The Staffroom. Feel the fear and gather student feedback anyway

It’s natural to have mixed feelings about student feedback on our practice, but it can be done in a way that delivers genuine improvements

It’s natural to have mixed feelings about student feedback on our practice, but it can be done in a way that delivers genuine improvements

18 Mar 2024, 5:00

I entered education in the secondary sector, working on a supply basis in schools around Wolverhampton. That was a formative experience; both because I saw a bigger picture of social circumstances and behaviours than working in a single institution would have shown me, and because there isn’t time to build relationships.

With that work pattern, when you’re not seeing learners enough to properly get to know and form relationships with them, it can be easy to make assumptions about individuals based on your experiences of others with seemingly familiar patterns of behaviour.

Doing so is, of course, a mistake, as my personal, atypical journey underlines. I wasn’t particularly academic at school, but discovered a passion for business when I started studying it in year 10. I became the first person from my family to go to university, and then I worked in discount retail.

Those experiences inform my approach. They underline the importance of empathy and the way it underpins longer-term relationships with students. They remind me that not every student is on that same neat, linear journey to their destination. Recognising that is important, particularly in FE where many students are facing GCSE re-sits and haven’t had overly-positive experiences of school.

Embracing those realisations has been a significant driver in reflecting on my teaching and the ways I work with students, listen to them and adapting my delivery and approach to their needs. It also drove my decision to place personal development at the heart of the project work I undertook when I attained Advanced Teacher Status (ATS).

Central to that work was the roll-out of 360-degree feedback, not just among colleagues but students as well. It’s fair to say that some colleagues had mixed feelings about this, and I understand why. There’s an element of needing to trust both that you are good at your job and that students will be constructive in their responses. It’s also important to think about how their responses will be evaluated and how they can be used to benefit development.

My advice is to begin small; ask about a single lesson

We gathered the feedback through a questionnaire, something that can be done over a time period that suits the process. It could be a short questionnaire after a session topic, or a longer termly or even annual one. You could select one group to give feedback or you could give the questionnaire to all of your groups. It all depends on the level of depth you want to go into.

The kind of questions that can be useful to ask are:

  • How helpful were the feedback and assessments I provided for gauging your progress and understanding?
  • Is there any way I could improve the way I provide feedback to you?
  • How clear and organised were the learning materials?
  • How can I make my lessons more engaging for you?

It’s also important to think about how their responses are considered; they are food for thought to be reflected on as a mechanism for improving your own teaching and learning practice. You are treating your learners as customers, and customers don’t always appreciate the challenges a business faces.

For anyone who hasn’t done this before, my advice is to begin small; ask about a single lesson. Ask whether it could have been delivered differently, whether it felt relevant and whether different activities might have worked better.

You’ll find out things you won’t if you don’t ask. In my activity, one class said they would like more quizzes; something I hadn’t done very much of but they found helpful.

Then, having asked about a particular lesson you can scale up the process to ask for wider feedback. Not only can it be useful for professional development, but it also builds positive rapport between staff and students when the latter feel respected and heard.

For me, teaching in further education is about much more than the skills and knowledge we develop in the classroom; it’s about engaging a diverse group of learners, unlocking their potential and equipping them to thrive in a dynamic world. Ensuring the individuals in that group are heard, considered and valued, plays a significant part in achieving that.

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