As a current instructional coach in a public elementary school, I know how important it is for teachers to receive effective feedback that moves student learning forward in a timely fashion. Every school day counts!
While the feedback process is often a messy one, when we put students first, hard conversations will necessarily follow. Even highly skilled teachers are learning and growing every day, and an outside perspective can be tremendously helpful.
The meat of your coaching conversations should always be in person, as it leaves less room for misunderstanding, and coaching should be a two-way communication. Written communication doesn’t allow that, but it’s still absolutely necessary. So how can we make it better?
A coaching cycle should be a valuable learning process for all teachers. I know from past experience as a teacher and interventionist that receiving good feedback doesn’t happen very often. In fact, most feedback to teachers is ineffective, sometimes painful, and usually late.
I wanted to put together some examples of written feedback to teachers, provide some useful templates, and discuss ways to make constructive feedback less painful, positive feedback more meaningful, and to always remain centered on students.
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1Examples of Written Feedback to Teachers
2Administrators and Coaches: Ignore the Hamburger Feedback Method
3Teacher Feedback Templates
4Why Observations are Better in “Laps” or “Rounds”
5Why Observations are Better in Groups
6Verbal Feedback and Informal Feedback
7The Importance of Time Stamping Your Written Teacher Feedback
8Bite-Sized Steps to Better Teaching
9Choosing the Highest Leverage Action Step
10Staying Up to Date with the Research
11Avoiding Letter Grades
16Formative Feedback vs. Summative Feedback
Examples of Written Feedback to Teachers
It is my belief that you shouldn’t leave constructive feedback for teachers unless you’re willing to have a face-to-face conversation about it within 24-48 hours.
In fact, I think it’s wise to send a calendar invitation for the debriefing conversation at the same time that you complete the feedback form. This ensures that teachers will feel as though they have an opportunity to respond to your feedback, and you’ll have a chance to discuss the teacher’s next action step.
Positive Examples of Written Feedback to Teachers
Positive feedback should always be specific to the teacher. There’s nothing worse than a generic, “You’re killing it! Thanks for all you do!” or “Good job!” because teachers feel like you could have crafted that feedback without ever visiting their room.
If you want a teacher to feel seen and truly appreciated, notice something specific and special about their efforts. Here are some examples.
- Your contributions to our content team meetings are always creative and focused on the positive. I appreciate that you always lift up your teammates and our school culture.
- I love the way you interact with your students; it’s easy to see that your students respect you and that you care about them.
- You are making an especially positive impact through your strategic small group instruction. Will you consider modeling your phonics routine for some of our newer teachers?
- Your classroom economy works so well for you. Please be prepared to share this out at our next grade level meeting.
- I’m so impressed by how quickly you turned around our aggressive monitoring training for the kids. It’s obvious that you know who mastered today’s learning and who needs more support tomorrow.
- Your teacher sparkle is incredible – 16/18 of your students were engaged for the entire 17 minute mini-lesson!
- I love how you hold all our students to a high standard; it’s clear you believe that everyone can grow in your classroom.
- Your last action step was to focus on the quality of student language in the classroom. I’m excited that students are already starting to respond more often in complete sentences! Please consider sharing this progress with your teammates at our next RLA vertical meeting.
- Great teachers respond to the whole child at all times. I noticed that you let one of your first graders who wasn’t feeling well take a nap in the back of the classroom, and I’m proud of you for recognizing that need.
Constructive Examples of Written Feedback to Teachers
Your written constructive feedback should be in the form of questions to guide your face-to-face discussion with the teacher, and should be grounded in hard data observed in the classroom. If you write down just the facts, followed by a question, teachers will be better prepared for a quality debriefing meeting.
Further, edit your own language and avoid using phrases like “negative feedback” or “critical feedback” when you discuss observations with teachers. All feedback that is not overtly positive is simply called “constructive” because your purpose is to focus on what might enhance students’ learning.
- I noticed that your mini lesson continued for 23 minutes, and 1/4 of the class was off-task for the last 10 minutes of that. When we meet, let’s discuss ideas for maintaining student engagement and formulate an action step together.
- From the time students entered the room until you began your lesson was 6 minutes. What do you think is a reasonable amount of time for this transition, and what ideas do you have for shortening it?
- You asked for full student participation in reading your learning objective for the day, but only 6 kids choral read it with you. What are your thoughts on introducing objectives to the class? What might make this time more meaningful?
- During your read-aloud, I kept a running record of text read from the book and your own commentary. For every 1 sentence you read from the story, you added an average of 2 examples, asides, or questions that were not printed in the text. Your read-aloud took 39 minutes, and there wasn’t enough time for students to respond to the reading. What reading strategies were you trying to teach, and can you think of a way to spare more time for the students to do the work?
- I noticed that while your students were writing, you hovered near the front of the room. How might conferencing with your kids as they write be an added benefit? What concerns do you have about that?
- I noticed that your powerpoint presentation (or slides) is something you already do very consistently and quite well. I had an idea that you could add timers to your slides to hold you accountable for pacing and a sense of urgency. Would that be a viable solution for helping to get through an entire lesson?
Administrators and Coaches: Ignore the Hamburger Feedback Method
Administrators and other supervisors used to rely heavily on the “hamburger” method of giving feedback. The meat of the burger was the constructive criticism, and the buns were the positive feedback.
The idea was to bury your constructive feedback in the middle of a bunch of positive feedback, so that it wouldn’t hurt so badly to receive “negative” feedback.
Hamburger feedback fails for at least two reasons:
1) Teachers are intelligent human beings who know when they’re being manipulated.
2) The positive comments feel less authentic because the teacher is aware that the “meat” of the conversation is the negative part.
Teacher Feedback Templates
Below, you’ll see several different templates that I’ve used to take notes during an observation. All of these can allow you to take notes that can be turned around for a quality discussion that facilitates the learning experience for teachers.
Teacher-Centered Coaching Feedback Form
This form is great for when you want to note just the positive things you see, and then really listen to the teacher during debrief to see how you can offer support and ideas.
Timestamp and Action Step Feedback Form
This form is perfect for administrators, peers and coaches who want plenty of flexibility in their note taking framework.
Still, this one leave space for you to mark time stamps of what you’re seeing (which can be useful for teachers who struggle with pacing or sense of urgency), a spot for celebrations, and a spot for observers to ask questions or mark their ideas.
Complete the entire upper portion prior to the debrief with the teacher. Then, through your debriefing conversation with the teacher, agree upon an action step for follow-through.
Why Observations are Better in “Laps” or “Rounds”
One thing that works so well for our campus are “Wednesday Walks.” Every Wednesday, both administrators and all three coaches go on observation walks around our building. Each week, we spend all our time in just two grade levels.
We do our observations in “laps” over a 2-3 hour period. We plan a route through multiple classrooms, and we complete 3 laps.
Each time we enter a classroom, we only stay for 5-8 minutes before moving onto the next room. This allows us to see more of the instructional block. We might see 24 minutes of each teacher’s block, but it will be spread across the beginning, middle, and end of the lesson.
The one downside is that it’s a slight interruption each time we enter and leave the room. At first, our teachers and students found it annoying. Later, teachers admitted that it was nice that we got to see more of their lesson. It’s so frustrating for a teacher when administrators only stay for 10 minutes and see the most boring part of the lesson.
Why Observations are Better in Groups
It’s a huge benefit to the feedback cycle to have multiple participants in an observation. This might be administrators, coaches, and even fellow teachers who might benefit from watching other experts in the building. This habit has allowed us to bring different perspectives to our coaching cycles. For example, our assistant principal has a strong math background, whereas my area of expertise is in the science of reading. Together, we can help one another identify areas of growth and celebrate victories across the building.
Each time we enter a classroom together, we take separate notes and keep conversation to an absolute minimum to avoid creating even more disruption.
At the end of our observations, we reconvene in our meeting room and share our thoughts. This allows us to notice the strengths throughout the building, identify trends and challenges, and make a plan to support teachers.
After a thorough discussion, we divide up our written feedback responsibilities so that we can be more efficient.
It took a lot of preparation before we sent our leadership team to do “laps” for observations. We anticipated that teachers would be intimidated by having groups of observers entering their classrooms multiple times during the block. Fortunately, our principal is deeply respected, and she explained her intentions clearly.
After the first few times, most teachers adapted to the new process quickly.
Verbal Feedback and Informal Feedback
Many times, it’s not practical to turn around our written feedback within the next 12 hours, and sometimes it’s a challenge to get that feedback to teachers within 24 hours. We must remember that this feedback is so important to teachers, and those who are less confident will sometimes be anxious until they get a response.
It’s always best to give a thumbs up and a smile in the hallway, or send off a quick text message that reads something like this: “Thanks so much for welcoming us into your classroom. There were lots of celebrations in your room today. I’ll send more formal feedback within 48-72 hours.”
If your leadership team saw 8 teachers that day, divide up the texting as soon as you get back to the meeting room. That way, teachers will be guaranteed some informal and verbal feedback within a matter of hours. This will support your campus morale and ensure that classroom observations are a positive experience for your teachers and staff.
Another idea that may present itself is a quick pat on the back and a smile before you leave the classroom. Your verbal feedback can be positive and immediate. Don’t get into the weeds right in front of your students. Again, convey positivity and gratitude and let them know you’ll have some ideas for them in writing within 48 hours or so.
Whatever you do, don’t delay your written feedback. It will lose it’s magic if too many days have passed.
The Importance of Time Stamping Your Written Teacher Feedback
Your observation notes should include timestamps as often as possible. Here’s an example of timestamped observation notes:
8:52 Entered classroom and class was choral reading objectives.
8:53 Teacher is beginning phonics warm up routine. Great use of movement and whole brain strategies. 100% participation for entire warm up routine.
8:59 Teacher is giving instructions for partner reading. Calling kids with popsicle sticks to restate behavior expectations. Good wait time demonstrated for Julio.
9:02 Transition to tables and partner reading. Transition takes 2 minutes and 32 seconds.
9:05 All but 6 student begin partner reading. Those six pulled to teacher table.
9:07 Teacher begins a small group lesson on spelling pattern /ar/. Chin tapping the syllables and then spelling the syllables one at a time. Using Popits for segmenting sounds. Teacher is making notes on printed Google sheet.
9:11 Using positive narration to support on-task behavior for partner reading.
9:15 Excellent redirect for JaMarcus.
Below your time stamped notes, you can include a spot for Constructive Feedback and another space for Positive Feedback. I like to call these sections “I Wonder…” or “Ideas” and “Celebrations.”
Bite-Sized Steps to Better Teaching
Good coaching includes observation, informal positive feedback, written feedback, a discussion, and an agreed upon action step for follow through.
There’s nothing more overwhelming to a teacher than being given an action step without a logical starting place, or something that can’t be mastered in a week. Here are some examples of weak action steps:
- Improve classroom management
- Increase rigor of questioning
- Create a sense of urgency in the classroom
- Increase student engagement and ownership of learning
- Build a more positive classroom climate
These action steps will fail with teachers because they don’t give concrete next steps. They seem entirely too vague and leave the teacher wondering “but how?”
A great action step is bite sized and can be accomplished in one week with some explicit modeling and perhaps some co-teaching if necessary. Here are some different ways you can phrase your action steps to feel more doable and motivating to teachers. These should be discussed with the teacher in detail, and then written down somewhere that both the coach/admin and teacher can easily access it in the future.
- Implement a clothespin table competition system to incentivize good behavior and great effort on teams.
- Pre-plan at least 3 high rigor questions for every lesson, and build in turn and talks to give students ample processing time before they share out.
- Build timers into your slides and be prepared to move forward even when work is not complete to build a sense of urgency in the lesson.
- Create a data folder and begin having data conferences with individual students once per week following their common formative assessments.
- Put 10 hair ties on your right wrist, and each time you narrate a positive behavior that you see in the class, move a hair tie to your other wrist. Your goal is 10 positive comments by the end of the block.
Choosing the Highest Leverage Action Step
We use the Get Better Faster framework for our coaching. Get Better Faster teaches us about the importance of choosing the highest leverage action step in the “waterfall.” This means we choose a bite-sized action step that is likely to have a waterfall effect and improve other elements of the classroom as well.
For example, asking a teacher to incorporate teaching methods like Aggressive Monitoring when they haven’t yet mastered the basics of classroom management isn’t likely to be successful.
Likewise, you’d never ask a teacher to begin data conferencing with students when their assessments aren’t high enough quality or targeted enough to be analyzed.
Some things just have to come first, so choose an action step that is likely to have the greatest impact on student achievement.
Staying Up to Date with the Research
One of the most damaging things a coach or administrator can do is offer feedback that is not based on recent research, particularly when it comes to phonics instruction. Do not challenge the expert in the room if you don’t have the same level of training that your teachers have when it comes to quality instruction.
This is another reason why observation is better in groups; there’s likely an expert in the room who can offer quality feedback in this case.
Avoiding Letter Grades
Please do not assign letter grades to your teachers for their observations. After all, you do not see what they do all day every day; your time in their classroom was only a small window into their successes and challenges.
Giving teachers letter grades for their performance on an observation is degrading. They are not your students and you are not their teacher. You are both professionals who are learning and growing together in community.
In our state, we receive letter grades like P for proficient and A for advanced for our summative feedback. These are all based on a rubric with lots of opportunities to demonstrate strengths and weaknesses. That is hard enough, but it’s vastly worse to give teachers an A, B, C, D or F for their work in the same way you might assess students.
One great way to elevate the discourse in your professional learning community is through peer feedback.
Teachers often have wonderful insights for one another, and can offer powerful, authentic praise and encouragement.
They may also have fresh ideas that can support the observed teacher, which are sometimes better received than if those same ideas were delivered by a coach or admin.
When peer feedback and peer-to-peer modeling happens regularly on your campus, you’ll find that it becomes a valuable part of your campus culture and ideas start being exchanged much more readily.
Consider providing a strategic peer feedback form when teachers observe one another, which will help ensure a positive tone and productive follow-up conversation.
The best feedback form here is a simple checklist you can create with elements you want the teacher to notice. Then, leave space for notes and questions at the bottom.
Here is an example:
Focus of Modeling – Student Engagement
Observation Checklist: What Do You See?
- Students read, write, think and speak to one another about the content
- Engagement strategies are explicitly explained
- Behavior expectations are stated before beginning
- Teacher utilizes timers, visuals and other materials to provide structure to the engagement
- Teacher interacts with many groups or partners during the strategy
As an instructional coach, one of my main responsibilities is modeling various teaching strategies and techniques for growing teachers. This can be highly effective.
However, once in a while I’ll be tasked with supporting a teacher whose teaching style is totally different from mine. Teachers can have a hard time focusing on how to implement a new teaching method when the modeler is using a style of classroom management that is very foreign to them.
In this case, it’s better to ask another teacher to model the strategy whose teaching style and personality is a better fit. Your learning teacher will often have a more open mind and a willingness to try something new.
One of the most meaningful things you can do for a teacher is to elicit some strategic student feedback when you’re trying to inspire a teacher. Filter this feedback through your own process, and don’t try to set up an entirely new system.
Your goal here is to motivate the teacher by helping them remember WHY they’re working so hard. Most educators care deeply about their teacher-student relationships, so use your teacher observation times to listen to students.
At the conclusion of your observation, quietly ask an individual student or two to follow you into the hallway. One at a time, ask the students, “What’s special about Mr. or Mrs. ___________?” These types of open-ended questions will often generate meaningful insight into the relationships the teacher has with her kids.
Be sure to speak with several different students, and put all the “good stuff” in writing for the teacher. Your teachers need this encouragement – especially those who are on some sort of intervention plan.
It’s tempting to be “all business” when we’re trying to grow teachers, but they often desperately need this type of encouragement to keep chipping away at improving things for their students.
When you’re evaluating teachers, try not to focus too heavily on classroom environments. It can be tempting to look at a beautiful, well-organized classroom and assume that this particular teacher is growing students. Only the data and empirical observations of the teaching can tell you whether or not students are growing. The classroom environment is nothing more than a clue, but it certainly doesn’t tell a full picture.
When you look around at the classroom environment, look for the quality and rigor of student work that is posted around the room. Especially in elementary, you’ll see that some teachers will have beautiful, eye-catching anchor charts. But who is doing the work? We want to see that kids are able to generate their own visual cues around the classroom.
It can also be helpful to notice the student writing in journals, in the hallways, and anywhere else that students who evidence of learning.
Formative Feedback vs. Summative Feedback
The goal of formative feedback is to keep students growing throughout the year by pushing teachers toward bite-sized improvements in their classroom. Formative feedback is often less formal than summative feedback. While there is written documentation to help everyone remember next steps, the focus is more on the conversation and dialogue between the teacher and coach or administrator.
Your goal with summative feedback is to provide one big actionable step for the next school year, but also to provide a “state of the union” between teachers, students, and families. Summative feedback tends to be kept in a permanent file, and while a conversation takes place and involves reflection on the part of the teacher, the documentation is much more structured and has greater weight for the professional than formative feedback.