Is It Possible to Create a Culture of Feedback?

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I’ve noticed a disheartening phenomenon lately. It’s the reluctance to give feedback in the workplace because “they won’t do anything anyway”. People seem to think that if the person or organization they work for doesn’t immediately begin doing what they think should happen, then the feedback wasn’t taken seriously or even listened to.

I get it. We all have strong opinions about what our bosses or leaders should do. Even more, feedback can be a once a year event, and then organizations don’t always do a great job explaining what the feedback was and how they will respond. It’s also human nature to gossip and criticize. Our negativity bias and our propensity to judge others and believe we are right when others are wrong (The Happiness Hypothesis, p. 78) can take over, and we find ourselves going to town with colleagues on what is wrong and what needs to happen to fix it.

The thing is, I need to improve, and I need feedback to do it. I’m hopeful that I can help grow a culture of feedback with those I work with so it becomes more of a habit and not a once a year all or nothing event. Shakil Choudhury of Anima Leadership, uses three questions to help create a culture of feedback:

  1. What am I doing well?
  2. What do I need to improve?
  3. What are my next steps for learning?

I used these intensely personal questions to seek feedback from principals and vice principals about my leadership. The resulting conversations were insightful, challenging, and ultimately very useful.  Does seeking and receiving this feedback mean that I am immediately going to change things to reflect what I heard? Yes… and no. I heard some great suggestions that I can implement right away, I heard things that really made me go “Hmmmm,” and ones that made me realize I need to communicate more and better while staying the course. Most interesting, the feedback showed a wide variety of opinions and a lack of consensus. On reflection, that’s not surprising, since the leaders I work with are quite different from one another.

What you about you? Do you have any feedback for me?


I’ve written about feedback before in these posts if you want to read more.

Feedback. Priceless.

Two Essential Questions for Reflection

Learning From My Mistakes


Two Essential Questions for Reflection

The end of a school year always prompts reflection. After collapsing exhausted on Canada Day to recover from the whirlwind of June, educators take a few deep breaths and think about their year. That reflection takes different forms. It can be mulling over how your class did as you sip a morning coffee on the balcony, or wondering what you could improve in your approach to inquiry as you walk the 17th fairway, or seeing your teaching approaches through a new lens by reading that educational title that was on your nightstand for ages.

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

My reflection is focussed on two questions:

Am I getting better?

How do I know?

Steven Katz, psychologist, teacher and researcher, uses these questions as a basis to measure all improvement, whether as a whole school or as individual leaders and educators. They are simple yet powerful. Where can you look to know if you are really getting better?

This year, I focussed on two areas for my own growth and improvement as a leader. It almost goes without saying that I have many more areas to improve, but I kept in mind that we can only do a couple of things well.

First, I wanted to create a space in principal learning teams and school visits where there could be open and trusting dialogue about school improvement. I also wanted to work on my listening to understand people’s perspectives and experiences (in the interest of full disclosure, this is something I feel like I always need to improve).

These are some pretty nice goals, don’t you think? And that’s really where it stops, unless I have some way of knowing if I’m getting better. One component is my own observations. I see some progress in learning teams with principals and vice principals as they lay out what they are struggling with and hoping to learn about. I watch as some principals ask questions during school visits or push back. I try to be honest and transparent, but I’m not really sure if I’m perceived that way. But these impressions aren’t enough.

Shakil Choudhury has shared that the most important leadership quality is self awareness. We get there through brutal self-honesty and feedback from others. I’ll start by gathering feedback from those I work with through a series of questions:

What does open and trusting dialogue mean to you?

Do you feel the principal learning team time and the structure of the school visit is useful for creating that dialogue?

What can I do to improve the conditions for this dialogue to exist?

What are my strengths as a listener?

What do I need to improve as a listener?

I’ll be back with an update. Here I go!

Phone vs. Email – You Know Which One Is Better, Right?

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Joe The Goat Farmer via Compfight cc

My work world revolves around email. I wish it wasn’t that way. Email is a time sucker. Email is never ending. And worst of all, email is void of tone or context. So the people who read your emails have to guess what tone you might be going for. There are some solutions to this: you can litter your emails with ellipses, exclamation marks and emojiis to convey friendliness or thoughtfulness. That’s pretty much it.

You might think that I had learned this lesson already in my 25+ year career. I guess I’d thought so, too. We’d both be wrong. Just recently, I made a mistake with an email. What I thought was clear and thoughtful, even supportive, was not interpreted that way. The recipient totally called me out – “Sue, why didn’t you just pick up the phone and call me?” And you know what, they were completely right. I should have called.

Photo Credit: DenisGiles via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DenisGiles via Compfight cc

The trouble is, when I have a potentially difficult call to make where the other person may be upset, hurt or angry, it does seem easier to email. Jimmy Casas, a secondary school principal in Iowa who I have mentioned before, recently wrote a post ”  Phone Calls Home: “I’m Not Going to Lie… They Scare Me.”  It’s a great post, because we can all relate. Jimmy also offers some thoughtful solutions to the problem. The reality is that while it might seem less risky to carefully craft an email, often it can make a situation worse where the original difficult issue still exists, but now it’s compounded by lack of trust. Ouch! We all know that a phone call or a face to face conversation is best. Sometimes it’s hard.

So now I pick myself up, dust myself off and vow to do better. More phone calls than emails. If you see me around, can you please remind me??