Techniques for Providing Powerful Feedback

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Rabecca Hester, instructional coach at Boyertown School District in Pennsylvania, shares her acquired techniques for building relationships, developing instructional focus, and using questions to drive feedback with her coachees.

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ust as we want our teachers to grow, I too as a coach strive to grow. At the start of my instructional technology coaching career, I encountered many challenges. One of those challenges was providing feedback that would help those I coached to improve professionally. Let me share a feedback conversation I had with a teacher during my first year:

Me: Hi there! How are you?

Teacher: Fine.

Me: Okay! So, we are meeting today to reflect on student use of technology during your math lesson. How do you think it went?

Teacher: Fine.

Me: What went well?

Teacher: The technology worked. The students knew how to use it.

Me: Good. Did the use of technology help to meet your student learning goal?

Teacher: No.

Me: I wonder why it did not. What do you think?

Teacher: silence

This conversation was a turning point point for me—I knew I needed to improve my coaching skills, especially in the area of providing feedback! Since then, I've added some techniques to my coaching toolbox to help me do this and they're shared in detail below.

Building Relationships

Coaching is all about relationships. Providing feedback and expecting it to be meaningful is an unrealistic expectation if little has been done to build trust. For a teacher, working with a coach is admitting that you want to improve and refine your practice. Trusting someone with your perceived weaknesses and asking for help is personal and teachers want to be able to trust their coach with these feelings.

One strategy I use to build trust between myself and teachers is the "2x10 strategy." The idea is to talk to the person you want to build a relationship with for two minutes, about anything but work, ten times, so that you can get to know the teacher and vice versa. Then, when it's time to sit down and begin the coaching conversation, begin with asking the teacher about their strengths and talents. By doing so, you let the teacher know that you value the experience and expertise that they're bringing to the conversation.

Developing an Instructional Focus

It's easy to say that the focus of a coaching session is the technology tool as an instructional technology coach. In my earlier days of coaching, I would often let this happen because I thought it was a safer conversation for both me and the teacher. By focusing on technology, we didn't have to discuss teaching practices or evidence of student learning. However, if the feedback is to be truly powerful, coaching work needs to be centered around an instructional focus, not a tool.

As a coach, I feel most comfortable taking a collaborative approach when setting a focus. Using the words "we" or "our" lets the teacher know that I will be side-by-side in the developing, implementing, and reflecting of the coaching experience. Utilizing this approach, I can ask: "What do you believe the instructional focus of our work should be?" Later, when we reflect, the conversation can start with, "At the beginning of our work together, we agreed that our focus would be…" This is a nice lead into discussing what evidence we have that shows our focus was successful. Doing so leads to a feedback conversation that relies on student data and not on teacher or coach beliefs.

Keeping a Bank of Questions to Promote Powerful Feedback

Getting to the instructional focus of the coaching work can be challenging. Sometimes the teacher doesn't know what it should be or isn't sure how to articulate what he or she needs. In the beginning of my coaching career, I found it difficult to determine what questions to ask and even now, during my coaching sessions, I refer to a bank of questions I have gathered from various instructional coaching workshops I've attended. Recently, I was reminded of the power of "positive assumption" questions. These questions take into account that the teacher is already making good instructional decisions and compliment and push the teacher at the same time, making them more comfortable questions to ask.

One example of this type of question is: "What influenced your thinking when choosing to utilize this technology to gather feedback on student mastery of the learning target?" Notice how this question assumes the teacher has already thought about why he or she wants to utilize the technology to gather student feedback and the learning target. The teacher may feel complimented and think, "Oh, she thinks I have already thought about this!" while at the same time think, "Oh boy, I better know what my learning target is and why I want to use the technology in this way!" You can learn more about this from Brenda Kaylor's book, Creating a Culture for Learning: A Focus on PLCs and More.

Final Thought

Learning how to provide effective feedback is what makes the coaching work impactful. Next to building trusting relationships with those you coach, however, it can be one of the toughest parts of instructional coaching. Try loading your toolbox with favorite techniques to improve your own feedback skills or feel free to use mine!

About our Guest Blogger

Rabecca Hester is a wife, mother of six children, and never one to back down from a challenge! She is an Instructional Technology Coach and Lead Teacher for the Boyertown Area School District and a PAECT 2015 Keystone Technology Innovator. Prior to coaching she worked as a school librarian. Currently she is completing an internship as part of a principal certification program.

Follow Rabecca on Twitter @TechyBec

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Topics: Guest Blogger, First Year as a Coach, Building Relationships, Collaboration, Questioning Techniques, Coaching Conversations

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