers as knowledgeable.
Therefore, observers must not only undergo extensive initial training to learn the framework and rubrics, but must also participate in ongoing calibration exercises to ensure precision and inter-rater reliability.
It’s becoming clear that great feedback and great teaching go hand-in-hand. But just like great teaching, great feedback requires deliberate effort and dedication by observers. I’m hopeful that district and school leaders recognize this and commit to ensuring every teacher gets the support they deserve.