Inspired Ideas
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Inspired Ideas

A Simple Way for Educators to Get the Feedback They Need

By Educators Katie Novak and Lainie Rowell

In the early 1900s, a new phrase was popularized, “The customer is always right.” Fast forward over a century, sprinkle in social media, and customers have an incredible amount of power in driving business improvements. At their fingertips, retailers have the voices of customers, which can help to inform an iterative design process where happy customers ensure successful businesses.

As educators, we don’t have TripAdvisor and Amazon, but we do have customers, and we need to make sure that we are designing learning experiences that allow them to be incredibly successful. To do this, we need to embrace learner feedback — invite it, listen to it, and act on it.

It may seem like it’s a crazy time to ask for feedback. But we have a historic opportunity to involve all stakeholders in rethinking structures, redefining roles, and co-creating a new vision for teaching and learning. We need to consistently drive toward improvements in the following areas:

  • We need to set the stage for learning (and in our ever-evolving world, we need to be agile enough to pivot and/or reset)
  • We know relationships are critical so we need to build and maintain community
  • We have to design learning experiences that are empowering, focused on the critical content, and meet the needs of ALL learners

Teachers and administrators are drowning in challenges. A potential liferaft is to take the time to focus on things that would have a significant impact. For example, if we have learners who don’t show up, don’t submit work, and/or don’t contribute to conversations, we might need to work on building and maintaining community, we might need more voice and choice for engagement, etc… But so often, we just don’t know where to start! Well, it’s as simple as this. Ask.

But this is easier said than done. Asking for feedback about our instructional design and our teaching may be on our mental lists next to root canals, but there are strategies to make the process more efficient, productive, and downright helpful. It all starts with a sentence stem.

Whether you are an educator, an administrator, or an instructional coach, you have the power and privilege to design meaningful experiences for the learners you serve. And that is an incredible weight to carry when you have to make the decisions ALL. BY. YOURSELF. But there is a better way. The next time you’re wondering where to start and how to take your next steps, share the following sentence stem with your learners.

It would be cool if….

Consider the following feedback scenarios, with and without the scaffold. You ask your class for feedback and get the following:

Scenario 1: This class is too hard. All we do is timed writing which is pointless.

Scenario 2: It would be cool if we were able to get feedback but not a grade on the timed writing tests so we can go back and revise them to make them better. You say the best writing is rewriting but then we don’t have an opportunity to revise in such a short time.

See what happened there? This went from a complaint to high-quality feedback with a suggested solution! When we hear complaints we tend to make assumptions based on our lens of the situation and we often miss the real issue as well as the opportunity to improve.

Physical distancing has sent a shockwave through education forcing us to rethink systems that have been in place for hundreds of years. Yes, there are real constraints to teaching and learning right now, AND there are also real opportunities. We have never had more permission to fail forward, focusing on the now and the long view. This is the time to shift from teacher-driven to learner-driven and it all starts with asking, listening, and acting. Here are a few ways you can use this sentence stem to drive your practice.

4 Ways to Use “It would be cool if…”

  1. If you’re an administrator, provide an exit ticket at the end of a meeting (it can be virtual!). Simply share the following. “I’d love to make these meetings more meaningful. Please fill out the following sentence stem to provide some ideas for upcoming meetings.”
  2. If you’re a teacher, use the sentence stem as an exit ticket or at the end of an assessment. Let students know you’re looking to increase engagement and need some ideas. They can start with, you guessed it, “It would be cool if…”
  3. Want some feedback from parents and caretakers about how the school year is going? Send out a survey sharing your wish for collaboration and inspiration and provide an open-ended prompt of, “It would be cool if…”
  4. If you have some ideas for making your learning community more engaging, start a conversation or send an email with the sentence stem to your colleagues, administrators, or students.

We think it would be cool if… we took this opportunity to involve all stakeholders in this historic opportunity to rethink structures and redefine roles. Together we can prepare learners to learn, focus on community, and design learning that meets the needs of all learners. This is our opportunity!

Katie Novak, EdD, is an internationally renowned education consultant, author, graduate instructor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a former assistant superintendent of schools in Massachusetts. With 19 years of experience in teaching and administration, an earned doctorate in curriculum and teaching, and ten published books, Katie designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on the implementation of inclusive practices, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), multi-tiered systems of support, and universally designed leadership.

Lainie Rowell is an educator, international consultant, writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. She is the lead author of Evolving Learner and a contributing author of Because of a Teacher. An experienced teacher and district leader, her expertise includes learner-driven design, community building, online/blended learning, and professional learning. Since 2014, Lainie has been a consultant for the Orange County Department of Education’s Institute for Leadership Development.

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To be reminded why your work is so very important and for more stories and advice, visit our collection of teacher perspectives at The Art of Teaching.

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