Great Feedback for Teachers Is Hard to Find


At the start of the summer, EdConnective made a push to recruit new instructional coaches to add to our stable of experts for the upcoming school year. After receiving 420 applications, we sent out 16 offer letters and achieved our goal of bolstering our roster. Through this process, however, we learned a great deal about the lack of good feedback availale to teachers, and also gained insight into how to find the instructional coaches that are the best fit to provide feedback to the teachers we work with.

After reviewing the 420 electronic applications we received for instructional coach openings, the EdConnective team determined that 92 candidates possessed the experiences we believe to be indicators of highly effective teacher-coaches. These 92 applicants were offered a behavioral interview in which they viewed four clips of classroom instruction. Before the interviews took place, the candidates were asked to review the videos of classroom instruction and to prepare feedback as if they were providing instructional coaching to the teachers featured in the videos. The intention behind this exercise was to provide an opportunity for the EdConnective team to assess the actual coaching ability of the candidates.

What happened during the next 40 interviews, however, raised some concerns. Fewer than one in five candidates interviewed was good enough to start the process to become an EdConnective coach. 

It is understandable that a low percentage of candidates would be the cream of the crop. However, it was disconcerting to see candidates with similar experiences in pedagogy, student population, and position fare so differently in the same assessment. Many candidates who are currently school administrators or instructional coaches were simply not very good at providing feedback. This may be a reflection of the education industry as a whole, as  a wealth of financial, political, and academic resources have moved toward teacher evaluation in recent years. Little attention has been paid to the practice of giving teachers good feedback.

In our EdConnective interviews, every candidate was given the same video clips of teacher instruction to review. The first showed a teacher who clearly struggled with classroom management. After watching the video, one group of EdConnective teacher-coach candidates missed the mark entirely, failing to mention glaring fundamental needs for teacher growth. Most of these instructional coach candidates didn’t even mention the chronic inappropriate comments to students made by the teacher in the video. Raising additional concerns, many of these teacher-coach candidates also failed to highlight that none of the students in the video successfully demonstrated understanding of the concept of the lesson.

The group of instructional-coach applicants we did not hire usually finished their feedback for four separate clips of instruction, in five to seven minutes. Successful candidates took 15 to 30 minutes to provide feedback for the clips. This group of failing candidates exhibited great difficulty identifying the major areas of growth needed for the teachers whose instruction they reviewed.They did not provide any specific evidence to back up claims about the instruction, and made unsupported and vague comments, such as “There was a lot of chaos in the classroom.”

Another group of potential instructional coaches were able to identify areas in need of improvement, but they lacked the ability to provide actionable feedback. These applicants made statements like, “The teacher really just needs to take charge and show the students it’s his classroom.” Then they’d fail to provide specific suggestions about how a teacher could improve in the growth areas, what techniques should be used, and at what points of instruction. The applicants simply did not make the feedback granular or explicit enough for a teacher to be able to walk away with concrete next steps.

As we went through this recruitment process and saw the poor level of feedback being provided by the instructional-coach applicants, EdConnective updated the interview invite for the second batch of 50 interview candidates. We made it crystal clear when it came to what we were looking for: “Be sure to provide specific evidence from the videos to support your feedback. To move forward with EdConnective, you must show your ability to document evidence from the observations that support your expression of specific and actionable feedback for the teachers within the video.”

Nonetheless, the rate at which we encountered candidates exhibiting highly-effective coaching stayed the same. This experience highlights for us the fact that many educators need training around how to provide constructive feedback that will actually support a teacher and help improve their practice. In my next post, I will share characteristics of the successful EdConnective candidates and how we are trategizing to increase our stable of talented instructional coaches in the future.

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