During my first year of teaching, no colleague or administrator ever came to observe me. I never received feedback from anyone at my school regarding my teaching practices. While I knew that I struggled with many pieces of the teaching puzzle that year, no one ever reached out to me to let me know how I could tweak my teaching and grow as an educator. During my two years teaching second grade at a Catholic school in Maine, my principal and mentor teacher observed me in the classroom on numerous occasions. Following these visits, they both provided me with much feedback, which I used to grow and develop as a teacher. They noticed how I seemed to call on particular students more than others, amongst other things. So, I put a plan into action to make sure that I rectified these issues. In the two years I taught at that school, much growth and development took place within me because of the feedback I received from my colleagues. At my current school, I rarely get observed. This year was the first year I was formally observed in about eight years. While working with a co-teacher has allowed me to receive feedback on my teaching, I do wonder how much more I would have grown over the years had my school’s administrators observed me and provided me with feedback.
Since I haven’t received much meaningful feedback from other faculty members over my 15 years of employment at my current school, I’ve taken it upon myself in recent years to seek out feedback from the people who matter most to me– my students. They are the ones who see me day after day. They are the ones who know me best as a teacher. While their frontal lobes aren’t completely formed, which means that they lack the means to think critically and insightfully about the world around them, they are the people who see me teach the most. I teach because of my students, and so, seeking feedback from them just seemed to make sense to me.
A few years ago, I created a Google Form for my students to complete that included many different questions on my teaching style, likes and dislikes regarding the whole sixth grade program, and areas in need of improvement in the sixth grade. The feedback I received from my students was more meaningful than any piece of feedback I’ve ever received from my bosses in all of my years of teaching, which makes sense as my students do know me best. Some of the best and biggest changes that I’ve made to the sixth grade program over the years came about due to the feedback I received from my students.
As the end of the calendar year draws to a close, it seemed fitting to seek feedback from my students once again. A few weeks ago, my co-teacher and I crafted a survey via Google Forms that the students completed in class today. We tried to limit the number of questions we asked, but we made sure to include questions that would help us understand how we are doing in the eyes of our students. Prior to the students completing the survey, I explained how vital their feedback is to our growth as teachers. I reminded them to be honest but appropriate in their feedback. The students then completed the survey in class today. Many of them seemed to put great effort into their responses. Some of the boys took much time to thoughtfully answer the questions so that they could provide us with the best feedback possible. I praised those students for their time and energy. The more relevant and meaningful feedback my co-teacher and I receive, the more we are able to self-assess our teaching practices and grow as educators.
At first glance, the feedback our students provided us with today is very positive. They all seem to like the sixth grade program that we have created. That’s great news. Some of the big takeaways for me from the feedback we did receive:
- A few students noted that I don’t always explain concepts clearly in the classroom. This is not surprising to me because I have felt as though I could be doing a better job with this aspect of my teaching this year. There have been times where I’ve felt a bit “off” in the classroom when I was teaching a new concept or covering new content. I need to work on this moving forward.
- Most of my students noted how their interest in the area of Humanities has increased this year since being in my class. This was a bit surprising to me since most of the concepts we’ve been covering this year have been a bit banal and dense. Who really wants to dig into the American legal system or the different types of flat maps? It’s nice to know that the teaching methods I’ve been using to engage my students have paid huge dividends.
- All but one student seems to feel as though I show concern and respect for them in the classroom. While this means that I’m connecting with my students in powerful and meaningful ways, I do worry about that one student who noted that he doesn’t feel as though I’m showing respect towards him. As this question was multiple choice, it’s possible that the student accidentally clicked the wrong answer, didn’t read the choices properly, or rushed through the form. If he did purposefully choose that answer, then I should be concerned. As the form was anonymous, I can’t go back and double-check. What I can do, though, is make sure that when the students return from break in 2018, I continue to connect with each and every student on a daily basis.
- My students feel comfortable enough to joke around with me in appropriate ways. On the Additional Feedback section, one student wrote, “Mr.Holt should get a sweatshirt with a train on it and it should say ‘I Like Trains.'” As I was fairly certain I knew who wrote that, I approached him at a quiet and private moment in the classroom to ask him if he did indeed write that. He smiled a big, wide smile as he said, “Yes I did.” He then started laughing. I think he liked that I took the time to read the feedback and then talk to him about it. It shows that I truly know my students. That made me feel real good inside.
The moral of today’s blog entry is simple, Seeking feedback from your students will help you grow and develop as a person and teacher. It’s simple and easy to do, and takes the stress out of administrative observations, that can often feel like interrogations. I’ve become a better teacher because of the feedback I’ve received from my students. If you’re looking to improve as an educator, ask your students for advice.