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Eight Strategies for Building a Feedback-Rich Culture

I spent a good part of this summer at our lake house in Wisconsin. When we first arrived, my two kids, 5 and 7 ran right to their secret hideout they built the previous year. They couldn’t believe their teepee was still standing, and yet they were not too happy to see some of the flooring needed repair. Immediately they got to work collecting materials and rebuilding their hideout. After about an hour of work, they decided they needed to take a break and make a better plan to be sure they were designing the best secret hideout. I found them huddled around a camera scrolling through pictures they had taken of their hideout the previous year and they were dutifully taking notes about what they liked and what could be improved. They were critical of their own design – pointing out the entrance wasn’t quite large enough or that the “roof” let in too much rain. They drew sketches of what they wanted to rebuild and what they would alter to make it better. It was a wonderful moment of reflection and critique, unprompted by external feedback or adults intervening. It got me thinking about how we treat feedback, critique and reflection in schools — and if we are doing it right.

How do we build cultures in our schools where feedback is not just something to endure and reflection isn’t something that’s forced, but they both come naturally and the process is both natural and invigorating? I’m no expert, but here are a few tips that have helped me:

Build in time for self feedback, critique and reflection

If you don’t make time in your workflow, in your classroom or in your meetings for feedback and reflection, it won’t happen. Resist the urge to skimp on this time to move on to the next thing or intervene too early to provide your own analysis.

Model and use protocols for feedback

There are endless tools for feedback, critique and revision. Especially when engaging in a feedback session, it is important to have a clear understanding on how to frame feedback. We often use sentence starters I like…, I wish…, and I wonder or the Four Corners tool featured in our Transformation Design Kit. The more you build in this framing vocabulary the more you will see your own students using it on their own, unprompted.

Diversify where feedback comes from

Feedback from the teacher or supervisor is not always the best feedback; in fact, sometimes it is the most resisted feedback. Rather than bristle at this, think of other ways to incorporate feedback from a diverse set of voices. Call upon experts, community members — and most importantly, use peer feedback loops, this will help not only those receiving the feedback, but those on the giving end will find ways to improve their own work.

Seek feedback yourself

Model giving and receiving feedback — and do it often. We need to stop the myth of the lone genius and admit we don’t know everything. Make a point to share the exact moment when you are incorporating feedback, too, so there is a clear connection between feedback and action.

Give credit to progress and not just the product

Be sure to acknowledge where you see feedback incorporated and be specific. Noticing even the smallest of changes can go a long way and can communicate the value of being reflective and acting on feedback.

Flip the Script – provide more feedback than grades

Spend time broadening the definition of feedback — it’s not just a grade — feedback can take so many forms. It can be a written comment, a rubric, one-on-one conversation, even a reaction, yet the feedback that most listen to in schools are grades. Spend time crafting thoughtful articulate written feedback, schedule face to face conversations — be relentless in offering feedback in the spirit of sharpening those on the receiving end and don’t back down.

Provide tools and processes for archiving

Without a camera, I’m not sure my kids would have been able to hone in on such specifics in their self evaluative critiquing session. And without the appropriate tools – cameras, cell phones, computers, sketchbooks – we can’t possibly ask learners to reflect on their learning and progress. Encourage – make impossible to avoid – moments to archive learning.

Self Evaluation IS feedback

I’m always impressed but never surprised by the ability young learners have in critiquing their own work with the most critical eye. I am not sure why we separate self evaluation and feedback so much — self evaluation IS feedback, and valid feedback at that. Honor it.

These tips are by no means exhaustive (feedback welcome), but as I broke down the impromptu feedback session I witnessed this summer with my own kids, these eight things came to mind. Feedback and critique should not be reserved for the teachers, the experts, “the trained;” we are all capable of rich feedback, so let’s find ways to capitalize on the diverse perspectives of all learners, young and old. How do you create a culture of feedback and reflection in your organization or classroom?

Want more? Check out Moving from Feedback to FeedForward (Cult of Pedagogy) and this diigo outliner on Feedback. One great tool for reflection is this one: 7 Questions to End your Week.

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