How To Give Difficult Feedback To Students, Parents, and Peers

How To Give Difficult Feedback To Students, Parents, and Peers
Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

How To Give Difficult Feedback To Students, Parents, and Peers

Posted in Pro Tips | June 06, 2018

It’s inevitable. At some point in our professional journeys—especially as educators—we’ll be required to give tough feedback. And understandably, the idea of hurting someone’s feelings or potentially causing drama makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

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No matter how you feel about it though, we can probably agree that constructive feedback—which may not always be positive—helps people grow and improve. In fact, a study shared in the Harvard Business Review reported that 57% of people preferred constructive feedback to simple praise and recognition.

I’d like to think that people don’t always just want to be patted on the back and offered a generic “good job”—they crave the truth. They want to be challenged and discover how they can improve. Whether you’re communicating with students after an assessment, parents during a conference, or a peer during a collaborative team meeting, a solid strategy and a tailored feedback approach allows you to effectively deliver your message, preserve the receiver's feelings and self-esteem, and drive to succeed.

There isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach to feedback. You wouldn’t communicate with a fellow teacher the same way you would communicate with a student in your class or their parents. Take these tips into consideration the next time you’re faced with the task of delivering hard-to-hear feedback to students, parents, or peers.

Giving Difficult Feedback To Students

Be sensitive to the individual needs of the student—Classrooms are filled with diverse learning styles and emotional needs. While a little nudge may serve as an ideal catalyst for success to some students, others require a more delicate approach to avoid discouraging learning or damaging self-esteem. Be gentle in your delivery when it’s required, so that you don’t hurt a student’s feelings, while still providing the necessary encouragement.

Inspire greatness—Don’t hesitate to communicate your expectations and aspirations to your students. Be genuine and specific about the new behavior you’d like to see. One of the most motivating and inspirational communication tactics is praise. But don’t offer meaningless praise just to win the approval of your students. Instead, praise should be focused, honest, and based on what you’ve observed.

Schedule regular check-ins— Make the feedback process part of the weekly routine with your students, so that giving feedback is not only expected, but always timely. If we wait too long to provide feedback—especially constructive feedback—the students might not connect the feedback with the action.   

Giving Difficult Feedback To Parents

Be direct but kind—When approaching parents with negative or constructive feedback, remember that it’s natural for them to be protective of their children. Be kind in your delivery. No, I’m not suggesting sugarcoating the feedback or attempting to feed the parents the potentially ineffective “praise sandwich”. Take a moment to imagine yourself in their shoes, and communicate with them as you’d want someone to communicate with you. Don’t beat around the bush. Include specific examples of desired behaviors to help illustrate what you mean.

Focus on the observed behavior, not the person—Remember, the purpose of constructive feedback is to eliminate behaviors that detract from learning. Don’t make parents feel like you’re attacking their child’s character, they may turn defensive and the opportunity for a meaningful conversation will be lost.

Try the Bundled Approach—You can take the edge off of tough conversations by bundling feedback. The bundled approach is more direct and objective than the standard “praise sandwich”—which tries to avoid blame and hurt feelings by surrounding negative feedback with compliments and other positive statements. Since people tend to remember the first and last things they hear, the sandwich method can potentially dull the meaning in your message.

Giving Difficult Feedback To Peers

Don’t make it personal—Make sure your feedback is about the behavior and the consequences, not the person. It’s more effective when you don’t point fingers, but focus on the outcome instead.

Make feedback a two-way street—Once you’ve given feedback, ask for some in return. You demonstrate that you’re open to advice, value their opinions, and—ultimately—harbor no hard feelings. Be sure to ask specific questions about your own performance to show that you genuinely want to hear from them and it’s not just a formality.

Avoid embarrassing colleagues in front of their peers—While it’s acceptable to give certain types of feedback in a group setting, steer clear of delivering feedback that could put someone on the spot. According to psychologist, Daniel Goleman, criticism that lowers us in the eyes of others and jeopardizes our social standing can feel like a threat to our actual survival. Instead, find a private place or schedule a meeting to discuss.

Finally, No Matter Who You're Delivering Feedback To

Be present and listen—Show up 100% for the discussion, limit distractions, and don’t rush off once it’s over. This provides a space in which both people feel like their time and feelings are respected. Follow up regularly to prove your investment in the desired outcomes of the feedback, and so that afterthoughts don’t create imagined communication barriers.  

Delivering negative feedback can be downright intimidating. But if you view feedback—both good and bad—as a positive opportunity for growth, then your delivery will naturally be more helpful and effective.

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