Feedback: An Essential Tool for Professional Development

Feedback is necessary for professional development; Image credit: odesk blog
Feedback is necessary for professional development; Image credit: odesk blog
Masum Billah
Written by Masum Billah

As the yahoo source defines, “feedback” is responses to an action or statement, which are collected and used to determine if any changes need to be made.

Why feedback? Receiving feedback from others is the fastest way to improve. It’s how we learn and excel. Feedback motivates us and helps us to make course corrections. It may happen sometimes that feedback is not exactly what we expect and can sting, but ultimately it’s what helps us grow and improve. But giving and receiving feedback is not a regular practice in our culture. With the passage of time and with the advancement of professionalism globally, giving and receiving feedback is gaining grounds. Human beings naturally want others to like and appreciate them. But feedback holds the philosophy of not appreciating a professional for the sake of appreciation only. It talks about the areas of performance and work which are very good and excellent to give encouragement as well as mention those areas which can be done better. This tool directly and indirectly helps occur professional development which ultimately contributes to organizational progress.

An evaluation of Tennessee’s teacher evaluation system found a number of positive outcomes from the provisions of feedback by evaluators. Regular and specific feedback leads to increased self-reflection and focus on instructional improvement among teachers (State Collaborative on Reforming Education, 2012). Relevant feedback has an impact on teaching performance. In a literature review, researchers found that content is the essential element of good professional development, stating that “it is important to focus on the daily teaching practice, more specifically, the subject content, the subject pedagogical content knowledge and the students’ learning processes of a specific subject” (Veen, Zwart, & Meirink, 2011, p. 17). They also noted that “when teachers develop with respect to these aspects of content, an increase in teacher quality and student learning results” (p. 12). The findings about the quality of professional development can provide guidance for those giving feedback. Positive feedback focuses the recipient on success. To be effective in increasing performance, the feedback must be specific, timely and accurate. Positive feedback builds confidence and it is motivating. Specific positive feedback engages the employee in their performance.

In our country practicing teachers receive feedback only from the annual assessments   each year. This is also not regular   in many institutions. But the institutional heads (Head teachers and principals) should think of teacher evaluation as a process, not an event. Institutional heads collect evidence formally and informally over the course of the year. Providing feedback as soon as possible ensures that the teacher and the heads will recall specific actions and details, making the information more relevant for the teacher. Teachers are continuously improving their craft and looking for information to help guide that process, so timely feedback is generally welcomed. Younger teachers in particular value frequent feedback (Coggshall, Behrstock-Sherratt, & Drill, 2011).

It’s critically important to understand that the principal idea behind feedback is to motivate behavior.  Positive feedback should encourage someone to keep doing certain behaviors, while corrective feedback should motivate him or her to change behaviors. Providing feedback to enable workers to improve and succeed is called redirection feedback. The reality is that the initial emotional reaction to that feedback will almost certainly be disappointment, discouragement, frustration, even anger. The reality also is that redirection feedback is necessary for employee success. This certainly appears to be a difficult dilemma. Redirection feedback is needed, but there is likely to be a negative emotional response. It is a dilemma, but it is not as bad as it sounds because the initial negative response does not always last or does not last for longer period.

It is important for students to know how well they are doing as they learn. This is because the knowledge that they are doing well gives students a sense of achievement which motivates them to learn more. Similarly, it is also important to let students know when they have made a mistake so that they will learn from it and take corrective measures. Hence, it is absolutely essential for teachers to monitor students’ learning and give them suggestion. It can be given to individual students, to a group of them, or to the whole class.

Tools to give feedback

Classroom observation data can provide a range of evidence, including teacher-student interactions, teachers’ content knowledge, the classroom environment, and student engagement. Student surveys can provide important information about students’ perceptions of their learning environments and their teachers. In the large-scale Measures of Effective Teaching study, survey results (using the Tripod Student Perception Survey, which is administered by Cambridge Education) were found to correlate with other measures of teaching quality, such as observations and student learning growth (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2010.) Data about student learning, particularly learning that can be attributed to individual teachers in a specific time period, have become a key component of most teacher evaluation systems, but researchers are only beginning to investigate how such data can be used by teachers and principals to improve teaching practices and student outcomes.

We are continually receiving and giving suggestions in our everyday work whether it is personal or official.  We receive feedback from our family members, from friends, from the neigbours and from the people around. But we hardly think of it in our professional life. Sometimes we take it just as a point of criticism. Feedback can reinforce existing strengths, keep goal-directed behaviour on course, clarify the effects of behaviour, and increase recipients’ abilities to detect and remedy errors on their own.

How to give effective feedback

Ideas should be prioritized and feedback should be limited giving emphasis on important issues. We must remember that the purpose of the feedback is employee success, not blaming or reprimanding.

While giving feedback we must concentrate on the behaviour, not the person. This model enables us to avoid sounding accusatory by using “I” and focusing on behaviours, instead of assumed interpretations. Example: “I see you’re not at all attentive in the class.” It is better to say, “I’m worried that you are missing important information in the class. Can we meet soon to discuss it?” We must be calm and positive, not angry or excited, when providing the redirection feedback.

While giving feedback “sandwich approach might be more effective. This provides reinforcement and identifies the things the recipient should keep doing. In this approach we need to mention the strong sides and aspects and then to identify specific areas of improvement and ways to make changes and concluding should be with a positive comment such as “Your presentation was great. Your monitoring was good enough. You were a little hard to hear at the back of the room, but with some practice you can overcome this.”

General comments should be avoided and it should focus on what can be changed. It is useless and frustrating for recipients to get comments on something over which they have no control. When offering evaluative comments, we should use the pronoun “I” rather than “they” or “one,” which would imply that our opinion is universally agreed on. Feedback is merely individual opinion.

Providing suggestion should be prompt as delayed feedback can cause feelings of guilt and resentment in the recipient if the opportunity for improvement has passed. When feedback is primarily negative we should take time to prepare what to say or write. We should minimize the discussion of what happened by moving as quickly as possible to future behavior. We must consider that receiver/teacher/employee cannot change what happened in the past, what he/she did. But obviously he\she has control over his or her future behavior or performance.

If we really want our professional as well as individual development must receive feedback. How effectively we can receive it. We must listen to the person who is giving you suggestion. We can absorb more information if you are concentrating on listening and understanding rather than being defensive and focusing on our response.

Our body language and tone of voice often speak louder than words.  If we look distracted and bored while receiving feedback it sends a negative message to the person who is giving us feedback. Attentiveness, on the other hand, indicates that we value what someone says and it creates and easy atmosphere for both. We should be receptive to new ideas and different opinions. Often, there is more than one way of doing something and others may have a completely different viewpoint on a given topic. We may learn something worthwhile. We may ask questions for clarification if necessary.  And we must listen actively by repeating key points so that we know we have interpreted the feedback correctly.

It is an essential part of effective learning. It helps students understand the subject being studied and gives them clear guidance on how to improve their learning. Academic feedback is more strongly and consistently related to achievement than any other teaching behaviour. And it can improve a student’s confidence, self-awareness and enthusiasm for learning. The difficulty stems from the emotional reactions we have as human beings. Even though each of us recognizes that we make mistakes, we still experience negative emotions when these mistakes come to light. So, in our working place we should build a culture gradually that values feedback and reinforce that everyone deserves feedback and that providing feedback is a primary function of a supervisor. 


• Bellon, J.J., Bellon, E.C. & Blank, M.A. (1991) Teaching from a Research Knowledge Base: a Development and Renewal Process. Facsimile edition. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.

• Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2010). Learning about teaching: Initial findings from the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project. Seattle, WA: Author.

• Coggshall, J. G., Behrstock-Sherratt, E., & Drill, K. (2011). Workplaces that support high-performing teaching and learning: Insights from Generation Y teachers. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers & American Institutes for Research.

• Little, J. W. (2006). Professional community and professional development in the learning-centered school (NEA Best Practices Working Paper Series). Washington, DC: National Education Association.

• State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE). (2012). Supporting effective teaching in Tennessee: Listening and gathering feedback on Tennessee’s teacher evaluations. Nashville, TN: Author.

• Veen, K. v., Zwart, R., & Meirink, J. (2011). What makes teacher professional development effective? A literature review. In M. Kooy & K. van Veen (Eds.), Teacher learning that matters: International perspectives (pp. 3–21). New York, NY: Routledge.

About the author

Masum Billah

Masum Billah

Masum Billah works as a Program Manager in BRAC Education Program, BRAC, and Vice-President of Bangladesh English Language Teachers’ Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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