Good teachers have nothing to fear from pupil feedback forms.

3

October 4, 2013 by dragonflytraining

The Customers Should Have Their Say Author: @CoyneDrS

Brighton College has set the cat amongst the pigeons apparently by including pupils in their teacher appraisal system, according to The Times. The newspaper reports that, every three years, the students are asked about a teacher’s performance using a simple questionnaire and a 1 to 5 scale of responses.

I have not actually used this system as part of a formal appraisal system but I have been employing anonymous pupil questionnaires for twenty years and find them a very valuable source of feedback on my teaching.

I can still remember the expression on the faces of my colleagues in the department that I headed in the nineties when I first suggested the concept. “Another one of his mad ideas” was written in their frowns, along with: ”Well, do not ask me to get involved!” I did not ask and they did not participate. That is in contrast to the department that I worked with when I was a Deputy Head. This was 15 years ago but they were so taken with the concept that they made it departmental policy for everyone to get involved and hand the results to the Head of Department.

For all this time, I have taken to issuing questionnaire of approximately 20 statements with a 1-5 scale of responses. For example,

This teachers starts and finishes lessons on time
1 = Strongly disagree, 2= disagree, 3= No opinion, 4 = Agree, 5= Strongly agree

was my opening to a series of questions about basic professionalism. They were then followed by some comments about how interesting and varied the lessons were.

Being a traditional chalk and talk teacher trained in the 70s, I did not do so well on the “uses a variety of approaches” point until I went to my first inspirational INSET with Alan Jervis (@Alan_Jervis) of Dragonfly Training on ‘High Impact Teaching‘. The subsequent feedback from pupils enabled me to track my rapid progress on this score.

Such an approach with students needs careful handling and timing. I tended to use it during my last lesson with a group at the end of the course in the summer; it seemed to me to be an appropriate thing to do at this juncture. It also avoided any bias because a pupil might simply be nice to me (thinking I might recognise their writing in the comments section) and alter their responses accordingly. They had nothing to lose at this stage. The students valued being involved, were flattered to have their opinion sought and gave extremely honest answers. At no point in all that time did I ever feel that a student was “having a go” just because they could do. Having said that, some did choose to remind me of times we had disagreed about school rules.

In time, I expanded the idea and included it in my own annual appraisal. When I was Head, every teacher in the school was seen in front of class by their HoD or a senior manager every year. Feedback was then given accordingly. I always made jokes with the students about why the person was there during the lesson, but told them exactly what it was all about during the next session. When I did so, I gave them a short questionnaire of the same style about the lesson that had been observed. It was useful to compare the two assessments. On the odd occasion, it was interesting to note that the observer was learning a new teaching technique that the pupils took for granted; in one case, it was the use of loop cards for revision!

Good teachers have nothing to lose from this kind of approach and plenty to gain. Those with less confidence in their abilities might be pleasantly surprised by the way that they are perceived their students. In all cases, we can only learn how to improve what we do and that has to be a good thing. We are, after all, professionals and we live in an age where customers expect to have their say on the service provided.

(Please feel free to contact us if you wish to receive a copy of either questionnaire).

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3 thoughts on “Good teachers have nothing to fear from pupil feedback forms.

  1. David Harman says:

    Great post. All forms of feedback is vital for self improvement whether it be positive or negative and I believe that is the spirit in which this sort of evaluation should be undertaken.

  2. Jill Berry says:

    Thanks for this, Stephen. I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject since reading Richard Cairns’ article.

    One of the things I do in the post-headship phase of my life is heads’ and senior leaders’ appraisals. It seems to me that if we want to gauge the strengths of someone’s leadership we need to ask for feedback from as many of those they lead as we possibly can. It’s then possible to synthesise from the responses a fairly accurate description of their strengths as a leader and also potential areas for further development. If I gather information from a sufficiently wide range of people (and I do talk to pupils, in addition to staff – senior staff, middle leaders, teaching and support staff – groups of parents and governors) I am able to filter out any ‘rogue voices’ and it’s very easy to see who has a particular axe to grind (which actually tells you more about them than about the leader whose performance you’re appraising). It doesn’t mean the views of these people aren’t relevant or valued, but you don’t give inappropriate weight to them in your assessment of the skills of the appraisal subject.

    Thinking about this, it seems odd to me that we would appraise a teacher WITHOUT taking into account the opinions of those they teach. Yes, we might gather info from the appraisee themselves, from colleagues, their Head of Department/line manager, but if we want to know how effective someone is as a teacher, it would seem self-evident that we need to consult those on the receiving end of their teaching.

    I do think we have to do it sensitively and sensibly, but am coming to the view that NOT accessing the students’ views is not the right way forward.

    Re Richard Cairns’ particular questionnaire, it has been observed that the question about whether the teacher caters for the student’s learning style needs rethinking in the light of research findings that the whole concept of ‘learning styles’ is fundamentally flawed. Hope there aren’t too many educationalists out there still talking about visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners….

    • Hi Jill,

      Sorry for the delay but I have only just seen the posting.

      I agree with you but I would not personally tell the pupils that they were involved directly in teacher appraisal. Streetwise kids would make mischief. I have always recommended keeping the two processes separate. I would like to see a system in which they are run together in action; it would be intersteing.

      In reality, if the feedback is used sensibly, it can only help inform the line manager’s assesssment of the teacher’s abilities anyway.

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