As a new teacher during my first two years where I taught in a middle school in Virginia, I struggled with classroom management. I was a 21-year old barely-adult who was barely taller than my 8th grade students that first year. They ran me ragged. I know now that I hadn’t set up clear structure or routines within my classroom and I tried hard to be their friend, instead of their respected teacher. Much of this I learned through a lot of trial and error, and then coaching and observations I received and participated in when I got a job in San Diego and truly began to thrive as an educator.
During my first year of teaching I never had one person come in to visit or give me feedback. The same was true for my second year of teaching, until March. When I returned from spring break, I knew that I would be moving from Virginia to San Diego the following summer. Knowing that I would have to apply for a new teaching job in San Diego, I asked my assistant principal, who was my evaluator, to please come observe me so that he could write me a letter of recommendation. Sadly, I had to remind him of this request many times between March and June, before he finally came in for about 15 minutes at the end of the year. He filled in my evaluation with a bunch of check marks and wrote me the requested letter. Needless to say, his letter was rather generic and I never received any constructive feedback during my first two years of teaching.
Human beings crave feedback. Obviously, we all appreciate positive feedback and praise, but even constructive criticism is valued when it is delivered by someone we trust and respect. We also seek out acknowledgement. I know the frustration of working hard day in and day out and never even receiving a note of acknowledgement from my administrators. I also know the frustration of being observed and then receiving no feedback whatsoever.
As I’ve grown as a coach and a leader, I have worked hard to create trusting relationships where I was able to give feedback to teachers I visit. When I don’t have a trusting relationships established, I still write a note of appreciation to each teacher I visit. I always want to acknowledge their hard work and that I, a virtually stranger, was in their room observing that hard work. So when I conduct classroom observations in my current role as a district director, my first purpose is to coach the site administrators with whom I am visiting. My second purpose is to model that note of appreciation. During this past school year, I visited over 400 classrooms in our district. After each visit, I wrote each teacher an email (and cced the site administrators who were with me) noting something that I appreciated that was going well for student learning. I don’t pretend to be coaching teachers in these emails, because I don’t have established relationships with them. But I am coaching their site leaders and I am building a bridge of trust, where a teacher who is observed receives some acknowledgement and feedback.
Knowing that everyone craves feedback, I encourage you to consider the ways in which you provide feedback to your colleagues.