Guest post by Kristopher Brown
When colleagues describe why they became educators, they usually describe a teacher who inspired or motivated them. My path toward education also centers around a former teacher; one who used relentless sarcasm and lacked the cultural competency necessary to engage me, an African American male student in a predominantly white suburban school. I got a B in class, but I dreaded going to that room. That class would often ruin my day. This teacher served as my inspiration to become an educator because I did not want another student to have an experience as poor as I had.
While in this teacher’s class, I often wondered about the experiences of other students. I didn’t display any negative body language, so to the teacher’s defense, how would she know that she was the reason my experience was awful? Perhaps she may have had a better idea if she had asked her students, and sought their input about the class.
Why Ask Students?
Formative assessments are great for teachers to inform their instruction. These assessments are often linked to course content and student comprehension, but formative assessments can also be used to evaluate the effectiveness of our instruction. There are many benefits to gathering feedback from students:
- More student-centered instruction: All of the teachers I have worked with have shared that gathering feedback led them to use more student-centered instructional practices. One teacher wrote, “Students started to realize how invested I was in their responses. Then they started to be really honest and committed to shaping their educational experience. It [collecting feedback] gave them a chance to say, ‘Hey, this is how I learn best.’ It also gave them a chance to learn themselves because it de-centers the teacher.”
- Targeted areas to improve effective instruction: Teachers have shared that gathering feedback has provided targeted opportunities for growth. Another teacher shared that collecting feedback “forces me to do a little bit more, which is good. And look at things that I haven’t looked at in a while. That’s a good reminder at this time of my career that there are still things that need work.”
- Improved relationships with students: Incorporating student feedback has helped teachers connect better with students, and students appreciate the interest the teachers show in their experiences.
- Becoming more reflective practitioners: The use of student feedback provides teachers with a systematic approach for regular reflection, which supports and advances their own growth as a professional.
- Opportunities for shared professional learning: Collecting feedback has led to more opportunities for collaborative professional growth; this process has enabled colleagues to network about creative ways to engage students.
How can I help my teachers in this process?
- Help teachers set goals: Many teachers were initially hesitant to gather regular feedback from students; one even shared a story about a colleague who left teaching because of harsh criticism from students. That is not the idea here! To be effective, this process should be non-evaluative; help your teachers set their own professional goals and then challenge them to use student feedback to grow as educators. Caution teachers against asking questions such as “did you like this” and challenge them to engage in dialogue with their students that produces genuine feedback.
- Don’t Complicate the Process: Teachers asked me specifically how this process should play out in their classrooms. I told them to think of it as a “choose your own adventure novel.” There are some very reliable student surveys available for purchase if your school is in position to acquire them, however, our teachers brainstormed and generated some useful instruments using Google Forms. The important part is not howyou collect feedback; the important part is that you arecollecting feedback. I instructed our teachers to let the feedback guide them; no two sets of students are exactly alike, and each class will take you in a different direction.
- Practice What You Preach: Model this method of democratic leadership by also gathering feedback from teachers on your performance as an administrator. What better way to encourage teachers who may be hesitant to open themselves up to feedback from students than to model that process yourself and gather feedback from your teachers!
What do your students have to say? How can you encourage your teachers to create a more personalized learning experience for their students?
Kristopher Brown, EdD, is the principal of Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, PA. Previously, Dr. Brown served as a social studies teacher at Abington Senior High School. He is the 2018 Pennsylvania Assistant Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @DrKBrown11.