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


Up the Ladders and Down the Snakes

My siblings and I loved Snakes and Ladders. Zooming up and down the board was fun. You would land on the ladder and advance, only to find the snake, groan, and slide back down. It’s a simple game with parallels to life and learning.

I thought about this game at a recent training session for Adaptive Schools with the amazing John Clarke (yes, my mind goes odd places).

Photo Credit: espressoed via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: espressoed via Compfight cc

Clarke mentioned the Ladder of Inference, a concept first proposed by Chris Argyris. I was introduced to the ladder of inference during Instructional Rounds training.  In chapter four, the authors talk about “Learning to See and Unlearning to Judge.” It is a powerful way to think about how we see people. Do we watch and listen carefully without judging? Or do we go up, up, up the ladder of inference to draw conclusions  about people or situations before we listen carefully or seek to understand.

In my last post, I challenged myself to have the courage to do the effortful work of changing how I think about others and being open to everything they are and have to offer without rushing to judgment.

So, even though I loved playing Snakes and Ladders as a kid, I don’t think I want to play it as a leader.  I’d rather advance carefully on the game board, seeing, listening and learning.

Do you have any favourite childhood games that have parallels to your practice?

Teachers, Don’t Worry About It

I like to spend time in classrooms with students.  I work with sixteen schools and try to be in each school at least once a month. And when I’m there talking with principals and vice principals, one of my favourite things to do is go into classrooms. It gives me an opportunity to meet school staff and talk with kids. And all educators know that the big payoff of being in education is that you get to hang out with kids.

I do know, however, that my presence in classrooms can cause some stress, even some consternation. What I am there for? Am I evaluating the teacher? Will I report something negative? When I approach students and ask them what they’re working on, I get that some teachers hold their breath and hope it will be OK.  Sometimes, it’s not. But teachers, don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault.

Students don’t always tell me what they know. They can get nervous too. They know that I’m someone who doesn’t often come into their classroom and I’m usually with the principal, which must mean something. Or they just forget, because the learning goal or success criteria simply isn’t at the top of their mind. That’s OK.

When I go in classrooms and see kids working together, or reading, or helping someone out, or thinking, or even texting, I smile. That’s kids! I know teachers are doing their best and want the best for their students. I know how hard you work and how thankless the job can sometimes seem.

Nonetheless, it’s my privilege to visit your classroom.