We all have been in a place when a colleague or administration visited our class to see ‘what is going on’. We all have been worried about the feedback we were supposed to get after the class and did our best to have the best class. Most of the times, we were quite happy with the received feedback and the way of delivering it, some other times however, we were left with a feeling that everything was awful.
In my belief, the feeling of failing is the worst one a teacher can experience in general and after an observed class and this has a lot to do with the level of professionalism and expertise of the person who is responsible for providing the feedback.
The skill of giving feedback is quite subtle and needs to be thoroughly polished through time and experience. I have been teaching English for about 9 years now and had many colleagues observing my class. For the last 5 years, I myself was responsible for classroom observations and the development of professional skills of my team and here is what I have learnt. In this article, we will look at how to give constructive feedback and what not to do when giving feedback.
- DO’s and DON’Ts of an observation
One of the biggest mistakes we as observers make is attracting attention of the teacher and the students. Observation itself is quite a stressful situation for both parties present, and making our presence noticeable adds up to the stress. How might we attract attention? As simple as that – entering the class after the teacher, in the middle of the class, getting involved in the class without the teacher’s invitation, not being able to keep a straight face when noticing something going a bit out of the way and more.
The best scenario to a professional observation should be quite the opposite. Arriving earlier, before the class. Trying to be as unnoticed as possible with our body language, gestures, etc. This will benefit everyone and the class will flow smoother.
- Conduct an objective observation
When working with the same people for many years, it is human to become friends. This works great during experience sharing sessions, it makes the environment more pleasant to work in and adds to the general productivity of people. However, this may not help us when in the position of giving objective feedback.
It can be quite hard at the beginning to make sure professional feedback is not confused with friendly relations with team members. Also, it may seem that people get offended when you are trying to point out the things they have to work on and improve. We might think it would be better to keep distance and the issue will solve itself, however, there is a better way to it.
In my experience, I started inviting my colleagues to my classes and asking them to give me real, constructive feedback. I was pointing out my own mistakes and asking them to help me out with a solution. This worked very nicely and we established mutual trust.
Another way of giving objective feedback is to have a checklist during the observation. The criteria that I always have at hand are;
- Classroom management skills
- Time management skills
- Communication/Interaction skills
- Ability to explain/respond
- Student involvement skills
Taking notes is always a good idea to make our feedback more constructive and backed up with examples. Also, it is a more professional way of working and it shows respect to the person being observed.
Some observed classes can be videotaped with the consent of the observed teacher. In my experience, this one is a quite useful tool, as it gives you a chance to look back at the lesson with the teacher and come up with a common development plan.
- Provide constructive feedback
Constructive feedback, as we all know, is the best way to ensure your message is clear and well communicated, the action points are set and the teacher knows what he/she should be working on.
The stages of providing feedback that have been working for me just fine are the following:
- Sending a self-review form to the teacher who is going to be observed before the observation. The following question prompts can be useful;
- What went well during the class?
- What didn’t go as planned and why?
- What could you have done to have made it work?
This is truly a great tool to give the teachers reflection time.
- Asking the teachers to share their self-reflection at the beginning of the feedback session. I had teachers who had pointed out every ‘mistake’ they made during the class and provided the solutions at the same time. This keeps the atmosphere friendly and cooperative, saves face and reduces the observers Teacher Talking Time (TTT) – the ultimate goal of every teacher.
- Asking questions to the teacher instead of giving direct feedback. Open-ended questions work nicely as they give the teachers a chance to think.
- What do you think about the vocabulary presentation stage? How did it go?
- Why do you think John was not active? How do you normally get him involved in the class?
- Why do you think the production task lasted shorter than planned?
- Using ‘hamburger approach’ in giving feedback; first sharing the positive things that we as observers have noticed during the class, highlighting the things that were extra interesting or engaging (to my belief there is always something positive to mention about the class to boost the confidence of the teacher and recognize the effort put in delivering the class), second, talking about the things to work on (please note that ‘things to work on, things to consider’ sounds more positive and less confrontational than ‘mistakes’), third, finishing on a positive note, coming up with an action plan for the teacher which should be mutually agreed, deciding on up to 3 action points for the teacher to work on and improve.
- Finally, sending the observation notes to the observed teacher with comments, suggestions, recommendations, and the action points as agreed to keep the level of professionalism and have a summary of the observation and data to look back on.
I have to mention that this approach does not have to work in all situations and teaching environments. As we know, cultures differ and ways of communication have different levels of directness. Having this in mind, we should always adapt our skills to the culture we are working with.
In general, being a good supervisor, observer, senior colleague, requires not only a professional but also psychological, managerial, human skills. Developing those skills should be an ongoing process as one is never too old to learn. Hence, we welcome you to share your experience in giving feedback and pitch in the development of this global teachers community.