Two articles from INC. caught my attention, (Why Great Bosses Rarely Give Negative Feedback, Backed by Science and Why Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Avoid the ‘Feedback Sandwich,’) as they connected with comments from some teacher leaders who were exploring coaching skills with me. Our conversation arose as we were exploring the impact of teachers receiving approval in the coaching process.
We looked at the similarities and differences in receiving compliments, praise, and approval. Here are the definitions we worked with. While all three are seen as positive they differ in that…..
- A compliment tends to be positive feedback for a possession or trait (That’s a lovely blouse)
- Praise tends to be positive feedback for something you did that the person delivering the praise values. (I like how you waited patiently)
- Approval is when we receive positive feedback for something that we value. (Your students were engaged in struggling and persevering as they sought solutions)
Approval feedback requires you to “know” the person you are responding to. I can give a compliment to a total stranger, without any information. Stepping on the plane, the flight attendant says, “I love that tie.” Compliment. She doesn’t need to know if it is costly, if I picked it out myself, or if it was a special gift. To give praise, you need to know that the person did something that you are praising. “Thanks for being on time.” In order to provide approval, I need to recognize something that someone did or accomplished that the person values. “ I overheard your students in the hallway still debating the court case you explored in class today.” A smile on the person’s face after the statement is generally an indication that my statement was approval.
A teacher might receive a completely positive administrative evaluation and not sense any approval as the items on the system’s evaluation are not reflective of the teacher’s most important values. A few words from a principal as she leaves a teacher’s classroom after looking at some student’s work can be approval that generates a glow from the teacher because those words zeroed in on the teacher’s source of pride. Coaching should be an opportunity to increase the approval that teachers receive. When I am pre-conferencing with a teacher, I am listening for those sources of value and pride. Then I look for occurrences during the observation that can be mentioned. Knowing and recognizing each other’s sources of approval strengthens teaming.
The teacher leaders who were exploring approval with me began making connections to the feedback they have received from walkthroughs. Their comments connected with my ongoing thinking that walkthroughs should be used for administrators to gain insights and questions that are then explored in focused observation and conversations. I have frequently had principals describe walkthroughs as a form of coaching. Generally, teachers say it isn’t. Instructional coaches often complain about being part of walkthroughs as teachers see them stepping outside their coaching roles.
One teacher described walkthrough feedback notes that read……..
Without the teacher engaging in a conversation with the observer, it is unlikely that valuable reflection would be generated from this feedback. I interpret this feedback as an attempt to be safe and compliant. The “feedback sandwich” mentioned in the article above is when positive feedback is served as the bread and a needed improvement as the meat. While the provider of the sandwich might feel better with the delivery, the receiver never does. Growth and improvement don’t happen. While the ‘I wonder?’ is a question, most teachers hear it as a suggestion for change. Two pieces of bread and then the meat as a sandwich isn’t any more effective.
The second article above, about great bosses rarely giving negative feedback, describes what psychologists label as ‘motivated belief’. “Say something good about me and I’ll remember because positive feedback reinforces my self-image. Say something negative about me, though, and without even trying I’ll suppress and eventually forget it. Because the last thing I want to believe is that I’m sub-par.”
These articles and the conversation with the teacher leaders reinforce my focus on growth and improvement through coaching. Coaching is driven by pre-conferencing practices that empower the coachee to be known by the coach and to direct the feedback data that the coach collects. Providing approval and recognition for a teacher’s values and commitment encourages the coachee to stretch in growth goals and to build off of the observational data the coach collects.