Two co-workers sitting at a table with big windows in the background, having a conversation while looking at a laptop

The Network for Educator Effectiveness has provided guidance over the past few years on how to provide effective feedback. First, we created the Guide to Effective Feedback Conversations, which is a step-by-step process on the components of an effective feedback conversation. Then, we dug deeper and provided the Four Paths to Effective Feedback ­– diagnostic, prescriptive, descriptive, and micro — to help school leaders individualize feedback conversations and meet teachers where they need to be.

Most feedback conversations have centered on classroom observations, as they are the most frequent teacher evaluation measure where feedback is given. However, the feedback process should look similar any time school leaders offer feedback on any piece of data, including student surveys.

With NEE, schools have the flexibility to incorporate the NEE Student Survey as one measure of evaluation, if they choose. The survey can be customized to focus on the specific indicators schools have chosen as their focus for classroom observations, providing alignment for the entire teacher evaluation process. The survey is confidential and takes about 20 minutes for students to complete.

Recent studies have shown student surveys provide accurate, reliable insight on teaching because students’ perspectives tend to align with administrators’ perspectives during classroom observations.

After a student survey window closes, the student survey report will be available in the NEE Data Tool to you as an administrator, and to the individual teacher, for review and reflection. To learn more about how to interpret the student survey results, NEE has provided a document in the Help and Resources section of the Data Tool titled Interpretation Guide for the Student Survey.

The way to connect the results from a student survey to tangible growth is through feedback conversations with teachers about their results.

The 3 Golden Rules of Student Survey Feedback

Just like when giving feedback on classroom observations, giving feedback on student survey results should follow the same preparation and structure as outlined by the 3 Golden Rules and 5-Step Guide to Giving Effective Feedback. Feedback should be:

  • Timely. Feedback should occur as soon as possible after the student survey window closes in order to discuss the evidence while it is still fresh. Providing timely feedback is essential for developing a relationship based on trust. Coaching conversations are best had face to face.
  • Ongoing. Feedback around the student survey should coincide with the classroom observation feedback loop. After allowing a teacher the chance to learn new strategies and practice them, administrators should conduct an (unannounced) classroom observation. Incorporating student survey feedback into a classroom observation feedback process that loops throughout the course of the school year should serve to create an environment of ongoing coaching and support using multiple measures.
  • Consistent. Both administrators and teachers should understand the reasons specific instructional practices were selected for the student survey, the instructional goal of each selected practice, and the other ways (including classroom observation) in which those instructional practices are measured.

5 Steps to Provide Effective Feedback

The three golden rules lay the foundation for effective feedback. Next, administrators conduct feedback in five steps, which again, should happen as quickly as possible after the student survey window closes.

The intent of the feedback conversation is to inject a coaching aspect into evaluation to ensure the focus of the process is on professional growth, not on a score. Although scores are a necessary component of teacher evaluation, it is important to recognize that the goal of evaluation is improvement, not perfection. This takes on additional care, as the data you are using is from students, and not directly from the evidence you have collected yourself. It is important to go into the student survey feedback conference as prepared as possible.

  1. Prepare. Prepare for the feedback conversation with careful reflection of the student survey items. Use the specific item language from the student survey to develop questions to ask the teacher to garner further information and understanding. Although you will provide feedback for all indicators on the student survey, it is appropriate to narrow the focus of more detailed feedback to a specific indicator, or even a couple of items within that specific indicator. The planned comments should focus on evidence rather than judgments. Get specific. For example, it would be better to focus on the exact language of the student survey instead of broad generalizations about an indicator.
  2. Present data. Meet face to face with the teacher. To get the conversation under way, introduce and review the parts of the student survey that stood out to you. Conduct this step quickly to avoid dwelling on scores, and use specific language from the survey. No opinions or advice should be offered at this point.
  3. Discuss focus. After the evidence and scores have been presented, it’s time to discuss the focus for improvement efforts. Ask the teacher for input during this step.

    Several techniques can be helpful at this stage:
  • Presume positive intentions. You are both on the same side and share the same goal: to improve student learning. Acknowledge the teacher’s strengths and understand they are interested in being successful.
  • Pay attention to self and others. Notice not only what is said but how it is said. Be aware of body language and inflection.
  • Pose questions. Ask questions to either expand or specify thinking. For example, you might ask, “What strategies for formative assessment might you try?” to think beyond what has already been done. Questions can also specify thinking when the teacher makes a general statement such as, “None of the students are prepared for class.” In this situation, you might ask, “Which students specifically do you find are coming to class unprepared?”
  • Pause. Provide adequate wait time before responding to the teacher or ask a question that allows the teacher to completely address their thoughts. Watch the teacher’s body language to determine when all of their thoughts have been expressed.
  • Paraphrase. After the pause, paraphrasing can ensure the teacher feels understood and gives the teacher a chance to clarify if your understanding is incomplete or incorrect. Current research advises against using statements that start with “I hear that you…” and instead recommends “you” statements. An example would be: “You are frustrated because you feel you don’t have time to…”
  1. Make a plan. At this point, the administrator and teacher have agreed on the focus for next steps, and it’s time to make a plan. Start by asking the teacher for ideas, then offer to put ideas on the table. Rather than imposing a strategy or prescribing a solution, ask whether the teacher would like to hear some strategies that have proven successful in other classrooms, without naming specific teachers. It is important to express confidence in the teacher to make the change. Model a growth mindset and offer access to support and resources. NEE administrators might suggest teachers access professional learning materials in EdHub. Administrators might also suggest teachers observe peers who use a desired strategy. After considering the possibilities, administrators and teachers identify the actionable steps to achieve the goal and identify the specific measures of success. It is also important to remember and revisit the plan from other feedback sessions, and build upon that when alignment is easily available.
  2. Follow up. Let the teacher know you will follow up with a classroom observation after the teacher has had time to put the action plan into place. No specific date or time should be promised, but the administrator can ask when the teacher will feel ready to demonstrate the changes. Offer the teacher some choices within an acceptable window of time: 3 weeks, 1 month, etc. Be sure to conduct the follow-up observation within the timeframe that was discussed. End the feedback conversation on a positive note by reviewing the process that was followed and providing the opportunity to ask questions or clarify expectations.

The intangible – above all else – is to keep the process simple and aligned. Consider the professional development goals, the classroom observation results, and the other growth work you are collaborating on with the teacher, and leverage the student survey results to produce similar conversations. A consistent, looped message for improvement and growth will provide a teacher with the clarity and visioning for what comes next and how to get there.

Tom Hairston is the Managing Director of the Network for Educator Effectiveness. Tom has worked with NEE since 2011. Prior to his work with NEE, he worked for two years as a Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports Consultant for the Heart of Missouri Regional Professional Development Center at the University of Missouri. He began his career in education as a high school special education and language arts teacher and football coach at Moberly High School in Moberly, Mo. Tom received his PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri in 2012.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.