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Effective and constructive feedback is key to a teacher’s progression – central to their improving their own performance and continually positively impacting on their students.

Coaching has several purposes. The first is to build communities of teachers who continuously engage in the study of their craft. Coaching is as much a communal activity, a relationship among seeking professionals, as it is the exercise of a set of skills and a vital component of training.

This positive outlook way back in 1985, as outlined by Beverly Showers in the Educational Leadership Journal, stands as true today as it ever has. Reviews should be embraced, not feared.

Yet it’s worth noting that since 1985 pressures have risen, while assessments, tests and targets have continually increased. Today, it takes a concerted effort to transform feedback into coaching that is viewed as positive and providing teachers with set goals and a clear understanding of what’s next for their career.

With this challenge in mind let’s run through the fundamentals of what constitutes ‘effective and constructive feedback’.

Back to basics

Effective feedback has the aim of improving performance, but what is effective feedback?

If we want the simplest answer, we find that effective feedback is about reinforcing desired behaviour, to lead to further such behaviour. Equally it is about shedding light on areas where a performance falls short.

Feedback for teaching and learning should be relevant, immediate, tactful, helpful, confidential, respectful, tailored and encouraging if it is going to be effectively used to achieve successful teaching and learning.

With annual performance reviews, tick lists, check boxes and curriculum requirements, it’s easy to forget the simplicity of effective feedback. Teachers should maintain this focus on simplicity when offering feedback – providing a simple observation and emerging action point.

What it means to provide effective and constructive feedback

Unfortunately feedback sessions have garnered an unsavoury reputation (not least due to the continual assessments that teachers face – both official and unofficial), and performance reviews aren’t easy for the reviewer or for the teacher.

Think about how your traditional performance reviews and feedback sessions can be transformed.  They needn’t be delivered in a formal structure through annual assessments and, in fact, providing reviews quarterly can overcome some of the issues that teachers are increasingly finding with performance related pay.

You can also provide positive feedback on a day to day basis: in the hallway, amongst peers, or during a faculty meeting. This has the added impact of encouraging others to emulate behaviour or approaches that generate this positive feedback.

On a similar note, those who are excelling in certain areas can share their skills, knowledge and experience with other teachers who are struggling with the very same concepts.

Do you want the good news or the bad?

Feedback sessions should always start and end with the positives about a teacher’s performance – in this way high performance is immediately reinforced, and is particularly effective where specific examples of good teaching have been demonstrated.

This method of delivering constructive and effective feedback is sometimes known as PCP (Praise, Criticise, Praise). The positive start helps to reduce the potential for a performance review to be seen as confrontational, and ending the review with more positive aspects of their performance can reduce any negative impact that constructive criticism may have had.

Make it specific, make it actionable

Effective and constructive feedback that is specific and actionable provides a clear focus for the teacher to move forward with.  

When this is delivered in a constructive, friendly and non-confrontational manner, the staff member feels valued, appreciated and motivated – each of which are key contributors to teachers who take charge of their own performance management and progression.

Remember that any goals set at the end of a performance review should be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, and Time-based.