Receiving feedback: How can we do it better?

Yesterday I was pleased to lead a workshop at the John Taylor MAT conference held at the John Taylor Free School in Tatenhill.  The (wonderful) head there, Sue Plant, asked me to talk about ‘The Power of Collaboration’, to contribute to the exploration of the conference’s three themes:




Many thanks for inviting me, Sue.

Before my scheduled workshop sessions, I was glad to have the chance to hear Guy Claxton’s keynote on ‘Self-regulation’, and how this relates to the conference’s themes.  I have read some of Guy Claxton’s work (some of it a long time ago now, including when I was completing my Masters in the early 1990s!), and I find much of what he has to say eminently sensible, despite some flak he receives from sections of the online educational community.  I enjoyed listening to what he had to say yesterday, and I tweeted about his presentation, including:

tweet habits


tweet self reg

But it was his comments on feedback, and the importance of how we give it, how we hear it and how we act on it, that made me most thoughtful.  A recent Twitter exchange including Gary Jones and others had encouraged me to reflect on my own capacity to give, but particularly to receive, feedback.  Full disclosure: receiving criticism isn’t something I am good at.  Even if the feedback is constructively framed, I realise I often feel hurt and defensive.

I know, rationally, that this is unwise!  I suggest that those offering feedback always need to be mindful of, and sensitive to, the emotional repercussions of what they are communicating.  Teaching and leading are in some ways very personal activities, and criticism of our professional performance can be hard to separate from criticism of who we are.  If we are feeling particularly emotionally vulnerable for some reason, this can be exacerbated.  A year ago, the news that my application to speak to TEDxNorwichED had been rejected coincided with the death of my mum – and I know I did not react well.

However, feedback is essential for learning and ongoing development.  We need it to encourage our self-awareness and our understanding of where we are hitting the mark and where we can perhaps improve.  We need to hear, process and respond to feedback, not to be dismissive of it if it is not what we hope for.

So what advice can I offer myself, as I reflect on this?

  • Recognise that you DO have a tendency to feel defensive if feedback is not entirely positive. Accept this, and feel it, but then consider how you can move past it.  Keep in mind that feedback is a gift, even if it can feel like an unwanted gift at times!  There is always the possibility that you will learn from what you hear and that it will enable you to strengthen and grow, as long as you embrace it and don’t simply deny it.
  • Give yourself time to think about what you have heard. How accurately are you listening to and absorbing the key messages?  Do you need to reflect on the feedback and ask for clarification?  Would it be helpful to have a follow-up conversation a few days after the initial feedback to ensure that you have received clear information which you then feel able to act on?
  • When you are ready (and it may not be immediately), set aside some thinking time to consider future actions. Be specific here.  What are your strengths and how will you build on them and make even more of them?  What worked well and what can that teach you?  What might you do differently in future?  Why will you do it differently, and how will you do it differently?  How could future feedback help you to assess whether the changes you have made have had the desired effect?
  • Make sure that whoever has offered you the feedback understands that you do appreciate it, even if your initial reaction was less positive than it could have been! Be honest with them about your reaction, but share with them your commitment not to discount constructive criticism which is an important opportunity to consider our personal and professional development.

Perhaps 2019 is the year when I make some progress with this!

Thank you for reading.

(Postscript: I swallowed my initial sense of grievance and applied the following year for TEDxNorwichED and was successful that time.  It was a great experience, and I was very pleased I’d done that rather than just sulking… You can watch the ten minute video here if you’re interested!)

Photo montage: John Berry

4 thoughts on “Receiving feedback: How can we do it better?

  1. Thank you for these clear and helpful observations. I am currently in the middle of my NPQH and know that giving honest feedback is a huge area of development for me. This supports all my reading and now I just need to put it into practice!


    1. Thanks, Victoria – and good luck!

      I think giving thought to how it feels to receive feedback can help us consider how best to give it. It needs to be clear, honest, positive but still constructively challenging. I’m sure you will learn from experience and continue to build your skills!


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