My first reflection of 2015 was a simple one - relationships have to come first. Here are a few observations after working on this for almost a year:
1. Feedback starts with the relationship. As a classroom teacher I knew that feedback is most effective when shared in the context of a trusting relationship. I worked so hard to develop authentic, interesting, collaborative relationships with each student in my class. I also worked to foster an environment where my students developed authentic, interesting, collaborative relationships with one another. We didn't have a scheduled "relationship building" time. It was built into everything we did. There were times we would explicitly practice building relationships (morning meeting) but that was a small part of the work we did. If there is someone you would like to learn with (through feedback), then start with the relationship.
2. Word choice is important. I used to find feedback irritating. Part of that was because of the words that people chose. Professionally, we used plus/delta to talk about feedback. I always found that to be so clinical and disconnected and I often found the feedback listed underneath arbitrary and ineffective. Word choice is important, even for the words you use to frame the feedback.
I prefer to use the language heart/brain or yes/consider (depending on my audience).
For students, I use heart/brain because it connects feedback to a feeling. The heart (things I loved) are things that result in a positive reaction, positive feeling. The brain (things to think about) are things I wondered, things I would like the receiver to consider, a curiosity. It gives the feedback a purpose - a purpose beyond filling out a plus/delta t-chart.
For teachers/peers, I replace heart/brain with yes/consider to convey the same message.
Another note on word choice. Use fewer words. Feedback is ineffective if there is too much of it. As a rule, I try to stick to one positive and one piece of feedback for growth.
3. Never underestimate the power of keeping your mouth shut. I've written about this before here and I have realized that in most relationships, listening fuels the feedback fire - in a really good way. Ask questions and listen to the answers. After you have listened, listen again. Sometimes a moment of silence causes people to add more, or share a wild idea or thought. Those are moments where real change and growth can happen.
4. Hand over the pen. We all know that the person who does the most talking is the person who does the most learning. As a feedback provider, I have always tried to be the note-taker, chart-maker or writer. I am a visual person so I tend to write, sketch, list and circle. I always thought that doing this FOR people was best - until I tried it WITH someone. As I was giving feedback to a colleague I uncomfortably handed over the pen and asked them to take the reins. It was awkward at first, I felt as though I was turning feedback into work. I think this added value to the feedback - seeing their thinking and work in their own handwriting made more of an impact. They were able to move words, underline, circle, connect in ways that were individual and meaningful.
5. You don't have to have a relationship with everyone...and that’s okay. You don't have to have a relationship with everyone and therefore you may not have a feedback relationship with everyone. This isn't to say the person won't give you feedback - but if you don't have a strong or mutual working relationship, then maybe their feedback isn't your top priority. As Aristotle said, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." You don't have to listen to everyone's feedback.
In the spirit of gratitude that surrounds this week - I am truly grateful for my colleagues and collaborators. I've been challenged, championed and spent most days laughing thanks to all of you.