By Jac O’Keeffe
Teachers, when you are challenged by student feedback how do you respond? Are you (a) prepared to hear it and (b) what do you do with it?
In the majority of cases of challenging feedback, students project their own issues onto teachers. It’s a consequence of our work. Yet, do you hold space for the possibility that student feedback can on occasion offer a gem for your own growth? How we receive feedback influences what we do with it. If we don’t meet it openly we exclude ourselves from the possibility of learning something new. Dismissal at the outset says more about the teacher than the student.
Receiving negative feedback from a student can be uncomfortable for teachers for several reasons. For example, lots of teachers have a natural preference for solitude and a simple lifestyle. The more time spent alone, the less familiar one becomes with dealing with human conflict. Also, some teachers don’t have a circle of close friends who are not their students. Friends challenge; friendships are dynamic and require that differences be worked through if they are to endure. In contrast, a power differential exists with students; traditionally they are not empowered to challenge teachers and if a challenge arises a teacher can resort to spiritual or rational explanations and avoid honest introspection. Without personal friendships teachers can forget what it is like to be in the wrong, to apologize, back down and allow for differences.
When one is not used to being challenged, the habit of being right can take precedence over being honest. Some of us need to learn or re-learn how to receive challenging feedback. Let’s not assume authority on all things. We have blind spots; by definition, we can’t know about them until they come into view.
An honest way to reflect on challenging feedback is to explore the content and your response to it with someone you trust, who is also familiar with the dynamics of your work. A trusted independent partner offers a container to help you discern what might be useful.
Consider building relationships within the membership of the APST to support you to do this work on yourself. It’s one of the few places one can find authentic peer support in our profession.