3 Tips for Using Technology to Norm Feedback


This post is part of TeachBoost's series, "From Vision to Reality: Pulling the Right Levers for Transformational Instructional Leadership." Check out all the posts in our series, then subscribe to our blog to have posts delivered to your inbox as we publish new pieces.

Chapter 3: Leveraging Technology

Last time we talked about “streamlining the process” by integrating technology and what it means for your school, district, and/or organization. What we learned was once you review your current processes to see where you can be more efficient, then you can begin to use technology for all your documents to stay organized in one place—while managing your time more effectively. However, what we didn’t get into is the benefit of technology for norming educator feedback!

Where Does Technology Come in for Feedback?

In many school environments, educators may be given feedback from multiple types of observers (i.e. district admins, principals, coaches, peers etc.). Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for teachers to receive inconsistent, even contradictory, feedback as a result.

“Teachers need to walk away, knowing the feedback they get is sound, based in research, and that the people giving the feedback are knowledgeable, trusted and experienced. Norming is critical: a 3 is a 3 is a 3”, counsels Nataki Gregory, former head of Achievement School District.

"Rater drift" over the year by a single observer is also a common phenomenon. The consequent mixed messages can often leave your educators without a clear path for growth and this is a significant issue for a successful instructional leadership program. To encourage the buy-in of your educators and their investment in the program itself, they need to trust fully in reliable, coherent, normed feedback.

Our Chapter 2 post on Calibrating Educator Feedback gives advice from the school leaders we work with on delivering honest and meaningful feedback to your teachers:

  • Adopt a common framework
  • Always be calibrating
  • Leverage ratings as a calibration tool

The fundamental question in this post is: how can technology assist you and your school leaders in ensuring that your educators receive feedback they can trust?

1) Visibility and Accessibility

The visibility and accessibility of an agreed upon rubric at your school or district is crucial for both those giving and receiving feedback.

“The best feature of Sketch [ TeachBoost’s all-in-one scripting Tool] is that it can be used for norming” says Gillian Quinn, school leader and founder of KIPP Northeast College Prep, Houston. Using the KIPP Framework (KFET) as a basis for their online forms, observers have a common language at their disposal, “which means feedback is more consistent, and is normed” adds Quinn.

A shared vocabulary and access to descriptors, detailing each level of proficiency in your rubric will also help your leaders clarify standards and enable normed feedback.

2) Encouraging Communication

Communication between all observers should be encouraged to ensure they are giving consistent messages to your educators. Communication channels may be built in the form of professional development "deep dives" for all feedback providers, or even simply conducting observations in tandem with another observer to gauge the relative ratings given. Anchoring observations and feedback to a common framework, as above, is key in recognizing any discrepancies. Sabrina La Londe employs a walkthrough form that she uses alongside a Principal using another form—after the observation, both debrief to make sure agreement is reached and feedback is calibrated. This all happens before feedback goes to the teacher, inspiring confidence in their observations and recommendations.

3) Leverage Your Data

Leveraging your data to track growth and inconsistencies both short and long term will yield fruit.

“We norm every year, and every year there’s a lot of work to be done”, advises Gregory. At her district, practice observations are conducted to assess norming across observers. During one of which, Gregory recounts, “across 3 observers, the ratings on the teacher ranged from 1-4. This was very surprising but tells you that you always have to keep norming”.

Technological platforms for observation are thus an investment for districts wanting accuracy; the ability to generate reports from observational data allows frequent audits, helping to assess and manage inter-rater reliability.

Wrapping Up

In summary, there is no doubt that ensuring accurate, reliable, and consistent feedback in your instructional leadership program is a complex challenge. However, the utilization of technological tools and systems will make the delivery and monitoring of this a whole lot easier. Taking a look at your school environment and the particular processes and challenges your school leaders face is the first step in designing a successful system of norming, monitoring, and re-norming once more.

Follow-up Activity!

Norming should take place throughout the year. Schedule a session with your school leaders within the next week and gather the following materials together:

  • A small collection of short, video-recorded lesson snippets
  • Your own ratings of each lesson—this is the ‘feedback touchstone’, i.e. how you set expectations for your leaders
  • A full copy of your observation framework (if a lengthy framework, provide one with highlighted components, which will be targeted in this session)
  • A blank template with space for your leaders to record low-inference notes and ratings

In the session you should first allow your leaders to record what they observe during the video snippets. Subsequent discussion should be encouraged on the specified sections of your framework; initially, give space for your leaders to discuss their evidence and ratings on each component, then provide your "master rating" for each area to set expectations and calibrate levels of educator proficiency.

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