Sunday, January 14, 2018

Five Components of Good Feedback

Everyone needs feedback in order to improve.  You would be hard-pressed to identify any profession where it isn’t a central component to success.  As I have written in the past, there is nothing more vital to our professional roles than good feedback that paints a picture not only of what we are doing well but areas where we can either become much better or outright improve. It helps us to develop both goals and objectives that guide our work in our respective roles.  For the most part, everyone wants good feedback so that they can become better.  Jon Windust looked at some research that supports and illustrates how feedback positively impacts performance:
"The researchers found that professionals receiving detailed feedback on a monthly basis outperformed all other groups involved in the study. Those receiving detailed monthly feedback improved performance on their key complaint measure by an impressive 46% relative to the control group over the course of the study."
It is important to make the distinction between feedback and criticism. Feedback is information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement. Criticism, on the other hand, is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. With growth being the end goal, it is important that feedback is delivered in a way that moves others to reflect on their work and take the necessary steps to get better.  

Feedback is not about the person giving it. It is all about the person who is receiving the feedback. What I mean by this is that we have to ensure that the way in which it is articulated resonates with the person who is receiving it.  Recently I posted this on social media:
Feedback stings when it is not: 
1. Delivered with sincerity
2. Grounded in practicality
3. Given in a timely manner
The above statement emphasizes the fact that we need to emphasize the “who” just as much as the “what” when it’s time to provide meaningful feedback for growth.  Here are five components of feedback to consider in order for the process to be beneficial to both the deliverer and receiver. 

Positive Delivery

How you deliver any type of feedback will determine whether or not it is acted upon.  The words that are used as well as body language can have an impact on how the message is received. Feedback shouldn’t just focus on areas of improvement.  Consider integrating a few admirable elements that you observed and tie this into a much broader plan for growth. Reinforcing good work and practice helps in establishing a trusting relationship that will strengthen the feedback loop over time. Positive delivery also paves the way for the recipient to respond or ask questions to what you have said creating a positive feedback loop.

Practical and specific

The goal of feedback is to help someone right away.  It should be focused on strategies that can be implemented immediately to help improve professional practice or learning.  When I conducted post-conferences with my teachers I always integrated connections to research that supported my recommendations.  This simple strategy went a long way to illustrate that the feedback was not only practical but also proven to have an impact.  Aligning to learning criteria, standards, skills, or competencies can provide the specificity that many people yearn for when it comes to feedback.


If the main goal is to use feedback as a catalyst for improvement then why delay it?  This is one of the reasons why I don’t really like final exams.  Students rarely receive good feedback that informs their learning as they are typically given these exams at the end of the school year and are then graded up until the last minute.  Delaying feedback allows small problems to potentially fester into larger ones. The bottom line is that the more time that goes by the feedback that could have really made an impact will not be valued as much, if at all.


If delivery of feedback is grounded in the first three points then consistency creates a culture committed to support, growth, empathy, and relationship building.  This reason alone drove our learning walk process in my former school. Not only did we get into classrooms every day as administrators, but we also made the point to always provide non-evaluative feedback that helped to prepare our teachers for their numerous unannounced observations down the road. The use of student portfolios is another great strategy to provide consistent feedback aligned to standards and learning targets. More feedback is always better than less.

Use the right medium

Technology has impacted the way in which feedback is delivered.  Even though it is easy to shoot off an email or text, these pathways might not always be the most effective depending on the situation or recipient.  So much can get lost in translation when there is no eye contact, hearing of voices, or observations of body language.  I am a huge proponent that there is no replacement for face-to-face communication when it comes to someone’s performance.  Phone calls, live video, or establishing a time to meet on site can go a long way to ensuring that the message has its intended impact. Pause and think about the feedback you are going to give and the best medium to deliver it. 

It also goes without saying that prior to giving any type of feedback be sure your information is accurate and that the means of delivery reeks of sincerity.  Sometimes criticism is disguised as feedback.  As you think about how you give feedback, where have you found success? What components of good feedback would you add that I did not include above? Thanks in advance for providing me valuable feedback as a writer.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Stories Link Us Together

I absolutely love hearing and telling stories.  There is so much magic in them and a good story can captivate an audience.  When I work with schools, especially in a coaching role, I routinely ask educators to share with me how they are empowering students to own their learning or ways in which they are transforming teaching, learning, and leadership.  Practical examples loaded with evidence are not only inspiring but can be used to motivate others to take a critical lens to their practice and improve on it. When administrators share stories of how they are closing achievement gaps or successfully implementing innovative practices, I immediately ask how they are messaging this to their stakeholders.  

With an array of social media tools at our disposal, every educator should aspire to be the storyteller-in-chief. Now more than ever the field of education needs to hear more powerful stories that showcase all the good that is being accomplished in schools, both with and without technology.  Perception can be a morale killer as often what people assume is happening within the walls of schools is the furthest thing from the truth.  The bottom line is that if you don’t tell your story then someone else will. Don’t fall victim to “perception is reality”. Provide stakeholders with REALITY by sharing all the awesomeness in your classroom, school, district, or organization. This is something that I speak to at length in BrandED. No matter what anyone says you can never overshare how you are positively impacting the lives of kids. 

The other day I delivered a morning presentation to a large group of K-12. Afterwards, I met with smaller groups of teacher leaders and administrators in a quainter setting as a means to reflect on what I presented earlier.  It was a great opportunity to really roll up our sleeves in an effort to discuss in more detail logical next steps in their quest for meaningful change.  During the end of one of the conversations, I was asked to tell my story about how I went from basically a Luddite to a visionary principal, to a transformational guru (her words, not mine). She really wanted to know the journey and steps I took to not only lead innovative change, but also my transition from a principal to a speaker.  

Once I started drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid back in 2009 I quickly learned the error of my ways. Basically, I was a control freak who had an inherent fear of technology and did not trust what my students would do with it if they had greater access.  Thus, I worked with my district to write the policies to block social media and ran around my school taking devices from students.  The stories I accessed on Twitter inspired me to be better. Each day I read about districts, schools, and educators finding success with technology and innovative practices.  This invaluable link to work across the globe became a catalyst for change that I could never have imagined. These stories motivated me to make needed changes at the individual level.  From there I collaborated with my staff, students, and other stakeholders to scale change efforts in an attempt to improve learning outcomes while creating a school that worked better for our learners. 

Over the course of five years from 2009 – 2014 we worked tirelessly to transform teaching, learning, and leadership.  We weren’t always successful, but in the end, we succeeded more than we failed. Even though we garnered a great deal of attention for our digital initiatives, we also engaged in the hard work of increasing achievement, providing more authentic learning opportunities through the creation of our academies, improving grading practices, and ameliorating homework practices.  In an effort to improve professional learning opportunities for staff, a genius hour model was implemented as well as the creation of our own conference. As I noted during my narration, we were not the highest achieving or most innovative school. In my opinion, we were better than most at showing and sharing how we achieved success. 

I shared daily our stories of success, both large and small.  Whether it was short tweets, pictures on Instagram, videos on YouTube, or more detailed descriptions on my blog, the overall focus was to showcase efficacy in our work.  The stories that we shared resonated near and far.  This got the attention of media outlets in the New York City area and across the country.  Before I knew it, I was being asked to present at local and national conferences.  Each of these opportunities gave me yet another chance to tell the story of our school.  Eventually, I had to make a decision as it was nearing a point where I was going to be out of my building more than what was fair.  Thus, I decided to leave the principalship and grow into my new role as a Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE).  

Well, that is my story that I shared when asked.  As I reflect back on my transformative journey and my current work I am always reminded how stories link us with our communities.  Local stakeholders feel more connected to a school when they know about all the efforts to improve learning while preparing their children to succeed in the bold new world.  This is a great way to build relationships through trust. Transparency is an educator’s best friend in the digital age. Communities of practice also become linked as we continuously share and learn together.  This, after all, is what being a connected educator is all about.  

Your work and practice are your story. Be proud of the impact you are having and use the many tools available to promote all that is good in education.  In the end, you will only create stronger links with your community and other educators across the world. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Top Posts of 2017

Another year of blogging has come and gone.  Consistency remains a challenge, but I have committed to writing at least one post a week.   I also discovered Grammarly a few months back and have fallen in love with this tool.  Since I am not a strong writer to begin with, this tool, along with the superb proofreading by my mom, has helped to get thoughts articulated more clearly.  As I reflect on my own growth and learning over the year I can definitely see how this has impacted my writing as well as my work with schools, districts, and organizations. Evidence, accountability, research, and efficacy were the most common themes woven into the majority of my writings, which resonated loudly with readers of this blog.  

Without further ado, here are my top posts from 2017:

Competencies vs. Skills

As the world continues to change at an exponential rate there needs to be more of a focus on preparing competent learners as opposed to those who are just skilled. Skills focus on the “what” in terms of the abilities a student needs to perform a specific task or activity. They don’t provide enough connection to the how. Competencies take this to the next level by translating skills into behaviors that demonstrate what has been learned and mastered in a competent fashion. Success in a digital world will rely on much more than skills.  It's time to shift our focus and energy on developing and assessing core and innovative competencies that will serve all students now and in the future. 

Is Technology Being Integrated Effectively?

The key word in the title above is effective as it means different things to different people. The question provides a great opportunity for all of us to critically reflect upon the current role technology plays in education.  Effective use should result in evidence of improved learning outcomes, alignment to standards, going well beyond just increases in engagement, informing instruction, and transforming assessment.  Taking a critical lens to why and how technology is being used in classrooms and schools will only help improve efficacy (more on this below).

A Pedagogical Shift Needed for Digital Success

This post represents a much deeper dive into the topic of effective use. The main focus is how educators can use the Rigor Relevance Framework to improve instructional design.  It provides a solid lens to look at the learning tasks that students are engaged in and redesigns them in ways that move away from telling us what they know and instead showing whether or not they actually understand. Pertinent examples are illustrated to show what rigorous digital performance tasks look like in practice. 

Efficacy in Digital Learning

In short, efficacy is the degree to which desired outcomes and goals are achieved. Applying this concept to digital learning and innovative ideas can go a long way to solidifying the use of technology as an established practice, not just a frill or add-on. This is just the beginning. When integrating technology there needs to be a Return on Instruction (ROI) that results in evidence of improved student learning outcomes. In this post, I highlight 5 key areas that can put your classroom, school, district, or organization on a path to digital efficacy. These include essential questions, research, practicality, evidence/accountability, and reflection. To learn more about how efficacy can be achieved check out the Digital Practice Assessment (DPA).

10 Tips to Make Learning REAL

My first post of 2017 really resonated with readers. It encouraged educators and schools today to make learning REAL: relevant, engaging, authentic, and lasting. In addition to explaining why this is important, the how was mapped out through various practical tips and examples. 

Well, there you have it.  Thanks for reading and here’s to an amazing 2018!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

What's Holding You Back?

If it's important you'll find a way. If it's not, you'll find an excuse.” - Ryan Blair

There are many iterations to the quote above, but all of them hammer home a very important point.  Excuses hold many of us back from achieving goals and success.  I have tackled this topic in the past but wanted to revisit it after watching a powerful video recently. This sparked me to search out some other perspectives on the subject. I love this thought from Caroline Madormo:
Tonight before bed, pull out your trusty journal and start making a list of all of the reasons that you haven’t been able to achieve your dreams. Think of every reason big and small, and then read over that list. As you read over your list, notice that these reasons on the page are keeping you from getting the results you want and need to move forward.
Next comes the tricky part. Take a deep breath and consider the fact that each and every reason you wrote down is actually an excuse. Don’t beat yourself up or make things worse than they are. We all do it. Simply go through your list and say to yourself, “I forgive myself for using this excuse. I am ready to go bigger.”
When we value something, there is more resolve to overcome obstacles and challenges to accomplish a specified goal.  Many times it is our mindset that holds us back.  When you really think about it the number one adversary that each of us faces on a daily basis rests between our shoulders. We think we can't do certain things due to physical or mental limitations.  In some cases this might be true, passion has a funny way of helping us overcome certain perceived limitations. When passion is combined with intrinsic motivation, the impossible suddenly becomes possible. 

I, for one, can think back to many instances in both my professional and personal life where excuses got the better of me.  Lately, I have been much better on this front as I have tried to foster more of a growth mindset.  My thinking was pushed even further when I watched the video below.  Take a few minutes to watch yourself and be prepared for an emotional rollercoaster as Cliff Devries shows all of us that excuses should not hold us back.

After watching and reflecting on this video, I am going to think twice about any excuse I might develop that prevents me from at least not trying to accomplish a goal or task. 

What's holding you back?