The Feedback Effect

As seen on my run: when I started my run there was no snow on the ground, when I finished….this.

In life, feedback is everything. If you do not know how to give and receive feedback, if you do not know how to learn from feedback, then you might as well be a rock.

From the time we are born most of us learn based upon feedback-information we receive-either positive or negative- that helps us determine our next steps. Sometimes it takes several falls, and failures, but it is how we learn and grow as human beings.

We receive feedback from our environment. If the temperature outside is below freezing, most of us know to dress appropriately. When we are caught without an umbrella in a rainstorm, most of us will check the weather forecast before stepping outside the next time. Temperatures in the 90's? Most of us know to drink more water and to stay hydrated. Our bodies respond to environmental feedback and our brains respond by making better choices when we are caught off guard the first time.

In life, we adjust our course of action based upon feedback.

Many of us learn from social interactions as well, what is appropriate and what is not. Human beings receive feedback in the form of body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, word choice and expression, and most of us know how what we have said is received based upon feedback.

In the classroom, at the gym, in the workplace, feedback is essential to learning. Without appropriate feedback, learning is often impossible. In order to be effective, feedback must inform the learner. In order to be effective, feedback must be specific and timely, and the giver must be a trusted resource.

As I work with my fifth grade students during the day and undergraduates in teaching at night, I am constantly reminded that feedback is everything. I am modeling effective feedback with everything I say and do, and I am coaching them how to give and receive effective feedback. In turn, I am receiving feedback from them and adjusting my teaching based on that input.

John Hattie has done amazing research on feedback in teaching. In his book Visible Learning (2009) Hattie’s research showed that feedback has double the impact that regular teaching strategies have on student achievement. Since that book was published, Hattie has continued to gather data on the effectiveness of feedback and other factors that impact student learning.

What about feedback in the workplace? Harvard Business Review has some excellent advice for managers and employees on how to give and receive feedback in the workplace. From personal experience, being nice all the time and telling someone they are doing a good job and then giving them a poor performance review is a perfect example of what not to do. In the workplace, effective feedback is essential to promote a healthy, positive, workplace culture.

Feedback is one of the most powerful learning tools we have if used well, but when used poorly or not at all, feedback can also be a learning tool-just don’t expect to get the results you were hoping for. Poorly delivered feedback can reinforce negative actions and behaviors, lack of feedback can be interpreted as positive or negative depending on the recipient. Confusing feedback is , well, confusing.

Learning to give and receive effective feedback is a practice-like yoga. Because of its cyclical nature, the feedback loops we create can go on until we decide to stop learning.

So as you go about your day, think about your interactions with the world; how are you going to receive the feedback you get? What are you going to learn today?