Like many classroom teachers, I’ve worked in a variety of non-educational jobs over the years. From pub trivia host to tour guide, each role gave me an opportunity to develop skills that made me a better educator. Working at the Apple Store is probably the best example of this: being a part of a huge, modern, progressive technology company has shown me what the workplace of the 21st century will look like for many of my students. It constantly reminds me of the difference between what we teach in public schools and what employers seek. The most important lesson was the critical role of feedback.
Historically, feedback has been something provided by managers to workers, flowing downhill as if pulled by gravity. Schools have mimicked this flow: teachers evaluating students and delivering suggestions for improvement. In contrast, at Apple there is an intentional and pervasive climate of feedback by and to everyone. Employees at all levels and with any amount of experience are required to approach one another, ask for permission, and use a structured protocol to describe what they have observed and the impact that it has had. The result is a powerful climate of constructive criticism, meaningful praise, and eager self-improvement.
Returning to my classroom after spending time in that environment, I was faced with the hard fact that my students resist feedback. They see it as evaluation more than as an opportunity to improve. They cringe at criticism and respond with reflexive words of defense, like “Yeah, but…” and “I tried that”. Feedback from peers is met with even more pushback: like most adults, students see criticism as something provided by the “ones who know” to the “ones who don’t know”. Assessment is something that experts do.
Over time, I began to see that the importance of learning to give and receive feedback trumped the challenges of changing student perceptions. Like so many much-needed changes to grading and assessment, students and parents have been programmed to think a certain way… and they are wrong. We can not simply acknowledge their resistance to change and give up. We must push forward to practices that improve learning and develop responsible citizens.
What is the role of feedback in your classroom?
image from Smashing Magazine, used with permission