Proactive Feedback

In this season of outplacement, mid-year assessment & grades (numerical or narrative), and faculty evaluation, discussions about how to best assess, evaluate, and support the progress of students, teachers, programs, and schools are providing substantial heat during the wintry climes affecting independent schools across the country. 

Having been involved in many of these conversations over the course of my career, I feel confident and secure that in any condition, providing what I have come to term Proactive Feedback in each case best supports the growth mindset we strive to maintain and nurture in all of our endeavors.

While the strategy is not new, I stumbled across this moniker while walking my dog on a wintry January afternoon while we were on a snow day.  Simply, proactive feedback is the approach to sharing the evaluation of performance in a way that is formative, metacognitive, forward-thinking, and action-oriented.

When we share information with students, parents, teachers, or even each other, we need to avoid using terminology and tone that indicate a summative finality.  Whether we use numerical grades, percentile ranks, stanines, letter grades, or narrative statements of performance, the proactive, action-orientation of the report must be the central integral element.  As I have often said “we don’t put a 75% on a paper, then slap it on the kid’s shirt for him/ her to walk around thinking- ‘this is who I am, I am a 75%.’”

We need to share meaningful and essential information. This essential information falls into three simple categories:

1)    What is being done well, or is mastered, or is a “strength”.

2)    What can be improved upon significantly, needs work towards proficiency/mastery, or is still a challenge that requires outside support ( I personally prefer to avoid terms like “weakness” or  “struggle”).

3)    What is the plan to continue to nurture those elements in category 1, while providing support, strategy, instruction, and deliberate & meaningful practice for elements in category 2.  In other words, what is the plan moving forward to continue to grow.

Ultimately, the feedback on performance is proactive because it provides specific detail on where we are, where we want to go, and how we are going to get there.  *Notice the pronoun “we”…

In developing assessment and evaluation tools, establishing a direct link between skill and tool is paramount.  Further, organizing the tool in a way that the evaluator can easily aggregate individual and universal strengths and needs will make the process both more efficient and effective.

The sharing of the proactive feedback needs to be clearly explained as a formative process, and not a summative finality.  The summative finality approach can evoke in an individual the negativity of performance orientation.  The formative, growth-minded approach of the proactive feedback inspires a positive mastery orientation that often liberates learners and creators of school programs.

Finally, involving the families in this process, in the collective “we”, is integral.  Front end communication and explanation not only of the process, but more importantly of the rationale behind it is a paramount pre-requisite for partnership for student growth.

Likewise, with the evaluation of faculty and staff, an opening of the year explanation and discussion of these elements will make the process a positive one, rather than the sometimes threatening one that can exist with evaluations.

I look forward to anyone who has proactive feedback on how I can improve this piece.  Stay warm folks.



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