Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer Reading #1: Thanks for the Feedback

OK, web, I am back! I had a fabulous summer. My husband and I did a big trip! We started in New Zealand and ended in Iceland, covering a total of 12 countries in 60 days, so it was quite a sprint.

Anyhow, I have been doing some summer reading after returning from our trip. I had picked up two professional books prior to the start of the summer, but didn't get around to reading them until I got back. (Traveling with a smallish backpack made carrying paperback books unrealistic, and as it turned out, it was hard to find places to reliably charge our phones while staying in hostels, so I did relatively minimal digital reading also while away!) I thought I'd jot down some notes about the books I read, as the books were very useful to me!

One book I read this summer is called Thanks for the Feedback, and I had picked it up because I wanted to get better at hearing and parsing through feedback myself, as well as giving feedback effectively. I highly recommend the book! It was a great lesson in thinking about nurturing my own growth mindset, because how we receive feedback has everything to do with our own growth mindset. The book, for me, contained a lot of valuable information regarding why hearing negative feedback is challenging and how we can frame our minds around this more effectively.

To give you a small taste of why I really liked the book, it talks about how sometimes someone we really don't get along with would try to tell us what they think about us. They would probably present it at the wrong time and in the wrong manner, and you can easily, based on many legitimate reasons, write them off and think to yourself that what they have to say does not apply to you, and that they're in the wrong for X, Y, Z reasons or disqualified to give you feedback for M, N, R reasons. Well, the book encourages you to put aside all those factors and to ask them questions about why they feel this way. Dig further into the data that they're looking at. Do they have information that you don't have? Is their role giving them a reason to consider other factors that are not on your radar? Instead of deflecting negative feedback as is tempting for most people to do, embrace it actively and ask probing questions in order to start a conversation. In the end, you don't have to accept all parts of their feedback, but the first step to growing is to understand where they are coming from, particularly because the people you get along with the least are most likely to offer you an honest look at yourself.

The book also talks about examples of when someone we are in a close relationship with tries to give us feedback. While reading this, I related this in my mind to my husband, who from time to time tries to give me critical feedback about something in my personality that he thinks needs some work. The book talks about how people often react to this by essentially redirecting the conversation to include a new thread about how you are also dissatisfied about something that the other person does. I know I'm certainly guilty of this, and the book gives specific strategies about how to tackle this type of impulse / conversation trainwreck to guide it towards a productive conversation, wherein you focus on one conversation at a time and really try to hear the other person's point of view.

One of the things that I really liked also is a diagrammed model in the book about how our own behaviors are invisible to ourselves. We, as individuals, are only aware of our intentions and the impact that we intend to make, but we have no visibility into our outward behaviors (particularly our micro-movements and our body language) and their impact on others. On the flip side, the people who are experiencing our actions have no visibility into our intentions, even though both parties think that we are seeing the full picture. For example, I am only aware of what I say to my students and why I am saying it, but I'm not aware of how it is coming across in the moment and whether it has the intended effect. This is why getting feedback from our students is very, very important. It helps to close that feedback loop and to make sure that the messages that I hope to send are actually aligned with the messages that the students are receiving, particularly when it comes to my instructional choices and what I think are important aspects of their learning!

The book also helped me reflect upon how I give feedback to my students! The book distinguishes between feedback forms that are evaluation, coaching, and appreciation, and gives examples for why it can cause a lot of frustration for the receiver if they are constantly missing a certain type of feedback. It also talks about the importance of giving feedback in the manner that a person prefers to hear it. So, one of the things I will do this year is to find out, from each student, how they prefer to receive feedback. I'll have to think about how best to phrase this, but the book has some good suggestions for probing questions.

Wow! It is turning out to be a fairly hefty entry here, particularly because I have gone for so long without posting much at all. I'll come back and talk about the next book tomorrow, but if this quick summary sounds intriguing to you, I highly recommend checking out Thanks for the Feedback as written by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Worth a read and worth taking notes!

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