I have a tendency to write FAR too much in my responses to messages on social media.

Why write one sentence when a whole essay would do!?

Anyway, I just replied to a teacher friend’s comment on Facebook asking about negative feedback from their students. And I found it useful to write, so I’ll share it here.

Here’s an edited version of my response…

What can you do if your student gives you bad piece of feedback about your teaching/coaching/etc?


Even if I haven’t been taught by you, if you’re asking this question I suspect you are a great teacher. You care about your students and it sounds like you put a lot of effort into them doing well.

It might be helpful to remind yourself that teaching is a two-way relationship between the teacher and the student. And it’s at least a 50/50 relationship.

We have to be good teachers, certainly. But they (and we) also have to be good students.

For example, when I’m a student, I often notice that I seem to get more from courses that some of my fellow classmates. This, I posit, is because I’m a very active learner. I try to work out what each teacher can give me and try to get the most from their style. My weakness is that I don’t tend to use the “resource of the teacher” enough – I tend to go away and do my own research rather than questioning them.

When I’m a teacher, I have to remember that I am working with different types of students. Not everyone is going to approach learning in the same way as me. Personally, I found this quite hard as I just expected people to be like me… but I’ve gotten better at it. I treat it a bit like a problem solving exercise — if someone doesn’t engage with the teaching enough, I try to work with them to find the best way to do it.

This is probably true whether you are dealing with small coaching and workshops, as I do, or with bigger classes.

There are students who will never meet you halfway, no matter what you do.

When I’m coaching, these are the people I’d say “you need another voice coach because we’re not a good match” … but these are very rare.

As a teacher (and in other settings as well), it’s helpful to develop a thick skin or “thick filter” (as I think of it) around feedback. Let in the good feedback and treat negative/less-than-sparkling feedback with the problem solving framing of:

  • “What does this mean about that learner?
  • What might the problem be?
  • And is there any “scaffolding” I could add to my teaching to help solve that next time?”

Usually when a student identifies a problem, they are wrong about what the real problem is. Because they don’t have the knowledge you do, so they are blind to the real problem and solution.

For instance, say that your students complain that they don’t like peer interaction homework, and their implied solution is “get rid of it”… but maybe you dig down and find the real problem is they are shy (I certainly understand that!) and don’t know how to conduct a discussion with peers plus they have too much resistance to making that initial contact with peers.

Scaffolding is anything we add to our teaching that is required for the students to be able to learn what we are going to teach them.

So, for example, I might experiment with adding a practical session where I set the expectations for the course, create a space where they can air their fears about peer work, practice a peer conversation while doing some “ice breaking” in the process, and check-in individually with people who are still not in a group one week later to problem solve… I don’t know. I’m making this up.

Each time you teach something, you’re also learning what’s the best way to teach it.

If you using feedback as a data point to improve your teaching next time, I would say, by definition you are a good teacher. Most teachers (especially in universities, where I spent 8 years of my life) don’t do this. They just tip a bunch of information on students and expect the student to learn magically.

And, even if you set expectations with students well throughout the course…

you do everything you can to make it better

and you add all the scaffolding your teaching needs…

there will still be a few students who won’t come with you.

That’s fine. That’s their problem. Be clear with them, if you can. Tell them what support you can offer them if and when they decide to get on board. And don’t let your fears compromise your teaching.

One of my clown teachers has the philosophy something like “the teacher is there to take the student from where they are now to the next step.”

For each student, this step will be different.

And, in our example, maybe for some of your students, the step they need to take is to be put in a situation where they have to interact with their peers… and just recognize they are afraid of it. As a student yourself, you might hypothesise that it would be helpful to add some more scaffolding the next iteration of the course to help with that fear dynamic… to take those students one step further.

Thus… the interaction becomes a win-win!

Much better than getting no feedback at all (or only positive feedback) as it gives you some data points that you can use to keep iterating.

And that was… Alex writes an entire thesis as a response to a simple question on Facebook 😅 Tune in next week when the topic will be… who knows!

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