Bringing Feedback Back

Apologies: I’ve had 2 surgeries, one minor and one not-minor, over the past 10 weeks. Suffice to say, my blogging has suffered. This post was intended for February.

It was about January in my second year of teaching when I realized I hadn’t seen my Principal since Thanksgiving. He was in the building, but never in my classroom, and our conversations never lasted more than 3 minutes. Was I doing a bad job? My colleagues were clear: Our Principal, like most, spent their days putting out fires. If he didn’t talk to me, that’s because he didn’t need to talk to me, and I most definitely didn’t need to rock the boat. I wasn’t a problem, so I must be doing fine.

This is the status quo in many schools. Principals work to keep things working. They don’t have the combination of time, resources, will power, and pedagogy to improve instruction.

But Principals aren’t the only problem. Teachers are, deep breath, stubborn creature when it comes to evaluation. We don’t trust anyone with less than a decade of experience, or who came from an Ivy League college, or wearing a really expensive suit. In fairness, that’s because too many Ivy leaguers in expensive suits and no time in the classroom do a “drive by” 11 minute evaluation, followed by a strongly worded memo about my objectives being written in the wrong place and a girl eating chips.

It’s a crazy entanglement of resources, tradition, ego and incentives. It is not acceptable.

I have found something that works: I ask the kids. Starting about 3 years ago, when I could count on 2 full periods of laptops, I used Google Forms to survey my students.

I spent a week figuring out the best way to share the results. Somehow, 2 different screen-shot apps and a lot of fiddling failed to produce blog-worthy results. So here’s the summary. My conclusions:

The first is that I can push my students further than I thought. Second, I need to review rubrics more. Third, I need to make more time for the “fit in” students so they feel welcomed. In maybe my biggest challenge, I need to get all my students to take the survey1.

So there’s that. If you feel differently, let me know. We need this stuff.

From a policy perspective: Teachers2 have an ego problem. Go to any professional development, and you’ll hear the phrase “in my class..”, implying that they rise above the “other” classes. What I’m saying is that these numbers mean nothing unless we are willing to accept them as meaningful. Not only could I explain away every single negative point, my first instinct was to do so. Being a public school teacher means being constantly defensive, which means resisting feedback. Not good.

So, here I am. I make no claims about using this on an official evaluation, although I’m up for it. I don’t think I’m setting the bar for student voice, but I’m moving there. If you have any comments or criticism, leave in the comments. Or email, Tweet, whatever. I’m listening.

  1. I gave them a week and a half, with daily reminders and emails. Maybe I’ll promote a tweet 

  2. more prominent in High School and in male teachers, I’ll assume 

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