Why can’t we be more positive with each other?

In the last few weeks, I have been subjected directly or indirectly to a collection of feedback. I wasn’t really looking for it, but it always comes, smacking you in the face.

One was actually directed at Heather and another to a friend after a piece of writing that each of them put out there on different topics. Another was the ongoing feedback I get from my employers at Discovery Education and the last and most devastating was from my students from my first semester history class – an experience I had thought went pretty well.

What is the value of feedback? We promote assessment for learning as a way to gain useful feedback on what we are teaching. The exit card is a great way to get a sense of what just went well and how we can make slight improvements on what we are doing next. This feedback works best when it is constructive and impersonal.

What really works is positive and just in time feedback. I get this with the people I write and edit with at Discovery Education and consequently, I work harder to deliver a product that is up to their standards. I always like working with them because I know that they appreciate the long hours I put into their work. This is a good, creative partnership.

In the past two weeks I have seen comments directed first at my wife, then at a friend publically correcting them for something they wrote in their blogs. It really doesn’t matter if the suggestions were relevant – correcting someone in public is not an effective form of feedback. It produces nothing but shame, then anger. It does not produce positive change. Feedback like this shows a lack of social grace and really needs to be avoided. Having said that it happens a great deal in education – why is that? How is this possibly a good thing?

Today I read the feedback I received from the history course I taught at the Faculty of Education last semester. While much of it was positive, I was taken aback by some of the comments:

So unfortunate to have an instructor with a traditional lens on history. I
wish we had a more progressive academic for this course, rather than a retired principal who clearly has some catching up to do in this subject.

And other one. Yes, there were lots of presentations, we couched this as a way for us to learn from each other rather than follow along with the sage from the stage approach.

there were too many presentation assignments, with unclear instructions for what was expected for the assignments and how we were being assessed. Feedback on assignments was very unclear and didn’t offer what we did wrong that took off marks and what we could have done to get the next higher grade. When emails were sent for clarification on assignments, email response from the prof was fast, however, responses left us with more questions, rather than answering all of our questions.

I obviously have to find other ways to do feedback, however, we spent three hours together each week and none of these concerns were ever sent to me. We have email, we have a bulletin board, there are all sorts of ways to connect. Generally, however, communication was a one-way street.

Maybe we are a hypercritical society. Maybe my skin still isn’t tough enough. Maybe I should stick to gardening.

I can take some ideas from the criticism, but so much was toned in a negative way that it is hard to discern whether many had any interest in making things better. Some wrote later that comments were just a reflection of the natural negative atmosphere they found around them – what does that even mean? Is there no personal responsibility for making destructive comments?

Uncalled for public criticism and negative unconstructive critiques need to be called out. In all the cases I am writing about here, these comments were made by people who are currently in education or soon hope to be. This is a concern for me.

Why is it in education that we can be so critical of our colleagues? How can we expect our students to receive good constructive comments that they can learn from when we are so quick to judge others without any consideration of the impact on the receiver?

I felt strongly enough to write my class back. I am not including everything here, but I hope some of the more critical students will learn something before they inflict their negative energy on students:

To those who articulated comments designed to be negative and hurtful, I would ask you to consider how you communicate with fellow educators. Negative and hurtful comments are seldom helpful and do no lead to new learning. You may be in similar situations in the near future and I wish for you that you will not have similar experiences.

I wish you all success for next year. Try to be kind and considerate, it will take you a lot farther in your careers.

There are enough people out there who are going to go after public educators. We are seeing lots of this now. Please, if you are reading this and you are someone who thinks there is value in always ‘stating your mind’, maybe you could curb your natural instinct to pass on your valuable knowledge.

In many cases, your silence would be very much appreciated.


7 thoughts on “Why can’t we be more positive with each other?

  1. I’m finding this interesting because I am taking a university course right now and am feeling frustrated by the feedback I am not receiving. Simple marks, points off, no explanation of why, or worse a link to a YouTube video that may or may not be actual feedback on my work. It’s confusing! But I am reluctant to ask for more feedback and can’t exactly say why. Maybe I need to take some advice from you hear and try to open the dialogue now instead of spending the rest of the semester feeling frustrated.
    I agree with your point that we need to be more kind to each other. I don’t like it at all when someone puts their ideas out into the world through a blog only to receive criticism that is mean, rather than trying to continue the conversation. I started my math blog many years ago and one day I received a very mean comment (from an anonymous commenter of course) about one of my activities. I quit writing on that blog because of it, and didn’t go back to it for quite a few years.


    1. Sorry to hear you stopped your math blog, I am glad you went back to it. I would suggest talking to the prof. When I read my comments my first thought was – why didn’t they tell me? What comments were missing? I never found out because they never told me.


  2. Thank you to the two of you for such powerful blog posts. I’m glad that Stephen and I were able to put them together to start our conversation this morning. I’m still pondering the difference between private feedback and public feedback. It seems to me that there are two different intended audiences there.

    In terms of post-secondary situations, I wonder if the concept of “feedback” is desirable but whether or not guidance about how to deliver it in a meaningful manner hasn’t been taught or understood. If you think back to report cards in K12, a lot of time (and comment banks) helped an entire province learn.

    Paul, the comments that you share seem to be intended to be hurtful. I hope that the people who shared them shift their gears before they get a job. They won’t last long if comments like that get read by parents.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nathalie

    Great entry Paul! I had a similar experience when I was seconded for Ottawa U… and as you know, as a principal, rarely do we hear the positive… we always hear about the complaints though… why? I don’t know… but it’s tiresome…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs – doug — off the record

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