Oriel's Design Narrative - Supporting positive feedback experiences following teaching observation

Addressing trainee teacher complaints following feedback on assessed teaching.

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Oriel Butcher
29 March 2017

 

Narrator

I was director of teacher training and delivering the Cert TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course with one other tutor. We both engaged in trainee observations and feedback.

Situation

Context:

  • A UK based ESOL centre operating as a charity.
  • Delivery of Trinity Cert TESOL  as part of the centre’s self-generating income plan – all profits used to support learners who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access English classes. Also as a means of identifying strong, new teachers.
  • Two trainers delivering on the Cert TESOL: myself and a very experienced colleague, from Serbia, who collaborated closely with me on all parts of the course. We had a great deal of mutual respect for each other, were both very passionate about teaching and learning and improving learner experience.
  • 2 x Cert TESOL courses per year: 1 part time over six months, 1 full time over 5 weeks
  • Each course with seven teaching observations with my colleague and I dividing the trainee group so one of us would observe and give feedback to half the cohort while the other simultaneously did the same with the other cohort. In order for trainees to get feedback from different perspectives we organized it so we each did 3 observations with one cohort, then swapped and did 3 with the other, returning to the original cohort for the final observation. They also moved classes so as to experience different levels and groups of learners.
  • During observations the trainers completed a detailed form. Following teaching practice the trainees reflected and completed a copy of the same form. They then met with their tutor and verbally gave their impressions of the lesson followed by the tutor’s feedback. The forms were then exchanged to read each other’s comments. If time was tight this could be done after the oral feedback session.
  • Limited space at the centre meant my colleague was sometimes obliged to do feedback in areas where other teachers could hear. 

Intention: For trainees to successfully pass the course and become the best teachers they could.

Problem:

Trainees repeatedly complained about the feedback my colleague gave, saying it was ‘too harsh’ and did not feel supportive.

This gave rise to slower trainee progression and feelings of antipathy towards my colleague and ultimately to the experience overall.

I was unwilling to ask to work with a different tutor due to the fact that I respected and valued her. Additionally, organizational constraints of time, money and a suitable replacement excluded this option.

Task

To understand why my colleague was getting complaints and try to reverse this.

The success indicator would be if complaints stopped.

Actions

  1. I read through all my colleague’s (hereafter known as V) written feedback notes, all appeared fine and appropriate and we discussed the issue in depth. Neither of us were able to identify the problem.
  2. I filmed my feedback sessions and tasked V to watch the teaching videos and the feedback, as well as read my written notes. The complaints continued.
  3. On the next course I gave V more trainees to observe than I, which meant I could sit in on some of her sessions. I noticed that she was very passionate when delivering feedback and this was being perceived as aggressive, accentuated by her non-native British directness. I also noticed that her written feedback was very helpful and supportive.

I observed that trainees were only giving attention to the verbal feedback, focusing exclusively on the negative points and unable to take on board the positives. What had been occurring was that:

  • Trainee gave their version of how the lesson went
  • V gave her version – passionately explaining what could be done differently
  • Trainee got upset and defensive
  • V got more determined in trying to make them understand what was required
  • Trainee becomes more defensive and begins to get upset
  • Positives and helpful suggestions got lost in the exchange
  • Other teachers listened into the feedback and decided they would not like to receive these sorts of comments so when trainees grumbled about ‘harsh’ feedback they did not disagree, reinforcing the trainees perceptions.

 4. On the following course I changed the order of feedback – with the reading of comments done first, then the oral part. Given time to absorb the written points first, discussion could then be more focused, refer to written tips and suggestions and give a brief summary of areas to work on.

5. At the same time I adapted two aspects of the course delivery: (i) Included more, and more explicit, reference to cultural differences in communication strategies. (ii) Designated time in the introductory session to the role of feedback, both as a trainee on the course and as a future teacher.

6. The CEO agreed to work from home on feedback days so her office could be used as a private space.

Results

My colleague’s passion for teaching and learning, her desire to keep pushing the trainees towards improvement and her non-native manner of speech had all combined to produce a negative response from trainees.

Once the emotional interaction was removed from the start of feedback trainees were better able to accept it, the manner in which it was delivered assumed less importance and the complaints stopped.

Having a private space in which to conduct feedback made both parties feel less vulnerable. It also prevented other teachers from being able to reinforce the ‘harshness’ of the feedback.

Reflections

When the complaints began I felt that I would somehow need to change V’s habits or style but was very uncertain how I might go about this, particularly when ‘modelling’ and coaching did not prove to be effective. Retrospectively, I’m slightly ashamed that despite my respect for my colleague I looked first at what she was doing – I demonstrated an unthinking response to trainee blame laying.

Looking back I also realise the importance of privacy for feedback (for many reasons). I am also surprised that given the nature of the course I hadn’t included more about cultural differences in the first instance. I guess I thought this was explicit enough from the context itself.

In future, if faced with a similar problem, I will try to lay out all the factors involved first, to see if there might be underlying factors influencing the situation. 

What intially seemed like a potentially insurmountable problem and had resulted in meetings with the CEO and other academic managers, stress on the parts of my colleague, trainees and me was solved by a very small and simple tweak of delivery structure. 

Extra content

In order to use Compendium D in a way that is more relevant to both my study and my work, i created the map around a new learning narrative and activity, not the one above. Information about the narrative is contained within the Map. It is a work in progress. 

Learning design app development image

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Oriel Butcher
18:09 on 3 April 2017

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