26th September 2017

Taking feedback: making the most of professional development

By Laura Wilkes

Some of the most beneficial feedback I’ve received in my career has been the most challenging to listen to. This is because they all share the common denominator in revealing a blind spot in my development that was known to others but not to me. Although constructive feedback of this type can be challenging to hear, it is essential in helping us identify new areas for our development. In addition to its usefulness, feedback is a common practice across professions that can range from structured meetings with your manager to informal chats with your colleagues. Whether it is a formal or informal meeting, the following steps will help you get the most out of feedback you receive.

1) Plan what you want to focus your feedback discussion on

Before you meet with your mentor, identify several points that you would like to discuss – these may be set by your mentor, yourself or decided on collaboratively. These can be areas in your development that you have been working on recently that you would like another person’s perspective on. If it is a formal meeting, then there may be a development framework that you can refer to and use to prioritize points you would like feedback on. Communicate with your mentor before you meet to agree on the feedback focus so that you have sufficient time to reflect and prepare.

2) Give yourself pre-feedback thinking time

Whether it is for an annual appraisal or an informal post-lesson chat, take time before the feedback session to reflect on your strengths and areas to improve. Take notes on the strong habits you have established - these are strengths that you have demonstrated more than once in different scenarios - and areas that you would like to develop. Support your reflective notes with objective observations by identifying the situation, your action and the outcome.

3) Try to think of some alternative points of view

Although it is easier said than done, managing expectations is an important part of making the most of the feedback we receive. Before you meet, remind yourself that the meeting is for your own benefit and that there may be points that come up in the discussion that you had not anticipated. Approach the meeting with the mindset that it is an opportunity for you to gain a fresh perspective on your development that can help you to identify your blind spots (both positive and negative).

4) Listen first, speak second

During the meeting concentrate on what the speaker is saying and let them finish speaking before clarifying their main points. When listening, remain objective by monitoring your emotional state.  Exercising this level of mindfulness is particularly important when receiving criticism as it can be easy to become distracted in mentally preparing a rebuttal to the speaker’s point. In this situation, it is a good idea to take a moment to process what your mentor has said before paraphrasing. Using phrases such as ‘So what you’re saying is…’ and ‘Sounds like you’re saying…’ are useful expressions in checking that you have understood the key concept.

5) Plan a few questions, and ask them with an open mind

Questions are useful in clarifying ideas and in facilitating further discussion. After the speaker has finished you may want to ask for further examples or explanations on points by simply asking ‘Could you tell me more about…’ or ‘What do you mean by…?’ Questions also present an opportunity to discuss points in greater detail and gather recommendations through asking ‘What do you think about…?’ or ‘What do you suggest for…?

6) Give yourself post-feedback thinking time

Following the meeting, take time to reflect and take note of the key points that were discussed. Not all the feedback we receive in our careers will be well-organized, effectively communicated or constructive. Consider whether the feedback you receive is relevant to your overall development or is something that you need to work on between you and your mentor. Bear in mind that the perspective of the person providing the feedback is valid for them, so even if you deem the feedback to be impractical then consider what strategies you can adopt to build stronger relations between both parties.

7) Be a pro-active feedback recipient

Thank your mentor for their time; after all they have given feedback to support your growth. Check in with them a few weeks after the meeting to briefly update them on how you have progressed. This latter practice is especially important if the person is someone you want to continue to receive feedback from in the future.

If you'd like more about professional development opportunities, check out our training calendar for upcoming English language teacher training workshops in Hong Kong.

Laura Wilkes, teacher trainer, has worked in a range of TESOL settings over the last 8 years, from teaching students of all ages in China, training teachers in Russia, to developing and facilitating online courses for TESOL staff across the world. In addition to her teaching and training experiences, Laura trains teachers enrolled on Trinity CertTESOL courses, as well as observes and provides feedback as part of the Trinity DipTESOL teaching practical block.  Laura holds a CELTA and a Diploma in TESOL, achieving distinctions in both the Phonology and Teaching components. Recently, Laura graduated from her hometown University of Leicester with a distinction for her PGCE in Learning Technologies and continues to research ways in which teaching and training can be enhanced through technology.