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Practice what you preach

5 min read

Voice of the Educator

As a teacher, you are used to giving lots of feedback. Returned tests and papers, notes home, conferences, faculty meetings and the like all provide us with ample opportunity to share our thoughts about such things as student performance, programming and other school-related matters.

However, you will certainly also be the recipient of much comment, from your supervisors, parents, students, colleagues or some other school constituents. While much of that will likely be positive and affirming, a portion of it may not be. Their words may focus in on your teaching style, specific actions or comments of yours, your attitudes or some combination thereof. Even if the remark was delivered with constructive intent, you may resent the message or even become unsettled by it. Perhaps you may seek to get back at them in some way.

This is normal. Some may call it natural or even healthy. But as someone who has received his fair share of criticism over the years, my suggestion is that you get what you can from the comments and use them to your advantage.

When we think of retribution or even simply hold onto fear or animosity, we allow ourselves to remain stuck, and we focus on events that have already occurred. The best way forward is to be future thinking, and to see how we can make today and every day the very best and most productive yet in our careers.

Almost every critique can teach us something powerful about ourselves. When an attribute or behavior is singled out, let me assure you that there’s at least some kernel of truth in what’s being said. Doing something about that issue, including finding out what’s concerning people and taking steps to improve in that area, will serve you long into the future.

It’s also important that we practice what we preach. If we wish to be heard when we share feedback to our constituents, we should be open and willing to hear what others have to say about our performance.

Remember, at the end of the day, it’s all about the children. That’s why we chose this field instead of any other. We should be prepared to do whatever we can to give the children the best possible learning experience.

The next time someone approaches you with some unwanted feedback consider doing the following:

  1. Listen well. Hear them out without interruption. Then mirror back what you heard for clarification. If there is something that you disagree with, hold it until the end. This way you validate them and open further lines of communication. It’s always best for the concern to come directly to you rather than to others.
  2. Respond carefully. Try to avoid sounding defensive. Leave your ego to the side and accept warranted concerns as well as viable advice. If you are unsure about the validity of feedback or what to do with it, ask for time to respond. Make sure to get back to the other party in a timely fashion and with a real game plan (see below). Ask for feedback about the plan.
  3. Thank them. Let them know that you appreciate the fact that they brought this matter to you and didn’t go around you. They easily could have; it would have been less risky and more comfortable. Let them know that you appreciate this growth opportunity that they have given you.
  4. Seek more feedback. Chances are that others also have opinions about the matter at hand. Seek out people whose opinion you trust and try to gauge the broader truth. Just how widespread is this concern?
  5. Do something. This may be the hardest part. No one likes to change, especially if we already have a plan in place and are well along in its execution. Seek to identify, alone or with a trusted confidant or coach, a set of actions that can help you grow as a leader. Then make sure to get back with the concerned party about what you have decided so that they feel validated and also do not add more grist to the mill.

We all want to hear that we’re doing well. Feedback is the breakfast of champions and positive comments can really put wind behind our sails. Constructive comments can also help us advance, sometimes even more than affirming ones. Regardless of the nature of the feedback that you received, be sure to make good use of it, so that you can become the very best professional possible.

Naphtali Hoff (@impactfulcoach) served as an educator and school administrator for over 15 years before becoming an executive coach and consultant. Read his blog

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