Ask advice often
How to build a culture of effective feedback
Hope you’re well and have been working on building up that trust account. This week’s Snack rounds off our culture series by digging into the pivotal role of feedback…
Big idea 🍉
Building a culture of effective feedback is critical for learning and school improvement. Regularly asking for advice is a powerful way to achieve this. Let’s dive in:
Feedback is an important activity for schools. Done well, it helps our students to learn, and our organisations to improve. However, it can all too easily be done badly and lead to unintended negative outcomes. As you’re probably aware, feedback works best when it is:
Constructive (focussing on what can be better in the future) rather than evaluative (focussing on what we have done badly in the past).
Precise (telling us exactly what we need to do and how) rather than vague (providing only a general sense of direction).
However, the conditions that we create for feedback to ‘land well’ are equally important. If we don’t get this part right, even if we are constructive and precise, feedback can easily be interpreted as criticism and a sign that someone does’t belong—which can lead to it being ignored, relationships falling apart, and morale taking a nosedive.
“There is no failure. Only feedback.”
One way to promote a culture of effective feedback is to make seeking feedback as common as giving it.
When we ask for feedback, we reduce the chances that our emotions hijack the situation and we position ourselves to be more open to ideas. We also increase the chances that those around us ask for feedback in the future. And we put ourselves in the driving seat of the process.
How can we make the most of asking for feedback? Here are 3 things to try:
Ask for advice rather than feedback Advice can often be more fruitful because it tends to emphasise future action and possibilities over past performance evaluation. Instead of asking How did you think it went today? ask What could I do better next time?
Pursue clarity, suspend judgement At some point, we must decide whether to ignore or heed the feedback we are given. However, it’s best to delay this evaluation until we are past the emotionally charged nature of the situation. Instead, focus on getting clarity. Ask What one thing could I do to improve the most? or Could you give me an example of what you are suggesting?
Express gratitude Feedback helps us to get better—what an incredible gift. Thanking your feedbacker not only increases the chances that they’ll do it again but also reminds your brain that this is a good thing.
Note that sometimes people ask for feedback when what they really want is reassurance. It’s useful to keep an eye out for this distinction and respond accordingly. And finally, remember that feedback works best when we have a built up a large ‘trust account’, as explored in the previous Snacks.
Reflection → How often do you ask for feedback? Do you ever ask for advice instead? If so, when?
Challenge → Ask someone for advice within the next 48 hours. It doesn’t matter what it is about or what they say. Instead, just focus on kickstarting the habit and responding gracefully.
• Building a culture where seeking feedback is as common as giving it can boost learning and school improvement.
• We can make asking for feedback effective by: seeking advice, pursuing clarity, and expressing gratitude.
• All this depends heavily on having a healthy ‘trust account’ in place.
Little links 🥕
On topic → Here’s a working paper on the whole advice vs feedback thing, and a reminder to check out Lekha’s new book for more on building strong team culture within school.
On trend → The Department for Education in the UK just released this report on the working lives of teacher and leaders, and check out this upcoming series of lectures by Prof. Slava Kalyuga on learning, memory, and expertise (you can watch via Teams).
Behind the scenes → A bonus twitter thread from me on how I find the research papers that I share.
Donut or doughnut?
PS. Thanks to everyone who gave me feedback via the survey last week. One of your suggestions was to add a ‘weekly challenge’ prompt. I’ve made the switch, hopefully it’s a positive move—if not, let me know!