“I want to be better because of you.”

I came across this unfinished post I started last June, and it was perfect timing for me as I prioritize teacher observations amongst the snow days, state testing, and all the other business of the next few months. Ugg! How will we fit it all in? We won’t, but this is a great reminder of making sure that feedback meetings with teachers take precedent.

June 2018

It was serendipitous. I was printing off teacher final evaluations this week and I noticed something as I was looking through them. Many teachers made closing comments on their evaluations and I hadn’t noticed that before. Over and over again they wrote, “Thank you for your positive leadership and for believing in us. I want to be better because of you.”

There are no more powerful words for a principal to hear than that. If we can support each other through the good and the bad and the ups and the downs of the school year in a way that makes us all want to be better, we can do anything. Absolutely anything.

It’s funny because I want to be better every day because of THEM. The teachers and staff at Quincy Elementary deserve the best leader…a better leader than I am today. I strive to be the leader they deserve as they work so very hard to be the teachers their students deserve. They are amazing and I am the luckiest principal in the world.

What a great reminder of the ultimate goal of feedback…to help others light their internal fire to continuously improve. To give guidance and resources so that the improvements move the teacher and the students in the right direction. However, I vividly remember getting and giving feedback that caused defensiveness, relationship issues, and depowered rather than empowered. Here are some do’s and don’ts I have learned the hard way:

Don’t give inactionable judgement.

I once told a teacher that her classroom felt “lackadaisical”. What was I thinking? What could the teacher do with that information other than crawl into a hole and cry? Our teachers deserve feedback that is actionable, that they can take and do something with, preferably something that empowers them to feel better about their next steps.

Instead, ask questions.

Instead, I could have asked the teacher, “How do you think students were feeling during the lesson? How could you tell? If you could change one thing to engage students differently, what would it be?” With guiding questions, most teachers easily reflect about what went well and what didn’t in the lesson. And, they are harder on themselves than we ever could be. Our job is to help them think in a different way that will help them get better results, and then to provide whatever support they need to turn their thinking into action. They don’t need our judgement, they need our guidance and expertise.

Don’t play the, “Guess what I am thinking” game.

I once has a boss who would ask me tough questions. But, not because she wanted my answers. She wanted me to guess what her answer was. Rather than activating my own creative thinking and moving me forward, guessing what her answer was made me nervous. Instead of being reflective, I was focused on being right. I was frustrated because I knew that she was not interested in my thinking. I bumbled, I got defensive, and eventually, I gave up and just played the game.

Instead, only ask questions if you want their answer.

Duh, right?!? It seems logical to only ask questions if we want the responder’s answer. But, it truly is hard work to make sure that when you ask a question, you are open to the answers. It’s okay if you are not open to other ways of thinking on a particular topic, just don’t ask the question. If you are asking, “How did students respond to that strategy?” even if you have an observation of your own, be sure to listen to the teacher’s answer and consider why he/she might answer in that way. Ask follow up questions to dig into his/her answer. They might be seeing something you are not. Or, they might need to know what you saw in order to have a fuller picture of what was going on in the classroom. The bottomline really is listening to understand rather than listening to formulate our response.

February is a notoriously tough month in school. Either we are bombarded with snow days which leads to inconsistent schedules and trying to cram a month’s worth of learning and assessing into a couple weeks OR we have the longest stretch of school days without a break. And the weather stinks. And we are sick of winter. And. And. And.

Instead of bemoaning circumstances we cannot control, let’s focus on things we can control, like celebrating each other’s strength and inspiring each other to get better every day. What are your tips to help feedback meetings be empowering and inspiring for teachers, and result in actual improvement? I love learning from my district colleagues, the incredible elementary and middle school principals across my state that make up MEMSPA, and my PLN throughout the country and across the world. Share your tips in the comments!

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