Don’t underestimate the power of effective feedback for adults too!

Feedback is also a way to keep learning

There has been such a focus on student feedback over the years. However, we must not forget the adults in this. Giving effective feedback is an essential part of communication and can make such a difference!

Different aspects of communication are claimed to be the most important, but in my experience, the most important of these is the critical skill of feedback, both giving and getting. Effective feedback has benefits for the giver, the recipient and indeed, the whole school. This is a ‘big’ claim – how can it make such a difference in schools?

One key difference is that feedback is there all the time. Every time we speak or listen to a student, parent, associate colleague or teacher, in our tone of voice, in the words we use, in the silences which we allow/do not allow, we communicate feedback – how far we trust, how much we respect, the degree to which we approve or even disapprove of their actions/work or lack of it. It is impossible not to give feedback. When reflecting on my own practice I am forced to think about the silences when I observe something that is not so great. The words are fewer. Slower. In contrast, when I see something great I am full of praise and want to share this with all. There is a big difference. It is possible to ignore feedback and that is something we must not do because it can be so powerful to you as an individual and to your team and school.

One of the brilliant effects of feedback is that it is an opportunity to motivate. Positive feedback is another word for praise and is all about taking the opportunity to express appreciation of a job well done in the hope of inspiring an individual to do many more jobs to an even higher standard. There are so many ways of doing this in school – appreciation postcards (staff to staff, students to staff), a staff member of the week nominations, or a quick e-mail that captures this positive message. It makes such a difference to keep all of these, for example, cards on a pinboard or e-mails in a gratitude jar, because when you feel a little down (which we all do from time to time) it is far healthier and long-lasting (I can confirm) to hit the gratitude jar rather than the chocolate stash! I know this makes such an impact and can really lift your day, week, term or even year. It is also very lifting if you have been responsible for putting a smile on someone’s face. This makes a difference in schools as staff are motivated to go the extra mile, push to the next level… Feedback is key to developing performance.

Feedback is not a criticism, it is a supportive act intended to deal with under-performance in a constructive way and to develop performance to a higher level. Sometimes, it can be hard not to take feedback as criticism. A colleague offered me feedback a few years ago and I was shocked at what he said. I did not ask for it and I was hurt. I thought he would never understand things from my perspective. I worried. But, I did listen and acted. Acting on his feedback, I stopped relying on e-mail so much and began to communicate with colleagues in different ways. Due to his delivery, I trusted (slightly begrudgingly at first). The language which we use is important here; not, ‘You didn’t do …’, but rather ‘If you had done this or that, it would have …’ or ‘The student/parent/colleague wasn’t very happy. What else do you think you could have done?’ The feedback I received made a big difference in terms of performance and it helped towards building a stronger sense of community, which benefits the whole school. Win-win.

Feedback is also a way to keep learning. I am a firm believer in the only way to make sure we don’t continue making the same mistakes is to get feedback. There is no doubt that this can be difficult and maybe even shocking as an unexpected ‘bomb’ is dropped. I had this very experience last year as a colleague revealed that they felt I had no understanding of their role, their priorities or anything to do with that area of school life. I was really taken aback by this – I think I went into shock for a while, but have now invested more time into learning about this area. And, I can confirm that she was right to a degree and this has made our working relationship brilliant. In turn, this benefits all. I know it is worth investing time in asking and learning about how others experience working with you – ‘What do you like about the way I work and what don’t you like?’ You might find it tough to listen to.

But it is what it is; an opinion and not a fact. And if people are thinking it, you may not need to accept it, but you need to manage the perception by explaining more about what you do and why you do it the way you do. As DHT I have found that I have been doing more of this so that others understand reasons for decisions/thought processes and the accountability that this role carries with it. All of this takes time, of course. But, the difference that it makes to the smooth running of the whole school makes it totally worth it. So, do not underestimate the power of effective feedback for adults too!

This article originally appeared in the January 2016 free Edition of UKEdMagazine

Kathleen Sorrell @SLT_Kat Deputy Headteacher responsible for curriculum at St Ignatius College in North London. She is passionate about leadership and development. Read her blog at

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