Like our students, teachers need “good informative feedback” to support our continuous growth. Sherry St. Clair, experienced teacher, instructional coach, school administrator and author provided insights and strategies. Find out what she identifies and the most important source.
Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!
Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics, connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:33 Feedback for your personal professional growth. Today on our podcast, we are joined by Sherry St. Claire, a experienced school administrator and coach, and the author of “Coaching Redefined: A Guide to Learning Meaningful Instructional Coaching.” I’ve had the opportunity to be on a panel with Sherry, I’ve had the opportunity to read her book and I asked her if she would join us today, especially to talk to teachers about this important role of feedback. So Sherry, thanks for joining us.
Sherry: 01:17 Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Steve: 01:21 I’m wondering if we could just jump in with why is feedback critical to a growth process?
Sherry: 01:33 Okay, so I’m gonna reword that question just a little bit to say, good feedback is important, right?
Steve: 01:47 Ah. [laughter]
Steve: 01:47 And I share that because I think that number one, that’s what the research shows. If we look at the different research on the different kinds of feedback
that we can give and that we can receive, if we just give feedback that says good job, or great, or keep it up, then it really doesn’t lead to growth. But specific feedback, intentional feedback is important to growth and has shown to have a high impact when learning. So we need that feedback and we need that intentional tailored feedback to help us perfect our craft.
Steve: 02:36 So many teachers today are working in schools and even if they’re working virtually online now, they’re in a situation where someone in the school has a role of instructional coach or math coach or reading coach or technology coach. I’m wondering if you can give us some words for the approach that a teacher can take. I spend a lot of time having people on my podcast talk about the approaches the coach can take, but I’m wondering if you can twist that fo us and talk about the approach that a teacher can take to gain the most from from having that instructional coach available in your building.
Sherry: 03:22 Yea so, one thing that I would say is just at the beginning, make sure you have a good relationship with that coach, you can trust them. Because coaching, you have to be really vulnerable there. And in order to grow, you have to be willing to show both your strengths and your weaknesses and that’s, that’s a hard place to be and to entrust that to another human, to allow them to shape and mold you or give you ideas for that. So from a teacher to a coach, just make sure you’re, you’re working on that relationship with that coach and that that’s someone that you can can trust. And then beyond that, just think about specific areas where you would like some feedback where you would – where you feel like that you might be able to grow. The more intentional I think you can be with that coach to say, you know, I’m trying to work on my questioning or I’m trying to work on making sure that I’m including all my students or I’m trying to work on the cognitive learner engagement in my classroom.
Sherry: 04:38 The more specific you can be, that will help the coach be more intentional. I will tell you as a new teacher, I had a – I was co-teaching with a special ed teacher. So they were in my classroom a lot of the time, they weren’t a instructional coach, but they were, that was another teacher. And I just gave them permission to look at the questioning in my classroom, making sure that I was equally calling on students. And there were times that that teacher would come back to me and say, “Sherry, you completely ignored this part of the room for this lesson.” And so that feedback, although, you know, inside of me at first, I’m like mad at myself, but that feedback really helped me craft my teaching in a way that better served students. And you know, somebody else walking in that classroom wouldn’t have ever noticed that, but that that person did because they were intentionally looking for that. So the relationship piece, the trust piece, and then just try to think really specific about what you want to work on, what would help you grow and share that with your coach.
Steve: 05:58 What jumped out at me as you shared your story about working with that special ed teacher is you made yourself vulnerable first. I mean, you put your vulnerability right out on that line. And for teachers to know that coaches are looking for ways to build that vulnerability, but that any teacher who would step forth and make him or herself vulnerable from the get-go is certainly going to be catching their coach’s attention and I think getting their coaches time to work for them. Sherry, I’m wondering if you’d talk a little bit about peer coaching and how you see peer coaching playing into a way for teachers to be getting feedback.
Sherry: 06:43 I think peer coaching can be incredibly powerful if it’s done in the right way. By that, I mean, that relationship piece also has to be there. The teachers have to truly trust each other and they have to be able to push each other. You know, again, it goes back to, if I’m going into your classroom, Steve, and you’re just hearing “good job, great, wish I could do it that well, hey, fantastic.” You know, that’s not helping you. I mean, you might like me more, but it’s not helping you to grow. And so the peer feedback must be done in a way that those two individuals or whether the two or three or however many are involved in that process, are able to truly have that collegial conversation that will be constructive and push each other towards growth. And then you’ve set that foundation to where it is successful.
Sherry: 07:51 And again, I’ll go back to, I also think it needs to be intentional. One of the things that I see as I’m coaching individuals is we sometimes have such a broad scope that it loses its effectiveness. We can’t go into classrooms and try to look for 49 different things. The more focused our eye and our lens is, then the better our feedback is to those individuals. So sometimes, when I’m setting up peer to peer coaching, I will say, okay, as you go in, I only want you listening for the questioning, or I only want you looking for that cognitive learner engagement piece. Ignore everything else. Don’t look for the standards on the board, don’t look for the way the students are arranged in their desks. All those pieces might be important, but today we’re focusing on this, this skill. And that allows for meaningful conversations also.
Steve: 08:56 So trust is a element of feedback across the board?
Sherry: 08:57 I think so. And you know, that has to be a part of a bigger picture in a school. It has to be part of that school culture. If a teacher is afraid of a teacher evaluation and they do everything out of fear, then it’s not going to lead to a place where quite frankly, we’re modeling the growth mindset, but that a teacher can feel comfortable failing and making mistakes as they try to grow. And if we truly believe that failing and picking ourselves back up and dusting ourselves off is part of the learning process, we have to give space for things not going well in classes because you know, it just doesn’t a hundred percent of the time as we teach.
Steve: 09:50 Several years back, I was working with a school and we were having a conversation about implementing a peer coaching process. And they shared with me that they didn’t have the trust in their environment to have peer coaching. And my response back was until you start peer coaching, I don’t think you’re going to have the trust in your environment. They’re really kind of a chicken and egg thing, process here. That, the mistakes with peer coaching, you can begin to build the trust. Beginning to build the trust makes it easier to do the peer coaching. But everybody staying in their rooms and not being in each other’s classrooms is pretty difficult to find a way to create the trust.
Sherry: 10:47 Yes, absolutely.
Steve: 10:50 How would you suggest teachers look at administrative feedback as part of their growth process?
Sherry: 10:58 So, you know, we’re going to talk about the trust thing and the relationship part as well. And all those things that we’ve talked about previous to this question apply here as well, correct?
Steve: 11:13 One second before you go on with that – and would you say that a teacher can take the lead on some of that? What’s your thoughts on a teacher not waiting for the administrator to do that, but stepping into it.
Sherry: 11:26 So I think that knowing your administrator, if you have that right relationship with your administrator, then I think that’s a great thing to do is to go and have that conversation. You know, Steve, in my book, I talk about resistance and where we meet resistance, working with people and some of that research is based on Chip and Dan Heath’s work, “Made to Stick.” Sometimes we will see teachers being resistant to change because they’ve been through some many different leaders in their school. And so if that has happens, it’s going to be harder for a teacher to go to a leader and be vulnerable, not knowing if they’re going to be there for one year or five years or whatever, you know?
Sherry: 12:31 So I think the teachers have to kind of assess that on their own basis, but in a perfect world, yes. I think that is a fine strategy. And I will tell you, as a former school administrator, I did have teachers come to me and say, “hey, can you pop in and see how I’m doing with this reading activity or how students respond to this and give me some feedback?” And I knew when teachers started doing that, that we had created this culture to where they felt comfortable that I wasn’t going to come and be evaluative. That I was going to come and walk beside them as they were trying something new. And they got really excited about that. So yes, I think teachers should be comfortable doing that. And I think it’s a great step to do in the right place and the right time. Administrators provide can provide such an important view of what’s happening in your classrooms.
Sherry: 13:30 You know, you talked about your school, where the teachers were just in their own classrooms and not having any peer to peer interaction. An administrator or a good administrator, a good instructional leader as administrator, will get into all those classrooms. And so they have a different view than you who mainly stay in your classroom. And getting their feedback and things that they’re seeing working in other schools or in other classrooms, it can really help you as a teacher. I often tell people in my coaching, my job is to give you best practices, ideas, research. Your job is to synthesize that and filter it to say, what can I do with this at this stage of time with the culture that I have and just – what can I implement what needs to sit aside for right now? And I think the same thing is true with administrators coming into classrooms. Their teachers need to hear what they have to say and have the flexibility to be a collaborative part of that conversation to say, yes, but I’m not sure this will work right now, or I can work towards that or needs to be a team conversation here.
Steve: 15:01 So Sherry, other thoughts about places teachers can find feedback to guide their reflection and their growth?
Sherry: 15:10 Yes. I think we’re missing some of the most important ones. One being the students. The teachers need to hear the voice of students and how the students are feeling about their learning experience in classrooms above all else. I would, as a former teacher, when I was teaching, I would frequently ask students to give me feedback. It might be on their exit slip when they left the classroom, any time that they received a grade, I asked them to grade me as well and give justification for that grade. And you know, some of the feedback is the feedback that I couldn’t use. It just wasn’t going to happen. Like, I wish we’d watch a movie every day or go outside for extra 30 minutes a day. You know, that kind of stuff, again, you have to be able to filter through that, but it also helps you to know what they’re feeling.
Sherry: 16:12 It tells them that they’re important in your classroom. That they’re an important part of the process and builds that community within that classroom. So actually, I think you should listen to your students above all other voices so that you can grow that community in your classroom. And the other area I would say is try to get feedback from your parents. Just what are the children telling you at home? How are they acting? Are they excited about learning? Are they excited about school? Are they not? Are they stressed? Because you know, children will tell us different things. With children, whether they be, you know, elementary age or high school, they will have different thoughts and feelings at school than they do at home. So keeping feedback open, that communication open with your parents, is also important. All these pieces play into the teacher’s art and craft of teaching in classrooms.
Steve: 17:18 You’ve reminded me of when I taught first grade and we had a parent teacher conferences, one of the questions I would ask parents is to tell me what they were aware of, that I was teaching in social studies or science. And it was one of my best indicators of my effectiveness on the current unit we were on. You know, if mom and dad knew all the stories that I had told, or if the kids went home and redid the science experiment we did in school you know, I knew I had if if mom and dad had no idea what was going on, that’s probably an indicator of of my effectiveness that I had in in engaging the kids in that particular learning element.
Sherry: 18:04 Absolutely. And, you know, knowing that you’re creating or helping to shape a person who loves to learn, you know that as a teacher you’re being successful when you’re doing that.
Steve: 18:20 Sherry, as we wrap up here, I know that when you’re talking to school leaders, you talk about the importance of building on positiveness. And I’m wondering how you’d see that playing for an individual teacher who was focused on their own personal growth. How would you see them rolling that positive focus in looking at their own growth?
Sherry: 18:50 So a couple of things there, maybe. As a teacher here’s feedback, I think it’s truly important for them to filter. You need to filter what is constructive and will help me grow and what is deconstructive and is just hurtful to me. And if we’re being honest, sometimes teachers hear both kinds of feedback. So part of being a strong individual is being able to set that deconstructive feedback aside. You know, any one of us in a leadership position has to filter through that and just let that constructive feedback impact us. So keep that in mind. The other piece is how we talk to ourselves can help with that positivity piece and also help with the feedback. If we can be positive about our own growth and, you know, whether it be, keep a gratitude journal or a strengths journal, or just making sure that we know where we’ve been and how we’re trying to grow and the steps that we’re taking for that, all those things are models of positivity.
Sherry: 20:16 If we can see ourselves as growing as a positive thing, we’re going to model that for the students in our classroom as well. So the positivity piece here comes into play as, I’m willing as a human to know that I have strengths and also, you know, unique gifts and talents and that I can build on those. I also know that there are areas that I’m not strong in and I’m okay with that. I’m going to focus on those areas that I do have strengths because that’s where I can craft my giftedness and truly, quite frankly, bless the world. And that’s what I hope a teacher would take away from any kind of feedback, is that they realize that they have been gifted with unique talents and that the world needs those talents, just like the world needs the talents of the children in their classroom.
Steve: 21:24 Thank you so much. What a very, very positive note for us to close out on. Sherry, tell folks how they can find you on your your website.
Sherry: 21:37 Sure. My website is Reflective Learning, and you can find that at www.reflecttolearn.com. I’m also on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, any of those places connect with me there, but I would love to connect with folks. Thank you, Steve. Appreciate it.
Steve: 21:54 Thank you. We’ll stick the let’s stick your your website and email address into the lead-int o the blog. Thanks again.
Steve [Outro]: 22:06 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.