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Feedback as a Professional Development Tool

Jordan Catapano

You’re a teacher, but are you also a learner? As teaching is both an art and a science, it’s critical we see ourselves as in a continual state of refinement. There are many ways to improve our craft, ranging from reading books, observing peers, and attending professional development sessions. But one of the simplest ways to adjust our methods is simply by receiving feedback from others. So what kind of feedback receiver are you? There are several ways teachers use professional development to receive feedback given to them, and the way they receive it indicates a lot about who they are and how they’re growing (or not) as a professional.

Professional Development: Ways to Respond to Feedback

We’re constantly giving feedback to our students regarding their academics and behaviors. Sometimes they respond positively and use it to improve themselves; other times students might as well throw our feedback in the garbage. The way they respond says a lot about who they are, and we appreciate the students who take our advice to heart.

But how do you respond when feedback is directed towards you? There are four main ways a teacher responds to feedback.

Say “Thank You” and Embrace It

This is the high road, but the tough road. Feedback hurts, even when it’s given in a kind and constructive way. Feedback can point out our flaws and weaknesses. Who wants to hear about that? When someone offers you feedback, take the high road despite the pain it might cause. Say “Thank you” and genuinely reflect on what they share with you. The teachers who embrace the feedback they receive are the ones who will doubtlessly grow!

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Give Lip Service

Of course, a teacher could pretend to say thank you and secretly curse the person giving the feedback. On the surface, this teacher is doing the right thing and appearing like a person of wisdom. In reality, the teacher is just paying lip service and further entrenching themselves in their current habits. This might help them keep appearances for a little while, but it won’t help them grow.

Argue Back and Get Defensive

The opposite of embracing feedback is directly refuting it. Honestly, this is what we feel like doing most of the time. The person giving us feedback just might be the person we have a little feedback for ourselves. Resist the urge to get defensive or argue! Openly receiving feedback is a vulnerable process, and it can make us feel a little less vulnerable if in the same breath we explain why that person is wrong and then start to point out their flaws. Bite your tongue, and open your ears.

Get Revenge

Yes, this happens. And no, you should never do this. Feedback, as I said, is a vulnerable thing to receive. At times, feedback can feel so painful, like a punch to the gut, that a person feels like they must enact some type of revenge on the person giving it. This doesn’t only ignore the opportunity to benefit from feedback, but tries to make the world a little worse. Sure, that person might be taught a lesson to never give feedback again, but what good does that do?

Where the Feedback is Coming From

How do you picture feedback? I picture it as a neat little rubric with precise descriptors and carefully applied checkmarks. Except in the case of formal observations, this isn’t really how feedback shows up. Here are a few areas of teaching where you can start paying closer attention for feedback:

  • Uninvited feedback from students. Students speak their mind, often without prompting. It can be annoying, disruptive, and even hurtful. But it can also be an opportunity to listen and learn.
  • Informally invited student feedback. At times it is helpful to pause class for a moment and ask for a show of hands or a few student responses regarding what you’re doing. Gauging where students are at and what they think can be quite useful.
  • Formally invited student feedback. You might want to spend time, especially at the end of the year, seeing what students have thought about learning and instruction in your class. Ask for their honest opinions, and you can even encourage them to remain anonymous to feel comfortable giving you the full truth.
  • Unintentionally from student behavior and engagement. What are your students doing? Everything they do, from complete compliance to outright rebellion, is an opportunity to gauge how your instruction is impacting them.
  • From colleagues. Do you use your colleagues to help make you better? Ask their honest opinion of lesson plans or teaching methods. Even go so far as to invite them into your class to observe your teaching.
  • From evaluations. Evaluations may feel like a nervewracking requirement, but embrace them as an opportunity to learn and improve.
  • Film and give feedback to yourself. Sometimes we are our harshest critiques and own best experts. Set up a camera and, just like a professional athlete, critique your own performance on the film!

Receiving feedback is rarely what we’d call a “Fun activity.” The truth can hurt. Fortunately, the truth can also help make us better. While there are a variety of ways we can respond to the feedback cues around us, the best way is to absorb it, say “Thanks,” and thoughtfully reflect on what the feedback suggests.

How do you receive feedback? What are other ways we can embrace feedback as teachers? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.

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