As an administrator at a medium sized elementary school, I am faced with the responsibility to provide formal feedback at least once or twice a year to those I am managing. Providing feedback in a formal or informal setting can be difficult, especially for those of us who see ourselves as an introvert. This was always one of those tasks I found to be difficult especially since I had little training in providing feedback. Typically administrators are not given formal training to provide feedback; however, we are expected to know exactly how to deliver it. As a new boss into the profession, I wanted to be respected and, yes, well liked. How does one accomplish those objectives when they have to give feedback both formally as well as informally? As an administrator, I am expected to give feedback because it is an integral part of the job. How else will my staff build capacity and become better at their craft? Over the past decade, I have learned how to become comfortable in the world of formal and informal feedback. I have learned through my own experiences, the wisdom of others, and through various articles posted on the internet.
Feedback can be looked at as either positive or negative. Several writers have suggested that negative feedback is considered constructive feedback. Both the positive and negative feedback can be used to build the capacity of any team; however, it is all in the approach. As the boss, I need to first build trust among my those I work with. Without trust any type of feedback will fall upon deaf ears. When your staff trusts you, they know that you have their best interests in mind. It is much easier to hear positive or constructive feedback from someone you trust than someone you do not trust. So build trust among those who work for you.
Your feedback should be timely. In other words, do not delay your feedback. Do not delay your feedback. When you have something to say, say it within a reasonable time frame. Who wants to hear something that is one or two weeks old? I have found that when I give feedback, it is best when I am honest and objective. Most employees want to hear honest feedback. They want the truth. Another little secret I learned along the way is to deliver feedback either standing or sitting next to the person. When you stand or sit in front of them, the issue is then in between the two of you. However, when you stand or sit next to the person receiving feedback, you send the message that you are working alongside of them. Regular feedback is more valuable than irregular feedback. This is something I learned a couple of years back and it has served me well. When you get into the habit of delivering positive and constructive feedback on a regular basis, there are no surprises. The staff learns to accept both types of feedback as means of building capacity and becoming more productive. Your staff members are never caught off guard when they receive regular and timely feedback. It is important to note that employees, especially teachers, want feedback. I have yet to come across a teacher who doesn’t want to get better at teaching. Therefore, if you have something to say, then you should say it. Don’t let someone else deliver your feedback. You should be the messenger of what you see – positive or constructive. It will build trust in knowing you are a person who provides the feedback without going through another individual.
Are there times you should not deliver feedback? As a practicing administrator, I have discovered that there times when feedback would not be appropriate. Timing is important. When delivering any type of feedback, your timing has to be right. For example, I observed a lesson two weeks ago and the lesson was not one of the best I have seen. This type of feedback should have been given to the teacher within days if not hours of the observation. When it is delayed, the feedback benefits no one, especially the teacher and the students she/he teaches. Another place feedback should be avoided is when it is personal in nature. As the administrator you are the person in charge of the school. Your feedback should focus on the school not so much on the personal lives of those who teach. The only exception would be when their personal life begins to affect their regular teaching duties (i.e. drinking too much the night before). Lastly, there are those times when I am not an expert in the field and should not provide feedback. For example, I am not an expert in the area of psychology. Often times I need to remind my staff and myself that we are not qualified to provide feedback as if we were psychologists. Any type of feedback in regards of a student’s psychological standing should be reserved for those who are a qualified psychologist.
Feedback, positive and constructive, is an integral part of a principal’s daily life. It is something that is difficult at first but in time can become a powerful administrative tool. The purpose of regular feedback should be to build the capacity of those under your care. With practice feedback will become a powerful tool in your tool box.