Teacher Trainers Giving Feedback to Teachers
28th February 2018
by Rosemary Anderson
Giving oral and written teaching feedback to pre and in-service teachers is an integral part of many teacher-training programmes, and possibly the most challenging skill to develop for those who have moved from a teacher to a teacher- trainer role. Getting the balance right depending on the context and the specific training group when there are so many factors to consider can be very difficult and potentially quite stressful at times. When is it appropriate for the trainer to be more directive? When is it appropriate to elicit? Should the type of feedback vary throughout the course?
Reducing the ‘threat’ during feedback
Receiving feedback on teaching practice may be potentially quite threatening for pre and in-service teachers. The rationale for feedback is to improve the situation or performance and this won’t be accomplished by being harsh, critical or too direct. By initially being more cautious when giving direct feedback may be more advantageous until you have established a positive working relationship with the teachers. Some teachers respond well and appreciate direct feedback, whereas others can become quite defensive and shut down.
Acknowledging the teachers’ efforts and being supportive can help to develop a safe atmosphere for effective learning to take place.
Be mindful of your role
While you want to maximise the teachers’ input for feedback, the trainer needs to manage the group effectively and guide the feedback discussion, to defuse any aggression or defensiveness and aim to elicit action points for future teaching, as well as providing suggestions and advice. The role of the trainer changes as training progresses and the role should adapt to the context. It is important to provide observed teachers with choices based on the feedback that you give. This informed decision-making on the part of the teachers could help develop more self-awareness.
The language the trainer uses when providing feedback should invite the teachers to consider a perspective, not an absolute. Just as teachers grade their language according to their learners’ abilities, trainers also need to consider the language they use in feedback. Feedback provides the opportunity for exploring received ideas and/or each other’s thinking. It can be unstructured and encourage individuals to contribute to the discussion, or it can be structured around specific tasks. Think about how the teacher will hear your feedback. Aim to avoid words like never, all and always, and avoid getting personal.
Ask the person their opinion first and encourage them to connect their past practice and how this relates to their future development. Try to avoiding using but and however as these tend to erase everything that has been said prior to using these.
Actively listen and show empathy
This might sound rather obvious, but a key point if a teacher feels that the trainer has not listened to them and is ‘glossing over’ an issue, as this can sow seeds of discontentment, possibly even resentment as the training continues. Try to acknowledge how the person is feeling. If empathy is not shown, or the trainer ignores the situation, the threat level and feeling of vulnerability increases for the receiver.
Encouraging active participation
Ensure that group feedback includes techniques to create safety and interaction. Engaging teachers in the feedback process can be helped by giving consistent and clear information on what feedback is, what type they can expect, and how they can use it to reflect on their own learning and improve performance. Try to maintain eye contact with less vocal teachers so that they know they are not forgotten and can participate, use people’s names and observe their body language. Encourage teacher discussion, but encourage more vocal teachers to not dominate the group discussion.
Developing feedback on teaching skills
As with all professional development, it is a highly personal pathway and recognising your own training style, where you need to develop and how is a good starting point. Here are some aspects to consider:
Observing co-tutors giving feedback to teachers when/if possible.
Liaising closely with co-tutors before training courses begin to discuss how they manage feedback and which techniques they employ. Another useful strategy is to exchange notes and discuss teachers’ responses to feedback as well.
Recording yourself giving feedback (with the group’s permission gained in advance) to highlight the kind of language you are using, your body language and also the balance between trainer and teacher talk.
Ask for feedback from the teachers you are working with.
Ideally, trainers want to develop their ability to give non-judgemental, specific and descriptive feedback so that self-assessment is facilitated, goals, criteria and expected standards are clear to all, self-esteem is encouraged and information provided to reduce the gap between current and desired teaching performance.