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Feedback for Growth

I have been considering the role of feedback and how it is delivered a lot lately. It has impacted me in two ways. 1) I am observed weekly as part of my teacher training, and I receive feedback on my performance as a teacher (the comparison of feedback that I have received from other teachers is what has inspired this post). 2) I am trying to develop physically literate students, and my feedback is important to their development.

The teacher (or coach) as a gardner

A key way to dictate how I give feedback is to metaphorically paint a picture on how to treat those around me. Am I developing muscles to be stronger? Or am I nurturing flowers to grow? One requires me to cause a breakdown (breakdown of muscles), the other requires me to nourish growth (water, sunlight etc.). I have always liked this quote:

There are layers to this quote. From an ecological dynamics point of view, coaches and teachers are learning designers, or architects of the learning environment. This consists of the tasks that are asked of learners, the challenge point of those tasks, the feedback they give (or don't give), and numerous other things. But number one thing about this quote is that encourages the teacher to take responsibility. If a learner is not responding to the environment I have created, that is my fault. I was the architect of the environment, and it is not working. The environment must change to help the learner learn.

*From an ecological dynamics point of view, there are three different kinds of constraints - individual, task and environment. These were previously discussed here (and many other posts).

Brutal honesty, honesty, or kindness?

I have had a number of observations of my teaching, with a number of different practitioners. Most observations have been very positive and encouraging. Leaving looking forward to the next observation to show what I can do. There have been one or two that have been deflating. An endless stream of criticisms, all in the name of "brutal honesty". I know which one I would rather and which one I have performed better from.

Going back to brutal honesty - what is brutal honesty? Is a brutally honest conversation more or less honest than an honest one? In my view, someone justifying their feedback by saying they want to be brutally honest is lazy. It allows them a free pass to say whatever they want, to be rude, and to rid themselves of responsibility when delivering feedback. Referring to the quote, the feedback I deliver (which is part of the environment I create), is my responsibility. For feedback to be beneficial, it is not just the receiver who has to act on it, the giver must deliver it in a way that is actionable. If I deliver feedback that shames, ridicules or humiliates a student, that is my fault. I need to do a better job at being kinder with what I say. Words can inspire. Words can be weapons. Words matter. Choose them carefully.

Rather than an environment that is permeated by brutal honesty, I would much prefer an environment that is filled with brutal kindness (or simply, kindness), Two behaviours I try and model daily are "catch people doing things well" and "kill them with kindness". Kindness wins. Always. As Brene Brown has written - Clear is Kind. If all feedback that I deliver is crystal clear on what or how I expect the receiver to do next, then it makes things much easier.

The speed (and power) of trust

This links in to a separate post that I was going to write based around trust in teams. I have had 2 particularly bad lessons in which student behaviour was rude and obnoxious. On the first lesson (lesson A), the feedback I got that the group did nothing wrong and the only fault was with me. I did some things wrong, but the way some of the students behaved was appaling and the feedback I received was untrue. The second time this happened (lesson B; in a different school, a different environment, if you will) the students were suitably reprimanded for their behaviour, and at no point was I blamed for the poor student behaviour. There were other things in the lesson that I could have done better, and I was informed of this in a kind manner. But I didn't leave the lesson feeling like I was against the students AND my mentor, like I did after the first lesson I experienced. I felt like I had the trust of my mentor.

I have reflected a lot on both occassions. I felt an enormous support from lesson B that just elevated my confidence and my esteem. I was nurtured after a difficult class and I came out a better teacher. I also came out a better person, as I am more aware of how to be a good leader. After lesson A, I was broken down, somewhat.

In the book, The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey talks about how every interaction you have with another person leads to either a trust tax or a trust dividend. If you engage with any person, you leave the engagement either trusting that person more (trust dividend) or less (trust tax). Take these 2 scenarios:

  • If you engage with someone you know well (partner, sibling etc.) and you create a trust tax, this may have a negligible impact on your entire relationship as there is a lot of trust in the bank already.

  • If you engage with someone you have never met, for example a new student, or a new player in the squad you work with, creating a trust tax will have a major impact as there has been no trust build up previously. Day 1 of a new relationship, and you are already making things difficult for yourself. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is the power of trust.

Two powerful quotes from the book:

1) "When trust is high, the divident you receive is like a performance multiplier, elevating and improving every dimension of your organisation and your life. High trust is like the leaven in bread, which lifts everything around it."

2) "We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour."

My personal coaching/teaching philosophy (linked here) is something I am clear on. I am aware of how I want people to feel when they leave a lesson or session with me. If I was to summarise this into a sentence - I want people to leave feeling 10ft tall (see point 1 above). This comes from extending trust. By extending trust to people, people feel empowered. A trust culture brings out the best in people, I am convinced by that. To see someone in my care maximise their potential, my aim is to build their confidence bit by bit.

Regarding point 2, I remember having a conversation with a colleague on dealing with errors that people make (either players or support staff). We were discussing how to deal with an error. While we agreed that it was important to be reflective and get to the root cause of an error, something that stood out for me was the tone of that "reflective conversation":

  • Asking someone "why the hell did you do that?" Creates a fear of making a mistake, which can have an impact on people's diligence. But also erodes psychologically safety. Governing by fear is not a good strategy when learning is the goal, in my opinion. (replace "hell" above with a word of your choice!)

  • Being genuinely curious - talk me through your thought process here. While hindsight would suggest they obviously made a mistake, they did not make a mistake on purpose. Their intenstions were good, their behaviour in the situation was not optimal. (This is not possible in the middle of a game, but in a debrief or plenery it can be useful)

Assuming the best in people in your team/lesson/squad is a crucial aspect in developing trust. As stated before, I have been in situations where I have been extended trust and that is liberating. I have been in situations where I have not been extended trust, and that is restraining. Creating players/students who are liberated not only allows them to reach their potential, it makes their experience of playing more fun, and it make my experience as a practitioner more fun too.


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