Member Event Recap: Constructive Criticism of Teaching: How to give it; How to take it (Dec 10, 2020)

Panelists: Beth Martin, Assistant Dean in the School of Pharmacy, Peter Wardrip, Assistant Professor, Curriculum & Instruction

Moderator: Adrian Treves, Professor, Nelson Institute of Environmental Studies, Teaching Academy co-chair

For many of us, our personal narrative includes the idea that we are good teachers, which can make it hard to seek and then accept honest feedback from peers (or, even more so, from students). How can we cultivate an attitude of constant self-improvement so as to be able to grow as a teacher through feedback? How can individuals giving feedback do so in such a way as to support improved educational outcomes for students without undermining the confidence of instructors? And how can the institution as a whole set up systems for frequent, constructive feedback so as to encourage and reward teaching quality and improvements in teaching quality without feeling punitive?


Beth shared some key features of a feedback experience from the Feedback on Teaching initiatives:

  1. The teacher needs to want/seek it from trusted colleagues and students
  2. Should be reciprocally positive and meaningful – instructor and feedback-giver both get something for it.
  3. Should be aligned with teacher goals.
  4. Should be useful and used by the instructor
  5. When soliciting feedback from a trusted colleague who doesn’t need to be a content expert, they need to know what you want to learn
  6. When you are given feedback, listen, clarify, be grateful. Process it and try and use it. Try not defend.
  7. If you are giving feedback. Be sensitive of the fact that the person you are observing is vulnerable. Start with the positive. Ask how it went for the teacher.
  8. Don’t prescribe solutions just provide the observations. Give descriptions with the positives and focus on what the instructor wanted you to help with. Only give suggestions if the instructor asks – and then couch it in terms of what worked for you.

Peter Wardrip shared that as a teacher-educator, he often has to give feedback to teachers. There are some good processes. Sharing videos and other media, including student work, from the class can be helpful to frame a conversation. For example, looking at what students were asked to do can help establish a concrete dialog on how the teacher can achieve their goals.

How can you put teachers in a place where they can take feedback? It can be threatening to have a visitor in the classroom. But you can establish a culture and norms. He does this with a “protocol” – a structured approach to give and receive feedback. For example, there could be specific time limits for feedback and response. Or the protocol might focus on a particular aspect of teaching practice.  There are lots of protocols available, for example, here  It helps those giving and receiving feedback know what to expect.