Feedback Strategies for Those Who Work with Teachers

Insight ADVANCE, the company behind the observation and coaching platform used in schools and teacher preparation programs, invited me to develop an ebook that explores research, tools, principles, and best practices for providing inservice teachers feedback on their instructional performance. You can find Feedback Strategies for Coaches and Administrators here. The following companion piece presents some highlights from that work.

“We all need people who will give us feedback,” writes Bill Gates. “That’s how we improve.” Yet the quality and amount of feedback provided to teachers is disappointing. A 2009 study of 12 districts found that 75% of teachers “received no specific feedback about how to improve their practice,” and only 43% actually used feedback to improve instruction. 

Why isn’t teacher feedback better? The short answer: Imparting meaningful feedback is difficult.

Richard Elmore, a professor of graduate education at Harvard, asserts that “the knowledge and skill required to [give quality feedback] is beyond both the experience and practical knowledge of the people charged with supervision.”

Feedback Guidelines

While there is no single right way to provide feedback, the field has gained several insights into strategies for providing feedback that create the growth-minded culture most likely to support teacher development.

Say This, Not That

Although it might feel counterintuitive to feedback providers, the first thing they should say during a debriefing session is nothing. “Turn off your walkie-talkie, sit down, be quiet, and listen for at least ten minutes,” advises Richard Elmore. “Then the first words out of your mouth should be a question to which you do not know the answer.”

Only interrupt in order to keep the discussion focused on student learning: When did deep learning occur? What evidence leads you to that conclusion?

Escalating accountability measures are no excuse for administrators to neglect feedback on individual teacher’s personal improvement targets. Vanessa Valencia, an assistant principal in Colorado, made her district's evaluation requirements more personal and growth oriented by printing out each teacher’s instructional goals on a single cheat sheet. Valencia writes, “Being able to say, ‘I know you’re working on ______, have you thought about ______?,’ has been a huge timesaver and relationship builder.”

Nuanced Feedback

Most administrators, like Valencia, understand that feedback should be timely, actionable, specific, and related to agreed-upon learning outcomes. But even when it meets those criteria, feedback can still backfire when unsuccessfully calibrated to a teacher’s abilities. Robyn Jackson, author of Never Underestimate Your Teachers, explains how to determine when to use four main types of feedback and with whom:

  • Diagnostic feedback describes why a lesson has not succeeded and clarifies the teaching principles that will support improvement. Best for teachers lacking key concepts that would help them understand why a lesson hasn’t worked.
  • Prescriptive feedback provides specific directions about what to do differently. Best for teachers who have just bungled part of their lesson and need a specific course correction.
  • Descriptive feedback narrates the teaching performance in detail, including what did and didn’t work. Best for teachers who reflect effectively and deeply understand fundamental elements of instruction.
  • Micro-feedback adjusts or “tweaks” successful lessons. Best for superb teachers who just aced a lesson.

Download Feedback Strategies for Coaches and Administrators, to deepen your understanding about . . .
  • Observation Models - Explores instructional rounds, “look-fors” variations, and the Classroom Walkthrough Models Matrix.
  • Creating a Common Teaching Vocabulary - Explores learning frameworks and indicators of exemplary practice.
  • Popular Feedback Models - Suggests the Tuning Protocol and other peer review and coaching models.
  • Using Language That Motivates - Explores when to switch from 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person while giving feedback.
  • Commentary Modes - Explores warm, cool, and hard commentary.
  • How Teachers Can Assume Agency in the Feedback/Evaluation Process - Explores how to solicit feedback when the school culture does not support it or the coach is inexperienced.
  • Models for Using Video in the Feedback Process - Suggests “What? So What? Now What?”, the “Feedback Carousel”, and “The Best Foot Forward Project”.

One last the free 8-page PDF Ebook here

Todd Finley

Edutopia Blogger and Asst. Editor || ECU Ed Professor || Founder of Todd's Brain at || Books: Dinkytown Braves and Rethinking Classroom Design.

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