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April 1, 2022

Reader's Guide / Feedback as a Form of Care in Schools

Effective feedback in schools can be an important entryway into addressing some of the complex issues raised by the pandemic.
Instructional Strategies
Professional Learning
April 2022 Reader's Guide thumbnail
This is arguably the first issue of Educational Leadership this school year where the theme is not directly related to the pandemic and its effects on education. After all, the role of feedback within schools has been a standard topic among education leaders since long before COVID-19 hit. By the same token, it may not seem like an especially pressing matter right now, given all the deep crises facing schools.
Yet, in rereading the articles in this issue, I was struck by how sharply relevant they are, even if many of them don't specifically mention the pandemic. This shouldn't be surprising. We've all heard a great deal this year about "learning loss," "instructional gaps," and "accelerated learning." We're also hearing more and more about the rising tide of job dissatisfaction and burnout among educators. Effective feedback, properly understood, can be an important entryway into addressing all these complex issues. It's not the only strategy needed by any stretch, but it should be a critical part of schools' pandemic-recovery plans. And it's worth considering whether it's been given enough attention to date.
As the authors in this issue emphasize, there's plenty of evidence to show that well-calibrated feedback—and well-calibrated feedback systems—can play a significant role in boosting student achievement and staff performance and morale. Good feedback also has a way of improving classroom and school cultures. It can give students and teachers alike a sense of empowerment, growth, and connection.
If providing effective feedback is not typically seen as a high-leverage school-improvement approach, that may be because it's not always well understood. It's not a routine skill, or something that most teachers and leaders do as a matter of course. As the articles here make clear, feedback, if not an art, is at least a highly developed craft.
In this context, it's significant that several of the articles on providing feedback to students focus not on oral or even written commentary but on improving rubrics, those nuanced artifacts of instructional culture. As Jay McTighe and Tony Frontier write, well-crafted rubrics—those that are descriptive, make clear distinctions between achievement levels, and are tied to specific learning targets—"can serve as a shared road map for teaching and learning" and "become the basis for the specific, understandable language of feedback." That is, good rubrics make it clear to students what steps they need to take to get better.
To make a difference, however, rubric scores and other forms of feedback to students must be used in the right contexts. Most important, students must have opportunities to understand and act on the information provided. Feedback isn't supposed to be an end point or fixed judgment, as it so often is in schools. Instead, as teachers Andrew Housiaux and Bowman Dickson write, it should be "an invitation to intentionality" and development on the part of students.
This is true of feedback for educators as well. Several of the articles look at ways to improve classroom observations and other feedback channels for teachers. One common point of emphasis is the need to recognize teachers' commitment to making a difference for their students, meaning that feedback should be "collegial and supportive" and inquiry-based rather than directive or judgmental. Another is that feedback should be tailored to teachers' specific contexts and needs, not replanted from some arbitrary or external methodology. And like students, as Sanée Bell reminds us, teachers need "to be given time to practice and reflect."
At its best, feedback "empowers and honors educators, builds trust, prompts reflection, and develops the skills to analyze performance for continuous professional growth." Another way of saying this, to paraphrase cognitive scientist Therese Huston (interviewed in this issue), is that effective feedback is a form of caring for others. That's something we can all agree is pertinent in schools this year.

Reflect and Discuss

"How to Provide Better Feedback Through Rubrics" by Jay McTighe and Tony Frontier

➛ Do rubrics function effectively as a feedback tool in your classroom or school? Why or why not?

➛ Based on the criteria McTighe and Frontier discuss, in what ways could you improve the design and clarity of your analytic rubrics?

➛ What steps could you take to help students better understand and use rubrics for assignments?

➛ What about this method of assessment appeals to you most?

➛ How might you adapt Wiggins's system to your own classroom or school? What challenges might you encounter?

"What Teachers Really Want When It Comes to Feedback" by Thomas R. Guskey and Laura J. Link

➛ Think about how you prefer to receive feedback from others, and how you prefer to give feedback to others. What similarities and differences do you notice?

➛ Is your or your school's current approach to giving feedback to teachers effective? Why or why not?

➛ Which of the five characteristics of helpful feedback can you see yourself working on immediately, and what's one way you plan to do so?

"Approaching Observations as a Curious Colleague" by Sean Conner and Jennifer Froehle

➛ How are observations framed in your school or district? Could you recast the analysis of classroom practice as "the highest honor we can pay professionals"?

➛ In your experience, what makes classroom observations most helpful?

➛ Do you think a shift from delivering post-observational feedback to asking thoughtful questions could put teachers at ease—and make them more receptive to instructional change?

➛ What methods do you currently use to ask colleagues for feedback?

➛ Which of these feedback tactics can you see incorporating easily into your day-to-day work?

➛ Once you solicit feedback, how will you communicate with staff and students about the ways in which you will incorporate it?

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