Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Love/Hate Relationship with Feedback

At Inspired Teaching one of our favorite interview questions for potential employees is: “How do you take feedback?” Feedback is something we expect everyone who works with us to give one another on a regular basis. We consider it to be essential to our growth as individuals and as an organization.

This belief reflects our efforts to practice what we preach. We believe the art of teaching is one of continual reflection, readjustment, and improvement. Feedback is key to the process of becoming an Inspired Teacher.

Even though I know this now and consider feedback an important part of my work, whenever I interview a candidate who says, “I LOVE feedback” I am suspicious. This reaction comes from my old relationship with the term.

Before joining Inspired Teaching I always thought of feedback in the negative and, to be honest, I still cringe whenever someone tells me I’m doing something wrong. Nobody likes to be wrong, but growing up I never considered the critical connection between acknowledging mistakes and growing as a person. In my first professional role as a teacher I was no less afraid of having my errors laid plain on the table. Maybe because I’m the big sister in my family, I just simply never wanted my flaws to be publicly recognized.

So, when I was asked, “how do you take feedback?” at my interview with Inspired Teaching I’m pretty sure I lied and said, “I love it.” In my few months working with the organization my colleagues gave me feedback on pretty much a daily basis. Every time they shared a concern I went home and melted into a pool of embarrassment and self-pity. I know I got an equal balance of positive feedback from them as well, but it was the negative that I noticed most.

Eventually I started spending more time in our training sessions where we constantly ask teachers to reflect on their practice and to offer feedback to one another. I learned about our mentoring program, which is built on the art of giving feedback. I took the Inspired Teaching Institute and learned about giving and receiving feedback to and from your students. Gradually I stepped outside of my ego and looked at the effect all the feedback from my peers was having on my growth as a person and a professional.

It was hard not to notice that I’d achieved more in my time at Inspired Teaching than at any other non-profit job I’d ever held. It was also hard not to notice the genuine and rich relationships I now had with my colleagues. And at the end of the day I realized that an environment that required us to give constructive feedback to one another was responsible.

Now when I teach teachers I actually look forward to the feedback I get from them at the end of each class. When they ask me to bring more clarity to the next session I look forward to the challenge. When they say they need more activities and resources I set to work finding them. Every time they share their observations and opinions, I become a better facilitator.

I’d still be lying if I said I LOVE getting feedback, my ego still rears its ugly head from time to time and it takes awhile to lose the sting of a critique. But what I do love about feedback is what it’s done and continues to do for my growth.

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