Specific Feedback and Reflection Enhance Teaching & Learning

Published on January 22nd, 2017

Principals perform many short and long-term tasks for teachers and students.  More often than not, a principal’s daily tasks are interrupted with pop-in meetings, phone calls, troubled students, parental concerns or issues, and the like.  So, trying to attend and focus on the daily operation while also trying to carve out time for those more long-term functions such as budgeting and strategic planning can be challenging to say the least.  With that being penned though, two integral functions associated with the day-to-day responsibilities are:  shepherd your faculty and students and exercise your responsibility as instructional CEO.

Principals, as instructional CEO’s, perform this function well by ensuring that quality Christian curriculum and the visitation of classrooms to encourage and support teachers does happen.  Two reports, Teacher Evaluation: A Study of Effective Practices also known as the Rand Study (Wise et al., 1984) and a similar study entitled The Widget Effect (Weisberg et al., 2009) suggest that classroom visits are perfunctory at best and feedback to teachers lacks the depth and specificity to improve their instruction.  When done to focus on specific classroom strategies and behaviors, observations afford teachers and administrators that opportunity for an agreed upon professional growth plan, enhance teacher expertise in pedagogical practice, and become marvelous professional growth moments for administrators and teachers alike.

Research gives evidence to support this premise.  Marzano and Livingston (2011) posit causality between teacher expertise and student achievement.  Hattie and Timperley (2007) from their study of 12 meta-analyses report almost twice an average gain in effect size (.79) for effective feedback from observations as compared to (.40) associated with most educational innovations.

As a principal, I visited classrooms often.  But, did I always have a clear purpose in mind for that visit?  Did I always give the best information to enhance the instructional expertise of my teachers?  Allow me this opportunity to provide some helpful criteria that is based on current research as ‘look-for’s’ in efforts to assist you as you provide that specificity for teachers’ instructional, professional growth.

Balance that instructional time between teacher and student-centered instruction:

Look for and encourage a balance between didactic instruction and discovery.  By doing so, teachers and students share responsibility for the teaching and learning of content.  Having teacher-directed and student-centered activities happening seamlessly engages students, espouses inquiry and problem-solving, and reinforces as well as enriches content material for students with different learning styles and age-ability readiness.

Deploy research-based instructional strategies:

Look for and have discussion with teachers to develop a common language for instruction and use a common set of research-based strategies that have a high likelihood of increasing student achievement.  Dean, Hubbell, Pitler and Stone (2012) build on the work by Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock (2010) and provide a good medley of linguistic and non-linguistic instructional strategies.  Pedagogical strategies like generating and testing hypotheses, identifying similarities and differences, cues and questions, advance organizers, making tables and Venn diagrams bring students into the instructional process and help them build a toolkit of effective practice for years to come.

Furthermore, these strategies help students categorize and organize information into smaller chunks of retrievable data.  All of these strategies cross content areas and give opportunity for common discussion and reflection.  Become familiar with these strategies and encourage their use.  The listed resources contain a rich repertoire of ideas, examples, and insights.

Track student progress:

Whether you encourage the analysis of norm-referenced test data, analysis of summative classroom test data, or daily use of formative assessment techniques, look for and encourage your teachers to analyze multiple data sets and adjust instruction accordingly.  Formative assessments are most likely readily happening and more often easily observed during a visit.  Below are some commonly used formative assessment techniques that are appropriate for all age levels:

Think-Pair-Share provides students immediate feedback through note-taking and collaborative, reflective conversations among groups. Teachers who circulate and participate in Think-Pair-Shares have opportunity to correct misunderstandings and misinformation of content before becoming repetitive errors in student work.

Exit tickets/Most Clear or Least Clear Cards allow students to pen one or two statements about the lesson and submit prior to moving into new content or another classroom.  Exit tickets gauge the daily mastery of content and become an effective benchmark for adjusting instruction appropriately.

Say Something is a paired activity that helps students to process textual information.  The technique teaches students to read for comprehension, cite textual evidence to support their inferences and reasoning, encourages active listening, and brings the teacher into their students’ thought process through pre-planned questions.  Teachers can further a depth of understanding by having a repertoire of questions ready like, “What part of the lesson caused you to arrive at that understanding?”, and “What in the text or in my instruction led you to that conclusion?”, or “Would you like to work together to agree on evidence from the text to develop a summary statement about…”

These are just three assessment ideas that can be suggested and used.

Focus feedback and practice:

Adjusting one’s mode of instruction can sustain student interest.  Different approaches, how questions are framed, strategies, and pacing of the lesson are just some that keep student attention and interest.  Below are three approaches that can be implemented and readily used for all content material:

Gradual Release of Responsibility (Fisher and Frey, 2002) couple together direct instruction with independent thinking and learning.  The four-step approach suggests shared responsibility among teacher and his/her students.   Look for and encourage your teachers to also ‘think aloud’ as often as possible during the “I do it” portion of this instructional approach.  ‘Thinking-aloud’ invites students into one’s very own thinking and reasoning and enhances the classroom experience.

K-W-L (Ogle, 1986) even though an older technique couples together several techniques – brainstorming, forming questions, chunking and summarizing information – through a table format and is still helpful to students and informative for teachers today.  The instructional approach gives students the means to organize information, give feedback to student and teacher, and encourage students to extend learning beyond the classroom.

Close Read is another approach of focus feedback.  Guiding students through a cursory review of content provides that initial opportunity to review key points and connect prior with new knowledge.  A second read digs deeper into another level of ideas, subheadings, and contextual evidence for improved comprehension and mastery of text.

Having a plan to offer students effective feedback and practice does not happen by chance.  Teachers need to be encouraged to plan for and implement such approaches as part of their daily instruction.

Intersect left-hand kingdom with right-hand kingdom opportunities:

Shepherding and affirming Christian teachers and students is the first and most important function administers must do.  When you take time to get into classrooms, you perform that function in a personal and tender way.  With the emphasis on testing, standards, accountability and the like, you can get bogged down, but as the principal, you must guard against God’s Word and what Christ has done through His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension to not merely become an extra add-on.  Christ is life itself and life abundant now and forever (John 10:10).

Lutheran schools are about making disciples for a crucified King and not merely replicating uncritically what we see schools in God’s left-hand kingdom doing. Look for and discuss together ways that through ordinary practices (grading, honor roll, class elections, disciplining students, defending one’s faith, etc) tension between the two can be created and the Gospel message advanced. Such effort calls the sinner’s attention to that what God is doing in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) and provides the means by which the Holy Spirit will create faith in the hearts of sinners.

Allow for time of reflection and collaboration among peers:

As a teacher myself, my tendency was to default to a teaching approach or practice that was comfortable, especially for certain units of study or with certain students ; however, my tendency to use what I believed to be that ‘tried and true’  approach may not have always brought about the results I was hoping to achieve for students.

Look for and encourage your teachers to have discussions among themselves, to visit other classrooms within their school building or classrooms of neighboring schools. Most importantly, encourage discussion and establish an agreed upon plan of improvement.  Without specific feedback about instruction and behavior, encouraging your teachers to improve will bring about minimal improvement, at best (Ericsson et al., 1993).

Concluding Thoughts:

I asked someone I knew who was quite versed and knowledgeable in the area of instructional technology how they ever found the time to learn all that stuff.  And that person’s response was, “I just carved out 10-15 minutes daily to read, research, and try different tools and ideas.”

  • Take 10-15 minutes whenever possible to read and review the resources listed below or others of your choice.
  • Enhance instructional feedback through a weekly walk-through or less frequent but more time extensive visits, mentor-protégé’ relationships, peer-to-peer conversations and ensure time follows for feedback and reflection.
  • Take time to edify your teachers through devotion and prayer, encourage and discuss ways to intersect those two kingdoms with faculty, and add to and polish your teacher’s instruction and instructional toolkits.

May God bless your Christian leadership!
Dr. Jon Mielke


Dean, Ceri B., Hubbell, Elizabeth Ross, Pitler, Howard, & Bj Stone. (2012) Classroom Instruction That Works Research-Based Strategies For Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

Fisher, Douglas & Frey, Nancy. (2014). Better Learning Through Structured Teaching. Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.

Heck, Joel D. & Menuge, Angus J.L. (2001). Learning at the Foot of the Cross A Lutheran Vision for Education. Austin, TX:  Concordia University Press.

Marzano, Robert J, Frontier, Tony, & Livingston, David. (2011). Effective Supervision Supporting The Art and Science Of Teaching. Alexandria, VA:  ASCD.