Joellen Killion and Learningforward have produced a great resource for instructional coaches and school leaders. The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning provides ways to examine and improve your practice in supporting continuous teaching improvement.
“Feedback is a process that engages the learner in review, analysis, reflection, and planning of future action. When learners actively engage in constructing feedback rather than passively receiving feedback, they are far more likely to own the information generated and to take responsibility for future actions.” (page 22)
Killion uses the term learning partner to identify the person supporting a teacher with feedback and describes three sources of feedback: unidirectional, conversational, and self-generated. (pages 15-16)
Unidirectional Feedback (delivered to the learner)
This feedback is more of a product than a process. The teacher receives the conclusions or data collected by another. While the feedback may come in a conference it is mostly one-sided with the clear roles of a provider and receiver of the feedback. Since unidirectional most frequently occurs in supervisory types of conferences, instructional coaches need to be careful of teachers’ interpretation of unidirectional feedback as evaluative. This is the reason I rarely use written/emailed feedback when coaching.
Conversational Feedback (discussed with learner)
This feedback now moves from product to more process. The teacher is invited to engage in conversation about her practice and her understanding of how it relates to an ideal. The learning partner may plan the sequence of the conversation as well as the intended outcomes of the conversation and practices to recommend. Often in conversational feedback the learning partner uses her knowledge to collaboratively analyze data, generate learning from the analysis and plan next actions.
Self-generated Feedback (generated by the learner)
This feedback promotes metacognition, reflection, construction of new knowledge, and deconstruction of that knowledge to question its meaning and application in diverse situations. When learning partners are engaged they serve as facilitators and listening partners, clarifying, probing, and summarizing the learner’s process. The learning partner is a process facilitator not a content expert. In fact, expertise can interfere as the coach forms his own perceptions about effective practice and wants to be helpful.
These three feedback options parallel a coaching continuum I have used to demonstrate kinds of coaching a teacher might request.
Expert Eyes, Ears, Skin
I request expert feedback when my learning partner has a skill set or experience that I want her to bring to bear on assisting me in gaining successful practices. After teaching middle grades for five years, I became a first grade teacher. Fortunately, I was teaming with a teacher who had five years of experience with first grade. I was in desperate need of her expert feedback regarding my work with beginning readers. Her expertise shortened a trial and error learning process that would have been too costly to my students.
The eyes, ears, and skin feedback has the learning partner work as a collector of observable data that the teacher uses for refection, exploration, and problem-solving. The teacher’s expertise rather than the coach’s is the source of decisions about future steps. Several years ago I was asked to coach a high school French III lesson. The teacher did not allow any English to be spoken in the class and I speak no French. Fortunately she asked me to record on a seating chart when a student raised a hand and was called upon, when a student without volunteering was called upon and when a student gave a response without being recognized. I developed a symbol for each possibility and recorded each responding student on a seating chart. The teacher made several decisions about changes she would make based on her study of the data I collected. (It was easy for me to remain neutral as I had no content expertise)
Peers with similar backgrounds working on a common problem are operating in the middle of my continuum, sharing responsibility for drawing meaning and direction from the feedback process.
When coach and coachee agree on the type of feedback being sought and stay true to the process trust is built, transparency and risk taking are increased, and teaching practices are advanced.