The last thing you need is another observation report, I know. But how valuable would feedback be if it came from the students in the room every day, not just once a quarter? Spending your last few minutes together garnering real, practical feedback from your students is a helpful tool that can make them feel like valuable contributors to the school culture.
Tips For Getting Helpful Feedback
Asking students for feedback might feel scary. What if they say mean things? Here are a few brief tips:
1 – Ask leading questions. You know what type of feedback will be helpful to you. Every student will jump on the opportunity to complain about everything they hate about school, so don’t leave it open-ended. Decide what you want to know from them and only let them tell you that.
2. Set boundaries. If it’s been a tough year for you curriculum-wise, don’t ask for feedback on the subject matter taught. Maybe only ask about classroom management or seat arrangements. Ask specific questions and insist that students not stray from those questions.
If you think it would help, give them a list of things you already know they want to complain about. Ask them to set those aside and focus on just the questions you’re asking. They may be less resistant if they know you’re already aware of their most pressing concerns (which usually involve the need for more candy).
3. Seize the teaching moment. They must understand that this isn’t an anonymous complaint box. If you allow them to share feedback, they need to think about how THEY would want to receive feedback. Ask them to remember that there are human hearts involved and to provide feedback that is both honest and kind.
The rest of their lives will be spent figuring out how to give constructive feedback. Let’s lay the groundwork for them to think of others’ feelings and give helpful comments with kindness. No matter how they may have seen parents or admin treat you, you get to help them think about a different perspective.
4. Hold them accountable. Make sure they know that you will read every word, and you reserve the right to throw away any feedback that is unkind or outside the boundaries you’ve set. If you’re feeling too tender to filter them, ask a co-worker to read through them first.
Questions To Ask For Constructive Feedback
- For younger grades, ask: What was your favorite activity this year? What was the thing you struggled the most to learn? What are you most proud of learning? What was your favorite book we read? What will next year’s students want to know about me?
- For older grades, ask: What was your favorite activity we did this year? What will reassure next year’s students about my class? What key skill will they need to pay attention to or be sure to learn? What is one thing you know they can do that will make me smile?
Fun Ideas For Garnering Student Observations
So, how do you go about it? I recommend waiting until the bitter end – like, the last thing they do on the way out the door. That way, they aren’t afraid to speak up. If you set up guardrails, you should still garner helpful feedback. Here are a few more detailed suggestions:
1 – Have students write a letter to next year’s students. Provide questions you want them to answer within the letter. They can put them in envelopes, unsealed. You’ll read through them and then hand them out next year. You can make a big deal out of putting them in a big envelope and writing “For Next Year’s class” and leaving it on your desk on the last day of school.
2 – Provide a simple form (or make it pretty, you do you) with questions. If you’ve had several observations this year, let your students know they get to do their own “observation” of their teacher. Here is a time to talk about using our words for good, thinking of others, and speaking kindness. Let them know that you want any suggestions they might have, but only if it is offered in the spirit of helping next year’s class.
You might even do a few examples of how NOT to give feedback and how TO give feedback. This is a life skill you’re teaching. Really ham it up. You can mock up whatever sort of rubric gets used for observations at your school. Add a few silly things, either inside jokes to your class or something like “Mrs. Fanning demonstrates wit and charm: Agree, Strongly agree, Agree most vigorously.”
3 – Make “Rules To Live By In This Class” for next year’s students. If you don’t trust kids to handle this responsibility well on their own, make it a class activity. Together, make a list of “rules to live by” for next year’s class. Ask the questions you want to be answered and work toward making a list of “tips and tricks” to be shared with your students next year. These rules can be serious and funny, and you’ll end up with a treasured list of what your students value about your classroom culture.
Your kids may not even realize they are providing you with feedback and critiques as they think about their own experiences and what they wish they had known. You’ll be surprised at what they reveal.
I remember several assignments I gave that seemed crystal clear to me, but many students revealed on that last day that they had no idea what I wanted them to do. This helped me reformat the assignment for future students and adjust my plans to include an extra day for answering questions and providing instructions.
An Important Thing To Remember About Student Feedback
Your students have valuable ideas to add, but they also don’t see the whole picture. Their experience is important, but they often don’t realize the learning and people-shaping that goes into their day full of books, pencils, and math facts. So take their thoughts with a balanced view.
Remember that they don’t know the hours you spent on that lesson plan they hated or the seating chart they whined about. They will always think there was too little recess and too much homework. And they don’t know the administrative requirements or the myriad of standards you’re balancing. You see the whole picture; they’re stuck staring at their little brush stroke. It’s ok not to take their feedback too much to heart. As in everything, take what you can use and shake off the rest.
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[…] Surveying your students at the end of the school year shows them that you value their opinion about what happens in your classroom. One of my former administrators once wisely advised me to always ignore the “outliers” – those kids who just have it in for you for whatever reason – and look for the overall pattern of responses. Ask questions that get to the heart of what’s important to you in the classroom. Did you come across as helpful and kind? Or is there a particular unit you want to improve? Ask specific questions! You may receive some priceless information to help you grow as a teacher! (Here are some free surveys to get you started.) […]