The Power of Feedback

Blueprint Bulletin

“A dynamic process that uses dialogue and evidence to engage a learner, internally or with a learning partner, in constructing knowledge that results in changes in practice, performance, and self.” 

~A definition of feedback from The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning author Joellen Killion 

The Power of Feedback

Let’s think about Joellen Killion’s definition of feedback for just a minute. As you reflect, words and phrases seem to jump out at you such as dynamic process, dialogue, evidence, engage, learning partner, constructing knowledge, change in practice and self.   This is the essence of feedback, giving and receiving input from a learner partner (leader, teacher, peer) to gain insight into their perspective about how things are going and how you might consider a different approach to get a better result. You may have heard someone say, “I thrive on feedback.” With the right mindset, we can all thrive on feedback! This growth mindset includes being open to hearing others’ points-of-view, valuing differing perspectives, and realizing feedback always provides you with an opportunity to learn and grow; you just need to be willing to recognize it!

Feedback is best when timely, face-to-face, and offered as suggestions for moving forward and not as an absolute next step. As the learning partner, remember to always start with the positive. Starting with the positive alters our brain chemistry and activates the learning center of the brain. To ensure the learner is ready to hear what you have to share, ignite his curiosity by pointing out things that are going well first. 

Feedback may reinforce appropriate behavior and can be intended to raise awareness of strengths. At the same time, feedback can help the learner understand what prevents him from reaching his goals. Feedback also highlights opportunities for growth and motivates change. If you live into Joellen Killion’s definition of feedback, you intentionally provide feedback through dialogue where it becomes easy to engage the learner’s own thoughts and ideas. When you ask someone what he thinks about how things went, you immediately signal to him that his opinion is valued and important to you. This helps you build stronger relationships. 

Another aspect to consider is that feedback needs to move from what happened in the past, what you observed or heard, to where the learner has identified an opportunity for growth. This transitions the feedback from dialogue to action. Dialogue opens up the possible next moves the learner might take to help him reach his goal as a leader, teacher, or student. Deciding the next best step is always more impactful when the learner is involved in the decision.   

As you give and receive feedback over the next few days, pay attention to how you start off your conversations. Are you starting with the positive? Are you asking the person what they think? Are you engaging in dialogue? Are you helping the learner explore possible best next steps? Starting with the positive, asking for other’s thinking and looking at what comes next are all powerful parts of the feedback process. 

Blueprint Connections

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

~Bill Gates

Feedback is important within any system and, within people-centered systems, it is critical.   Where do you believe feedback lives within the Blueprint?  You may feel that feedback is embedded in each district system, driver system, and building routine. Sounds logical, right? You create systems and routines within the Blueprint that need feedback to inform how they are working and what might need to be adjusted to improve the system or routine. Systems feedback is necessary; let’s also not forget about the need for personal feedback.

Within the Blueprint, personal feedback is provided to improve leader, teacher, and student performance. The Blueprint emphasizes growing leaders through Learning-Focused Partnerships. Learning-focused partnerships create the relationship and the opportunity for central office leaders to provide ongoing feedback and support to building leaders.  Another focus of the Blueprint is on growing teachers through instructional leadership routines. Feedback and coaching are essential components of cultivating strong leaders and teachers. Enhancing the skills of leaders and teachers is a key to improved student performance. 

Another area where feedback is emphasized within the Blueprint is within Teacher Collaborative Routines. Teachers collectively reflect and provide feedback on their own and their colleagues’ instructional practices. These reflective practices provide a rich environment for teachers to grow their individual classroom practices as well as their collective practices across grade levels or subject areas. Reflective practice also grows teachers’ collective efficacy – their belief that together they can positively impact the learning of each student. 

Take a moment to reflect . . . in your role, where do you find yourself providing the most feedback? How does your feedback support others around you to learn and grow?

Leader’s Corner

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

~Harvey S. Firestone

During the most recent Leadership Network Series with principals, central office, and superintendents, the learning centered around feedback.  One of the feedback models shared was Praise, Probe, and Action adapted from Leverage Leadership 2.0. You can use this model to provide feedback to leaders, teachers, or students. If you attended the Leadership Network Series, don’t worry, we have added a new twist to encourage you to use this strategy in a different way! 

The Praise, Probe, and Action model starts with praise. You provide one or two pieces of precise praise from what you observed. Focusing on the positive first will activate the leader or teacher’s brain and promotes openness and receptiveness. The second step is to probe by asking a targeted, open-ended question about the “core issue,” which is the main point of your feedback. Asking an open-ended question triggers the leader or teacher’s brain to think critically about the question and steers him away from taking a defensive stance. The last step, action, is to identify the problem and state a clear, measurable, observable action step that will address the issue. Providing specific feedback that clearly lays out identifiable next steps supports the leader or teacher to know what to adjust in his leadership or instruction.  

Another way to think about using Praise, Probe, and Action is to center the whole sequence in the positive. According to the article The Feedback Fallacy, learning happens when the learner sees how he might do something better by adding some new nuance or expanding his own understanding. If you frame your probing question around a strength the leader or teacher is already exhibiting, you shine a spotlight so he “can recognize it, anchor it, re-create it, and refine it.”  As a probing question you might ask, “Did you notice what happened when you . . . ?” Within a positive frame, the action becomes something you encourage the leader or teacher to replicate and refine instead of something he needs to change or modify. This action leads to building on positive practices and extending the impact of those practices. It also serves to build on your relationships with leaders and teachers. By focusing on the positive first before you delve into areas you have identified for growth will help you build relational trust.  

Of course, there will be times where feedback is truly around addressing practices that are not getting the results you need. The key is to balance the feedback around practices that need to be replicated and practices that provide opportunities for growth. Opportunities for growth challenge the learner to not only think about doing something to his fullest extent that he can, it also provides him with opportunities to build on his strengths or try something new. Engaging the learning center of the brain more often by providing positive feedback will allow leaders or teachers to hear the feedback addressing areas where they need to grow. Challenge yourself to balance your feedback to build upon what’s working and modify what is not working

Adapted From: Leverage Leadership (2012) & Leverage Leadership 2.0 (2018). Paul Bambrick-Santoyo
Buckingham, Markus, and Ashley Goodall. “The Feedback Fallacy.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review Press, Mar. 2019,

Teacher’s Corner

“The key to learning is feedback. It is impossible to learn anything without it.”

~Steven Levitt

Quality feedback is essential for student growth. Grant Wiggins states that “learners need constant feedback more than they need endless teaching.” Students need feedback that focuses not only on specific areas for growth, it should also focus on what they are already doing well. To create a nurturing environment for students to learn, you need to be skilled at balancing feedback that opens the student to new learning opportunities without triggering the “fight or flight” response.  Providing feedback that stimulates creative thinking, encourages new ways of approaching problems, and opens students to listen to others’ points-of-view helps to build a positive learning environment. 

As you provide feedback to students who are struggling or frustrated, remember the power of the positive. The researchers from The Feedback Fallacy suggest you might consider the Present, the Past, and the Future feedback strategy.  By following these three frames of thinking, you guide students to work through learning obstacles, which in the end, will provide them an opportunity to learn and grow.

Begin with the present When a student seems stuck or frustrated, instead of tackling the problem head-on, ask the student to tell you three things that are working well for her right now. Getting her to think about specific things that are going well will alter her brain chemistry so that she can be open to new solutions and new ways of thinking or acting. She will gain a spark of creativity. Be prepared to offer insight into what you see is working well for her. 

Next, go to the past.  Ask her, “When you had a problem like this in the past, what did you do that worked?”  Get her to envision her past success to leverage and build what she knows has already been successful once.   

The final step is to think about the future.  Ask her, “What do you think you need to do?  What do believe might work in this situation?”  “What do you actually want to have happen? What are a couple of actions you might take right now?”  Focusing on the actions that the student needs to take empowers her to push through the frustration and increases the belief in herself that she can make the right next move.

With the Present, Past, and Future strategy, one of the most important pieces of feedback that your student receives is that you care about her and her ability to problem-solve and be an independent thinker.  Take some time this week and try the present, past, and future strategy for guiding students through their own challenges. Help your students focus on the positive to actively engage in their own learning. 

Buckingham, Markus, and Ashley Goodall. “The Feedback Fallacy.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review Press, Mar. 2019,

Timely Topics

The Leadership Networks are fast approaching.

  • Central Office – February 4
  • Building Leaders – February 25

Network Objectives:

~Deepen understanding of the role of feedback in developing others within the Learning-Focused Partnership by practicing with tools for providing feedback.

~Examine how to use data to narrow your focus and provide feedback related to goals.

~Gain an understanding of small system cycles and how it relates to system installation.

Register Here!

Feedback is the key to all learning for leaders, teachers, and students. Starting with the positive, engaging in dialogue that values the learner, and supporting the learner to examine paths forward is an impactful practice. The next time you are providing feedback, think of the outcome you wish to achieve. If you want to encourage growth and a self-motivating drive for improvement, start with the positive and build on the strengths that you see. Think of your next steps and how you might use feedback to cultivate the right environment for students, teachers, and leaders to grow and thrive.

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