Providing effective feedback to teachers can be one of the most difficult aspects of the school principal’s job. As the instructional leader of the school, you have the amazing responsibility to influence, mold, and improve the teaching practices of an entire faculty – and effective feedback is the lever that propels successful instructional change processes. 

Feedback is a practice that is refined over time, and the Network for Educator Effectiveness has provided two tools to help school leaders develop more effective feedback practices: 

  1. The NEE Guide to Effective Feedback Conversations shares the three golden rules and a five-step process for providing effective feedback to teachers. We have previously shared details about this first feedback tool, and it is available for download.  
  1. NEE’s Four Paths to Effective Feedback guides school leaders through the process of selecting the type of feedback that is needed in a given situation and delivering it to the teacher appropriately. 

This blog delves into NEE’s second feedback tool: the Four Paths to Effective Feedback. 

Why are there ‘Four Paths’ to Effective Feedback? 

Researchers have identified characteristics of feedback that increase its effectiveness. One such characteristic is providing tailored feedback instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach. Teachers’ levels of instructional performance differ – from person to person, from strategy to strategy, and from one classroom observation to the next. School leaders’ feedback to teachers should respond to these different needs.  

Further, research conducted by NEE indicates that teachers’ perceptions of the quality of feedback matters. Feedback that the teacher perceives to be of high quality is more likely to result in instructional improvement. Providing feedback that teachers perceive to be of high quality means the evaluator must tailor the feedback for each recipient. 

These findings led NEE to focus on the preparation step of our five-step feedback process. NEE created the Four Paths to Effective Feedback to help principals identify the type of feedback to use in a given situation and to deliver the feedback to the teacher in a way that is more likely to result in growth. 

The Four Paths to Effective Feedback diagram

Introducing the Four Paths to Effective Feedback 

The heart of using feedback paths lies in determining the “why” behind a teacher’s instructional performance and providing the support needed to trigger instructional improvement. Teacher needs exist on a continuum, and administrators can use four feedback paths to meet teachers’ needs: 

  1. Diagnostic path 
  1. Prescriptive path 
  1. Descriptive path 
  1. Micro path 

Diagnostic Path 

Sometimes the instructional actions of a teacher you are observing indicate that they don’t understand some principles of instructional effectiveness. They are either doing something or not doing something that limits student learning and development. When that happens, the first thing you have to do is figure out why.  

The answer may be that the teacher simply doesn’t understand the key concepts surrounding the practice. They don’t know why or when the practice should be used, how it supports student learning,  
or the steps of implementation. 

When this is the case, the teacher will gain the most benefit during your conference if you offer diagnostic feedback.  

This feedback identifies the root cause of why something is or is not working. It clarifies the expectations and identifies the principles that should guide their future work.  

In this case, school leaders diagnose the problem because the teacher lacks the understanding to do so themselves. Your goal is to help teachers build the knowledge they need to begin implementing the desired instructional practice. 

Learn more about Motivating Teacher Growth with Diagnostic Feedback.

Prescriptive Path 

Your classroom observations will sometimes reveal a teacher who implements an instructional practice unsuccessfully. This can occur when the teacher has an inadequate level of knowledge about the practice and how it works.  
During your conference, the teacher will seem unsure about what to do or how to improve. 

Providing prescriptive feedback will be most successful in helping the teacher in this situation.  

This type of feedback identifies the teacher’s instructional options and helps them decide  
what to try next. It is corrective in nature and is designed to help teachers understand what to do differently to improve their efforts. Your goal is to help the teacher gain the knowledge necessary to implement the instructional practice effectively. 

Learn more about how Prescriptive Feedback Helps Teachers Develop Effective Use of an Instructional Strategy.

Descriptive Path 

Perhaps most often your observation will reveal a teacher who seems to understand the core expectations and the principles surrounding the use of an instructional strategy. You see them implementing the expected practice with some success.  

Descriptive feedback is the most commonly used form of feedback providing a detailed description of the teacher’s performance and works best with teachers who are able to objectively reflect on their practice.

Descriptive feedback serves to hold a mirror for the teacher showing them what they did well and where there is room for growth.  

Although it is commonly used, it will be most effective with teachers who have a good understanding of the instructional practice, how it works to support student learning, and how to implement it.  

These teachers have the necessary knowledge. They simply need your support to reflect on their work and identify adjustments that will improve their performance. 

Learn more about descriptive feedback and Encouraging Teachers to Become More Reflective in Their Practice.

Micro Path 

Occasionally your observations will find a teacher who clearly understands the concepts surrounding  
an instructional practice and who can implement it with some degree of expertise.  

These teachers are often able to critique their own performance. During your conference, they may point out spots in their instruction that didn’t quite work and will tell you about the changes they want to try. 

Providing micro-feedback to these teachers will add value to their performance and keep them consistently improving and growing. Your goal with this type of feedback is to suggest small nuances, tweaks, and minor adjustments that can improve an already good performance. 

Learn more about How School Leaders Can Use Micro Feedback to Listen and Learn.

After identifying the appropriate feedback paths, the next steps are to determine the desired outcome of the conference and select a set of questions to ask the teacher during the conference. We will discuss how to implement those next steps in a future blog post.

Upcoming learning opportunity: If you attended NEE training this summer, we invite you to join us for a “Feedback Paths Refresher” at 9 a.m. September 20. In the session, which will be held on Zoom, we will provide a refresher of the feedback path process, a breakdown of the four feedback paths to use for conversation, and a time to ask questions and dig deeper into feedback processes. Please register, then check your email for a confirmation message and Zoom link. 

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.