Tips For Giving More Impactful and Intentional Teacher Feedback
Feedback. It’s a word that can have both a positive and negative connotation, depending on the way it’s given and which side of the feedback you find yourself—the giving or receiving end.
It’s also a necessary part of your role as a principal. Providing feedback to your teachers, no matter where they are in their teaching journey, is essential to them not only improving their teaching practice and confidence but ultimately improving the outcomes of the students they teach.
When school leaders give intentional, impactful feedback to teachers, they send a clear message that they believe in their abilities and want to help them further develop their craft. However, crafting this kind of feedback takes consistent practice. To improve your own feedback-giving, consider these five strategies for maximum impact.
When school leaders give intentional, impactful feedback to teachers, they send a clear message that they believe in their abilities and want to help them further develop their craft.
Agree on a definition of “impactful feedback” with your teachers
When you and your teachers have the same baseline understanding of what effective feedback is and how it gets delivered, there’s less risk that it will get misinterpreted or take someone by surprise. Develop this definition by asking your teachers what they’d prefer and expect when receiving feedback. This can be done in a variety of ways: a one-on-one discussion, as an agenda item in a team meeting, or a short survey to get a pulse on the topic.
From there, use these insights to draw up a general definition of what teacher feedback looks like at your school. For example, let’s say the majority of your teachers appreciate feedback that affirms something they’ve done well but ultimately prefer targeted tips that will help them improve their practice. Include targeted and actionable feedback whenever possible, like this example: “I really liked the way the questions you asked pushed student thinking. I did notice that some of your students seemed more prepared than others to discuss the passage of the book you selected. What are your thoughts on giving a short formative assessment to check for understanding?”
Similarly, if your teachers are interested in regular feedback for instruction or classroom evaluation, another piece of your definition can focus on how often feedback happens.
When you and your teachers have the same baseline for the characteristics of effective feedback and how it gets delivered, there’s less risk that it gets misinterpreted or takes someone by surprise.
Frame feedback around student learning
So much of the feedback teachers often receive, especially in formal observations by school leaders, is focused on their actions and behaviors while they’re teaching. This focus makes sense. But teachers might be interested in something far more important: the impact of their actions on their students.
As you observe teachers in their classrooms throughout the year, consider framing your feedback around this impact. When Hal Harris, New Leaders’ Senior Director of Program Implementation, took on teaching ELA classes in addition to his social studies responsibilities, he was paired with an instructional coach that continued to ask him a simple question: “What was the impact of your behavior and decisions on the academic outcomes of your students?” That question led to more self-reflection, ownership, and a focus on centering student equity in his teaching practice. And, it led to higher student achievement and the goal of getting his class to grade-level proficiency.
As an instructional leader, you know teachers live for those “aha” moments in the classroom—and what makes them most proud is realizing what they did as teachers that contributed to making that moment happen. Framing teacher feedback through the lens of student learning makes it not only helpful but more meaningful.
Focus on both the format and delivery of feedback
There are many different ways to give teachers feedback: one-on-one sessions, classroom observations, instructional rounds, and professional learning communities, to name a few. While the way you deliver feedback is important and will vary depending on the situation and goal, it’s also just as critical to consider how feedback is communicated to your teachers.
Relaying feedback to teachers isn’t so different than what we know about offering feedback to students: begin with something positive, describe what needs improvement in a non-judgemental way, ask questions or offer guidance on how to improve, express confidence in success, and offer a chance to revisit or discuss after the teacher has had time to reflect.
Be sure to take the extra time to follow up on the feedback as well. When New Leaders alum and principal Belicia Reaves goes into a teacher’s classroom or has a one-on-one with a teacher, she always makes sure to follow up promptly with a note of appreciation or praise. “It’s a quick way to get feedback—I can leave it at the computer or on the desk,” she says. “It’s instantaneous feedback that teachers love and thrive off.”
Focus on time for reflection—yours and your teachers
Your teachers know the most about the students in their classrooms: what motivates them, what keeps them engaged, and where their strengths and opportunity areas lie. For that reason, it’s always good for school leaders to do some reflection of their own before they start engaging with a teacher on what needs to be fixed.
One way to do this in a feedback conversation is to lead with questions before supplying any answers or strategies. Asking a teacher about their process with questions like, “What trends did you notice based on the summative assessment?” or “Based on your data, what led you to use this worksheet for a review for all students?” can open the door for a teacher to explain their thinking—which then opens another door to a deeper conversation based on their response. It’s a chance for both of you to learn something new.
Using open-ended questions—”How might you,” “Tell me what you think about,” What are your thoughts on,” and “Discuss how you might"—can encourage your teachers to self-reflect and start a more meaningful dialogue about their teaching practice and professional learning needs.
You might have the perfect advice for a particular teacher’s challenge, but if you frame it in terms of something they “should” do, they might be less inclined to take your advice. Instead, consider language that’s more collaborative and exploratory, like “Talk with me about yesterday’s lesson. What do you feel went well? Was there anything that was particularly challenging?”
Using open-ended questions—”How might you,” “Tell me what you think about,” What are your thoughts on,” and “Discuss how you might"—can encourage your teachers to self-reflect and start a more meaningful dialogue about their teaching practice and professional learning needs. However, it’s important to allocate reflection time for answers. Teachers want to be heard and share their perspectives but need a bit of space to do it.
Schedule time for regular feedback
It’s one thing to give feedback, and it’s another to ensure that feedback has the opportunity to be used. If the feedback comes too late—a month after the observation or at the end of the school year—there aren’t opportunities to adjust learning or reach the goal. That’s why putting a schedule in place and keeping track of the feedback discussed at touchpoints throughout the year can ensure feedback is treated as a continuous loop that gets revisited, not a one-and-one event that ticks off a box.
It’s one thing to give feedback, and it’s another to ensure that feedback has the opportunity to be used.
Let’s say you conduct a classroom observation and talk with a teacher about action steps. One strategy might be to agree to conduct another observation after the teacher has had time to put the action steps into place. Plan to conduct the follow-up observation in the window of time the teacher suggests, and then plan to repeat the cycle as much as you feel you’re able and is necessary. It may be difficult to commit to a monthly feedback schedule, so try to strike a balance between consistency and what’s doable. And schedule it so you’re more likely to make it happen.
Intentional feedback = better relationships
Feedback is not only a critical element in building teacher confidence and empowering them to teach at their very best, but it can also create stronger relationships between teachers and school leaders. Both are critical aspects of instructional leadership. When teachers get the kind of action-oriented, intentional feedback they need, they know their leaders believe in them and are committed to their growth.