by Doug Drover
One of the most valuable tools I’ve ever used for professional growth and program review is student feedback (yes, feedback FROM the students, not TO the students). It has made me a better teacher, and it’s helped promoted a healthy learning culture in my classroom.
I think we as teachers are, on some level, uncomfortable with receiving feedback from our students. After all, we’ve been trained to be the professional “in charge” of the classroom: determining activities, lessons and units, planning the semester/year to fit the curriculum, establishing minimum expectations for behavioural norms, establishing seating plans, etc. This is not in any way wrong. As trained and experienced professionals, we SHOULD have this authority in the classrooms to which we are assigned.
Teachers and principals are leaders to our students and in our schools, and it is important for us to remember that there are different styles of leadership. I have always taught my students about three: authoritative, participative, and delegative.
Authoritative leaders make decisions on their own, and they enforce this decision on others, typically through rewards and punishments. This is a highly efficient method of decision-making, and is quite popular in politics and business… and in the school system. It works best when the leader is the most experienced and knowledgeable person in the room. When this is not the case, though, poor decisions can be made.
Participative leaders seek input from their teams, and consider the different points of view before making a final decision. This is less efficient, but results in compliance because others value the process of providing input and trust that the leader chose the best option on the table.
Delegative leaders ask the team to make the final decision. It is least efficient, but can be very effective in certain situations, especially when team members are highly motivated and skilled, or hold special expertise that the leader doesn’t.
Often, we think about leadership in the authoritative sense: that we are the experts who make the decisions. Conversely, we often think that eliciting student feedback will be a waste of time (“They don’t know what is required to…”) or akin to letting the prisoners run the prison! Not true! There is a sea of difference between eliciting feedback from students and turning over the reins of the school. As a delegative leader, my students trusted that I would honestly consider their feedback, but respected that the final decision lay with me.
For some teachers, this can be a shift in mindset, but I assure you from my own experience that asking for and responding to feedback from parents and students does not lead to a loss of authority; in fact, I’ve found that it enhances the trust parents and students have in me.
Schools are not McDonald’s; the customer is NOT always right. But that doesn’t mean the customers – students and parents – are NEVER right. Students and parents present many sets of eyes from diverse backgrounds with diverse needs. They are bound to see things that you can’t, or see things differently than you. Once we acknowledge that we can still hold authority without ALWAYS being right, we can tap into this vast pool of opinions and perspectives to find solutions to problems that either confounded us, or that we didn’t know existed.
I encourage you to read the link to this excellent article from Education Leadership on formalizing the student feedback process.
Learning from the True Customers