March 26

Facing your feedback fears

Monica PatelAs I drove home from school last week, a smiley face unexpectedly flashed up on a sign to tell me that I was travelling at an acceptable 19 miles an hour. I glowed internally at this unsought, positive, feedback on my driving skills. 

Conversely, I experienced a terrible sinking feeling when my children asked if they could offer me feedback (again, unsought) about the meal I had just served up. Their honest suggestions left me deflated and forlorn, although I knew it was well-intentioned and meant to lead to more positive outcomes in the future (pizza that hadn’t been chargrilled). 


If either of these experiences are familiar to you, then you will recognise the very visceral and physical response we have to being told we’re doing a good job - or not.    

But what have my excellent driving and my less excellent culinary skills got to do with schooling and education? 

Feedback is at the heart of our role as educators. There’s a myriad of terms linked to feedback in education: feed forward, responsive, summary, formative, summative. But, put very simply, the fundamental purpose of feedback – written or oral – is to support growth and improve performance. This understanding must be central in all our feedback interactions, shaping how and when we deliver it, whether in an academic, sporting, musical or social context. Keeping in mind our own daily experiences of how it feels to receive feedback is essential in order that we can reflect regularly on the quality of our comments to children and their emotional impact.   

This is also key when it comes to empowering children with the language of feedback. We teach them that there is always room for improvement, that practice makes progress. Renowned psychologist Carol Dweck’s theories of growth mindset – knowing that we all have the capacity to improve – is a simple yet powerful construct and is, for me, the key reason we need to provide thoughtful feedback.  In order to cultivate a flexible, open, growth-mindset, we must be ready, willing and able to give and receive constructive criticism, so we can take the necessary steps to make our outcomes even better. 

It is vital, then, that we give children the opportunity to practise using the language of feedback from an early age: we might scaffold that learning with ‘2 stars and a wish’ or ‘What Went Well/ Even Better If’ when they reflect on their own outcomes. How they offer feedback to their peers is another level of sophisticated interaction which needs to be navigated with kindness combined with the specific intention of supporting improvement.   

Children sometimes ask, ‘Is this good?’ which provides an opportunity to encourage self-reflection against a set of agreed success criteria: another moment in which they can offer themselves critical feedback.  We should explicitly draw attention to the fact that we are developing their meta-cognition, the ability to reflect on themselves as learners. When combined with constructive peer feedback, we are helping them develop a powerful set of tools for improvement.  

Modelling giving and receiving feedback is, of course, vital in supporting children to hear and see good practice. It is important that, as adults, we do not just ‘talk the talk’ of feedback – rather we need to ‘walk the talk’ on a daily basis. Therefore, I firmly believe that we should promote a culture of feedback in our professional and personal lives, one where we are not afraid to regularly ask for it, because we know that it will lead to betterment for ourselves and others.   

It can, of course, feel terrifying to open oneself up to what is essentially a critique. But we must experience this first-hand in order that we can model to younger generations the lived-experienced of a growth mindset: we are all on an eternal journey of betterment. 

Perhaps this week, you can actively seek feedback from a colleague about a piece of work you have done or a presentation you have delivered; as teachers, we should regularly ask the children for feedback on lesson design or the way we gave them feedback. I will, with gritted teeth, ask for comments from my children on the next meal I slave over and, in doing so, consciously model for them that seeking feedback is a positive experience and a win-win for everyone…especially if it leads to a more palatable curry or a less burnt pizza offering.   

Written by Ms Patel, Deputy Head of Junior School (Academic)

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