Sarah Besand, a Teacher and Possip Reporter shares her thoughts on giving effective and compassionate feedback.
Before we get started, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you hesitant to provide feedback to your administrator?
- Do you have ideas for how your school can promote student success that you aren’t sharing?
- Are you resentful of keeping all of your feelings to yourself?
- Do you have positive feedback that you may want to share but don’t know how?
The good news is You. Are. Not. Alone.
Use this resource to help you say what you need to speak with compassion– ultimately setting the stage for longevity and honesty in your relationship with your principal or school leaders.
When to Give Feedback
Teachers across the United States often feel stuck in terms of providing feedback to their administrator–the person who is in control of their evaluations and employment! Sometimes you have positive feedback, sometimes you have ideas, sometimes you have constructive feedback.
Dear Teacher, if you feel stuck, be reassured. Your concern about how to provide compassionate feedback to your boss means you deeply care about the people you work with, your job, and the children you serve. You recognize there are ways to improve your working environment and you also value your job security. You value your relationship with your administrator and you know it is best when that connection is strong.
There are many resources for families that provide tangible resources and tools to provide feedback to administrators such as Possip’s article “Sharing Feedback: A Quick How-To Guide”. The key takeaways from this resource can inform similar methods for teachers. The applicable ideas from this blog include:
- Focusing on maintaining the relationship
- Starting with a positive
- Being proactive
- Framing your problem in a helpful way
These are important general ideas to keep in mind as you navigate these conversations.
We have a few ideas on how to provide administrator feedback – WHAT principles can help guide you and HOW you can actually implement these tools.
What to Say When Giving Feedback
1. Being clear in your feedback is ultimately being kind
As Brene Brown shares in her resources for workplace leaders, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” This is an important perspective to remember. It holds us accountable to be honest–especially when it’s hard. Honesty and clarity as a practice strengthen relationships in all areas of our lives.
2. Sharing positive feedback is important
Though administrators are in a position of power, they are also humans with feelings and needs.
They are often navigating complex systems with competing commitments, interests, and priorities.
Just as teachers and staff need positive feedback, administrators do too. Research shows that the ideal praise-to-feedback ratio is 6:1. The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio (hbr.org)
3. Expressing feedback leaves less room for resentment
When we are clear, compassionate, and honest in our feedback, we don’t harbor resentment. What we sometimes don’t realize is that resentment hurts us. Remembering this truth helps us say the hard things we need to say.
When we have shared positive feedback routinely, there is a greater likelihood that trust and relationships exist to provide more constructive feedback.
How to Give Feedback
1. Share facts and data first
Start with how you feel–because how you feel is a fact you can count on and how you feel cannot be disputed. Here’s a sentence starter: “I am feeling ____ because I am _____.” For example, “I am feeling overwhelmed because I am not accomplishing all of my tasks during my planning time.” Or, “I am feeling so grateful that you are giving us extra time to prepare our classrooms this year.”
Data can be an important fact. For example, “this year each class has 32 students; last year we had 27 students”.
2. Use compassion
Not only does it help to remember the humanity of all people–even those who may be your “boss”–coming from a place of compassion will make you more likely to get what you want.
Think about how your administrator may feel and appeal to their vision! For example, “I know you greatly value teacher preparation for lessons to ensure student success.” Or “I know not all principals have prioritized classroom preparation time so I appreciate that you did. It helps me feel prepared for the school year.” This helps your administrator feel heard or appreciated while also cultivating compassion in the conversation. A bonus–using empathy and compassion helps you achieve what you want and strengthens the longevity of the relationship.
3. Be solutions-oriented
Begin with the “end” or solution in mind. You are leading your administrator by positioning them to hear your feedback and also respond to your needs. Here’s a script: “How would it feel to ensure three out of my five planning days are protected so that I am sufficiently prepared to help students succeed?” An article like this one can help you reflect and talk about how this concern is shared by the collective teaching community at large.
4. Create a mini-script for yourself
Think about how you could position a statement with potential tradeoffs. Similar to the strategy laid out in the parent feedback blog article, the positioning of your request or feedback is important. For example, “When I don’t have enough planning time, I’m not as prepared and have less student mastery.”
We came up with an acronym for a quick script you could use:
The AFFECT Method:
Appreciation “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share what’s on my mind. Facts/Data This year we’ve had our planning time filled with school-wide assemblies at least 3 times in the past month. Feelings/Impact When my planning time is removed last minute, it leaves me scrambling with my students the next class periods and day. It also makes me feel anxious and stressed. Empathy I know you’re working hard to build a strong school-wide culture – and imagine you’re also trying to communicate some district-wide mandates. Concrete Solutions Might it be possible to create a schedule at the beginning of the month of school-wide assemblies, and rotate who needs to attend them? Takeaway/Call to Action Is this an idea you are open to?”
We know it can be intimidating to share honest compassionate feedback with the people who manage us–whether positive or constructive. Approach the conversation with empathy and acknowledge that everyone is working toward the same goal: an excellent educational experience for all of your students. You can do this, and your thoughts and concerns can help everyone–your students, your peer teachers, and even your administrators.
Possip supports teacher and administrator relationships and promotes honest communication that helps the entire campus function better as a whole! Ultimately, this will lead to student success and better staff retention as well. We are incredibly grateful for all our administrators who help build healthy and thriving school communities across the globe.