As our schools continue on the journey to be flourishing and vibrant communities of learning, critical thinking and critique are essential to the learning process. Last week’s editorial challenged us to “speak the truth in love” as colleagues and members of the Christian community. Educators are learning new ways to engage students to give critique and feedback. Many of you have been introduced to ways of giving feedback and teaching your students to use this language which quite simply can be summarized with the words:
This language was woven into our past two district PD days when we gave each other feedback on post-it notes, and others of you have encountered it in the “tuning protocol”. This script leads with what you appreciate about the work or efforts or product that is being critiqued. We teach students (and ourselves!) that kindness, appreciation, respect and naming good things are the way to lead all of us into the difficult task of giving helpful feedback. For me, personally, this script has been really helpful in all my relationships: at work, at home, at church, in my family. If our eyes are focused first of all on what we like and appreciate about the idea, the work or the product, it makes everyone much more open to hearing our questions.
Moving into the “I wonder” piece is a beautifully humble way of asking questions about any idea, product, or effort. When you have already named what we like and then move into what you wonder about, we lead again with humility and respect. The wondering opens up the possibility that our feedback may not be what the other person intended at all. It opens up the opportunity for the creator to clarify, and we can see what it is that we have not totally understood. It is the exercise of LOVE. A change in language as we talk with each other as colleagues is fundamental to creating a workplace of TRUST. It is only when our classrooms and our staffrooms are bathed in trust can we dare to try new ideas and risk failure (which is the ESSENCE of learning).
Finally, I believe the “I suggest” portion of giving feedback needs to be a time when you are invited to give ideas and your suggestions. Critiquing only through suggestions for change, without any words of appreciation, sends the message that we know better, we are superior. We hint that “You lose, I win,” or “You aren’t doing it the way I want you to.” However, when the suggestions follow “I like” and “I wonder” the humility and respect are established and now suggestions from the wider community will actually make the idea, product, or effort better. Having diverse views on how to improve something creates a richness where experience and new ways of thinking can influence how we can all improve together. The “I suggest” often becomes an exciting brainstorm, where everyone is excited by the current quality of the idea presented and believe that together it can get even better.
Many of you are now familiar with the impact Ron Berger has had in creating effective peer critique. His books, An Ethic of Excellence and Leaders of their Own Learning both outline effective critique, and the video of Austin’s Bufferfly shows us that children of all ages are more than capable to give effective feedback when they have a skilled mediator.
Two books that have also been influential in my thinking on this practice of critique:
Growth Mindset, by Carol Dweck (Need a picture)
The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice, by Joseph P. MacDonald; Nancy Mohr; Alan Dichter; and Elizabeth C. McDonald (Need a picture)
As we journey together into creating amazing spaces of learning, I love the movement towards such protocols as great ways to give feedback and critique. I know that many schools are creating times where staff can share and “protocol” each other’s work. Professional Learning Communities are essential times where safe spaces are created to share our best practices and to ask for feedback on our new ideas for learning. Continue to encourage each other to open up opportunities for feedback and critique!