Much has been written about how to give great feedback to colleagues. When it comes to what typically happens in schools, I am increasingly of the view that the traditional feedback sandwich may have had its day…
The idea behind the feedback sandwich is a good one. Make sure there is some positive stuff in amongst your feedback. In fact, make sure there is more positive than negative. And ensure there is something to improve or develop. All of which is great. The trouble with this approach is that individuals don’t really own their area for growth, even though they may very well have their own ideas about how they can improve which are pretty similar. So my response has been to apply the ‘Ask First’ mantra outlined here to feedback too, which has resulted in me coming up with a new approach that I am calling ‘feedback tennis’!
In feedback tennis, you still start off with some positives. These form your first point. Of course these need to be authentic areas that you thought were genuinely good. You may also invite colleagues to come up with their own positive reflections. This approach can work whether it’s reflecting on a lesson or on a something a leader has just delivered. By focusing on the positive, you are building rapport, trust and positivity.
Your second point is to ask a neutral or non-judgmental question about an area where you think there may be some potential for growth and see what your colleagues think. There may be a very good reason why they did what they did that you weren’t aware of. Or you may have contributed a question that has got them reflecting in a helpful way, genuinely open to thinking about ways they might improve what they did.
Such a response or return is what you are looking for. You have prompted colleagues to think for themselves. And of course, unlike the feedback sandwich that is eaten in just three bites, feedback tennis can continue back and forth as a coaching conversation until the point is made or won.
There will, of course, be occasions that however well you ask curious questions, a colleague just can’t see something for themselves. Is such situations, it is absolutely appropriate for your third point to be that you tell them what you are thinking! They key here is avoiding falling into the trap of you making all the suggestions on the assumption that that is what they need. The more they have done the thinking for themselves, the greater the likelihood that their practice will change for the better and in the long term.
It’s early days for feedback tennis as a concept (and my evidence for its efficacy is effectively zero) but informal feedback from colleagues who have focused on developing this as a leadership habit have said they are finding it very useful.