Honesty, is it really the best policy?
Being honest isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can make people feel uncomfortable to say what they really feel, think or even know for fact. But why is that? Why can being truthful fill us with dread and, honestly, how many times have you avoided being honest at the risk of offending?
Firstly, the trouble is people presented with honesty do not always ask for it, leading us to feel ‘uninvited’ to give our views or feedback (even when it is wholly appropriate to do so!). Secondly, those who do ask for feedback do not always want to hear the honest version of this, and are often quite stumped when presented with feedback that is not inline with what they expected ‘How dare you give me your version of my feedback and not mine?’.
As educators, this puts us in a rather tricky position.
As you are likely aware, feedback (when given effectively), is considered worth it’s weight in gold. It can provide a learner with an opportunity to make great progress. We cannot afford to waste this golden opportunity, but we must also consider the way in which we present honest feedback.
Here are some tips for presenting honest feedback to three core groups we interact with as educators:
Educator to pupil:
Feeding back on pupils’ work…
- Approach with growth in mind. Growth mindset is all the rave and for good reason. Be sure to give your honest feedback, using words such as ‘yet’ and phrases which praise effort and outcome, rather than the individual. Use praise with caution, kids see through the fluff and sense genuine praise.
- Know your audience. If you are even one percent unsure about how a child might receive honest feedback, don’t give it. Instead spend time questioning the pupil, coaching them to their own conclusions and getting to know them a little better before you provide honest feedback that runs the risk of destroying their motivation or self-esteem.
- Pre-warn. Tell your pupils from the off-set that you are going to be honest with them about their outcomes and their efforts. Tell them that this will help them to understand how they are doing and how to improve. Feedback should personalised, but not personal and pupils should be ready to receive honesty as part of the class ethos.
Educator to parent/carers:
Telling them how it is…
- Focus on progress, rather than attainment. Many parents ask how their child is doing in comparison to their peers. With low attaining pupils, this kind of revelation can really shock, upset and scare parents. Avoid comparing pupils to others. Do speak honestly about their attainment, but explain how their child has progressed over time.
- The high achiever, the clown, the backseat learner, the top-dog, the leader, the drama queen? Whatever role a child adopts in class, let parents know. Giving parents an honest view of their child’s place within a classroom community can be tricky, but it is useful.
- Attendance or home learning often cause difficulties for teachers. If these are not up to scratch, being direct with parents can make all the difference.
Educator to educator:
Giving honest lesson feedback…
- Knowing your audience applies here too. Consider your colleague’s personality and predict how the feedback might be received.
- Don’t dilute the message. How many times have you given feedback and then immediately given praise, or redirected the conversation due to awkwardness (around the issue)? This leaves any feedback being undervalued or totally misinterpreted. Of course, draw attention to their strengths, but ideally, your colleague should leave the feedback session knowing exactly what it is you are advising them to consider next.
- Remember, the teacher you’ve observed has the same goal as you; to improve the life chances of pupils! Everyone differs in their feedback style. Personally, I’ve found developing genuine conversation around the learning relaxes all parties and keeps the common goal in mind.
Ultimately, when in doubting if honesty is the best policy, remember, ‘honesty saves everyone’s time!’
We all know a teacher’s time is precious.
Written by Hanna Beech, a new blogger for Teacher Toolkit.