Responding to feedback - Hit the mark

24th April 2009 at 01:00
Feedback shouldn't be feared. Following it will improve your teaching style and help you hit the bull's-eye in class

Hearing what people think about how well you're performing can be difficult, particularly if the majority of what they say centres on what you need to improve on. But it's important to view feedback as constructive, and an opportunity to make progress towards meeting the core standards.

If the feedback provided following lesson observations or assessment meetings outlines a number of areas for improvement, the newly qualified teacher (NQT) should acknowledge them and show they are addressing the points through weekly conversations with their induction tutor, which should also highlight progress.

Georgina Mountjoy is a new teacher at a primary school in Southmead, Bristol, where - as well as receiving informal feedback on her professional development - she is observed by the head, deputy head or another member of the leadership team each term.

"The lesson observations are done in a formal way. Feedback is provided verbally, then given in writing. I tend to write down what I think my strengths and weaknesses are before I meet the observers, so that I am prepared," she explains.

She responded to her most recent lesson observation feedback by adapting her planning and teaching strategies, and by discussing the ideas raised with other teachers so they could act on the advice given. "I ask further questions after I have had more time to reflect on the feedback provided. I have also asked the deputy head to teach a demonstration lesson for myself and other teachers and plan with us," she adds.

NQTs should recognise that negative feedback raises points for development and ask for support to improve, says Alison Hughes, senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield's School of Education and Professional Development. This could take the form of discussions with other members of staff, colleagues with particular expertise in other schools, local authority induction officers or peer support.

See it as a chance to improve, adds teacher and writer Sue Cowley. "Don't see it as a criticism. None of us are perfect - even experienced teachers still understand that there is room for improvement."

However, if the feedback is considered unjust, the teacher should try speaking to someone about it, Ms Hughes says. "The feedback should be viewed as constructive, but it may help to speak to a senior member of staff or the head. Talking it through with another person may help to gain a different perspective and maintain a sense of proportion. It may clarify what the issues are and how the problem may be addressed."

Ms Cowley adds: "Of course, even if the feedback is negative, it doesn't need to be couched in negative terms. Target setting for future development is more useful to NQTs than criticism. If you feel the feedback is unfair, and that you are at risk of failing your induction, you would be wise to talk to a member of the senior leadership team or your contact at the local education authority."

Some new teachers may find the feedback they receive sends mixed messages. One TES forum member posted: "The word `pace' is doing my head in. What does it mean? When I've been observed, I've been told I've got good pace to my lessons. But I received my end of term report on Friday and it said I need to develop the pace of my lessons.

"It seems like everyone has a different meaning for the word. Apparently I have good pace when I'm observed, but yet my report tells me I need to develop it."

According to the Training and Development Agency, an NQT who has concerns about any aspect of the content or delivery of their induction programme should act as quickly as possible. The NQT should normally raise their professional concerns internally, informally in the first instance, with their induction tutor, or more formally where the nature of the concerns may warrant this.

But, Ms Mountjoy notes, teachers should focus on the positives and not dwell on the negatives. "Remember there is no such thing as a perfect lesson. There will always be points to work on. New teachers should accept advice professionally and gracefully, demonstrate in future lessons and planning how they are acting upon that advice and justify why they made certain decisions. I also feel that it's important that teachers remember what a brilliant job they do every day, and recognise their own achievements."

Top tips for NQTs and trainee teachers

  • Discuss points for improvement with your induction tutor
  • Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect lesson
  • Keep a note of improvements made and how you demonstrated them
  • Talk feedback through with other staff to gain perspective
  • Ask for clarification where the feedback is confusing.


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