I spent the better part of last night wrestling with the role that feedback plays in the classroom. I kept coming back to the notion that kids don’t really take much action on the feedback that they receive from teachers — and I started to wonder if that was a result of the fact that students don’t get much modeling on how learners respond to feedback.
Wouldn’t there be value in transparently asking students for feedback and then publicly changing our practices based on that feedback? Kind of like a behavioral think-aloud so that the kids in our classrooms could see that feedback should force both reflection and action in the person who receives it?
I shared those ideas out through Twitter, figuring that it would drive someone else’s thinking, too. Here’s what I wrote:
How often do you model an action orientation to feedback for your students? Do you transparently receive and then change based on feedback?
(And if not, how can you expect your students to take action based on the feedback that you give them?)
Harmless enough, right? Nothing terribly provocative there. Just two short messages designed to highlight the thinking that was rolling through my mind.
That thinking ended up being anything but harmless to three teachers from Ontario*, who completely tore me apart.
Their first Tweet: “What the hell does that mean, anyway?” Another wrote, “I see you’ve found more #edubollocks for us to laugh at.” They went on to describe me as “vacuous and trite,” suggested that I was “perpetuating corrosive drivel on the next generation of teachers,” and that I was skilled in nothing more than “dishing out endless babble.” They saw me as a part of “the machine” — and it was their duty to stand up and speak out against the pointlessness of ideas like mine.
While there was real disrespect in their statements, they were honestly convinced that I was the one being disrespectful — blinding school leaders with empty ideas and then walking everyone happily off intellectual cliffs like some kind of professional Pied Piper.
Through it all, I pushed against the disrespect that they were showing. I asked how they would react if a student in their classrooms attacked the thinking of a peer with open sarcasm and derogatory language. I pointed out that I was hardly a part of any machine, that they’d paid nothing for my ideas, and that they were free to follow people who were less corrosive at any time. But they couldn’t get away from the thought that people like me are the problem with education because we peddle jargon that teachers are forced to consume.
“That went well,” one wrote to the other shortly after I left the conversation.
While it was a long night, I walked away with a few valuable lessons:
I learned that civil discourse should be an instructional priority in every schoolhouse. We’ve become a world where the lines between disagreeing with and disrespecting others are badly blurred every single day. Given that we celebrate political leaders who publicly call others weak, pathetic losers after making misogynistic comments, can we really be surprised when those same behaviors are mirrored in the other spaces where we live and talk and think?
That worries me — and it points out a responsibility for every classroom teacher. We have to point out moments where unhealthy speech is defining conversation to our students. We have to stand up for civility and we have to model collaborative dialogue in our classrooms every day. Tolerance for intolerant dialogue does nothing for our communities. Our kids need to know that and see it and own it.
I also learned that Twitter isn’t what it used to be. It was once the most amazing “digital break room” — a place where really bright teachers would come together and connect. Conversations were the norm instead of the exception to the rule. People would laugh and joke with each other as they wrestled with interesting ideas and challenged one another’s practice. Now — as my buddy William Chamberlain wrote last night — it’s become that shady corner of town where hooligans hang out waiting to cast insults at passersby.
I used to think that Twitter was a space worth fighting for. After last night, I’m not so sure. Wouldn’t it just be easier to find a private space where I know that I’ll be surrounded by peers who are willing to see one another as learning partners? What value is there in battling trolls who seem hell bent on nothing other than playing their Trump cards when digital tools and spaces make it possible to create something better?
Finally, I learned that teachers can be their own worst enemies. By the end of last night’s conversation, I’d realized that the teachers uncorking on me weren’t really mad at me at all. Instead, they were angry about being forced to sit in unproductive staff training sessions. “You spend fifteen years sitting in professional development,” one wrote,” and see how you feel.”
And don’t get me wrong: While I know nothing about professional development in Ontario, their frustration may well be legit. Maybe their staff training sessions really are a step away from abject misery. I know I’ve sat in my fair share of really bad PD over the last 23 years of my teaching career. But I also know that creating something better starts when we act reasonably — asking thoughtful questions, providing possible alternatives, pushing against ideas instead of individuals.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that driving change and declaring war are two different things — and until teachers start dropping a little tempered into their radical, we are unlikely to be influential in any way.
Any of this make sense?
*Blogger’s Note: I’m going to keep the identities of these folks private. My goal isn’t to call them out publicly as people. Instead, it’s their actions that I want to call out. Hope that makes sense.
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*Twitter General’s Warning: This material may, in fact, be vacuous, trite, corrosive drivel being perpetuated on a new generation of teachers. But it is free. So there’s that.