06 maio 2016 Giving (and Receiving) Feedback
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about giving and receiving feedback. One of the reasons for that was a conversation with my friend Priscila Mateini on receiving negative feedback and dealing with failure. In addition, because of the nature of my job as a Celta tutor, I’m constantly giving feedback to teachers. Some of what I’m going to write about focuses on feedback after lesson observations, but a lot of it can be applied to other areas of teaching as well.
A trainer once told me that one of the most important things when giving feedback is making it clear for teachers what they are doing well, but also what they aren’t. Sometimes there’s a need to sugarcoat things and, naturally, starting with positives makes sense when giving feedback. However, what might happen is the candidate is mislead into thinking things are ‘fine’ when in reality they are not. You can’t really expect someone to reflect on their teaching or change what the way they are doing things if they don’t realise there’s a problem in the first place. This might mean that, at times, you’re going to be hard on people. My experience is that this pays off and that teachers will be grateful for it in the long run.
One of the trickiest things to give English teachers feedback on is the language itself. Back in 2004, when I had first started working in Rio de Janeiro, I remember the coordinator of the school where I worked correcting my pronunciation of ‘mustn’t’. I think I took it well, and I thanked her, but it still felt like I was being slapped in the face. I’ve since come to realize that my English is far from perfect and have tried to welcome this kind of feedback. Which is not to say that hearing it is easy and neither is telling other teachers that their pronunciation/grammar/choice of words is wrong. When giving teachers feedback on language, it is important to be tactful, but even then teachers tend to get defensive. In my opinion, they are doing themselves a disservice. It’s hard enough to find a peer or trainer who will correct you, so you might as well take advantage of it. In the end, you’ll become a better teacher for it.
The last thing I want to touch on, and it’s something that may take some time to develop, is being thick-skinned. I strongly believe this is an important trait for teachers. It allows you to receive feedback and reflect on what you can change, rather than just feel bad or angry at your trainer or manager. Something else that serves teachers well is being humble. I’ve had some (limited) on-line contact with big names in ELT. What struck me, though, is how open they are to being wrong and to accepting other people’s ideas. Like most teachers, I still have some growing to do on both accounts, but being aware of these things and striving to get there is a good start.
Thanks for reading.