Would you ask your students to write a report card for you?

It’s report card time again.

And not just for the students.

This is my first year in a new school in my 29th year of teaching. I’m teaching multimedia courses where the students are learning to make short films, take photographs, create web pages and other digital media. A dynamic classroom environment to say the least.

I created a Google form with two questions for my students to answer for their report card on me:

  1. What am I doing “right” as a teacher and fellow human?
  2. Where can I improve as a teacher and fellow human?

I assured them that the form made it impossible for me to know who was making the comment.

“Please provide me with feedback that will make me a better teacher and human,” I told them.

I added the “human” part in because I don’t want them to only think about “school” things. I want them to learn new things, and I also want them to understand that life involves learning to know ourselves and our place in the world.

Brené Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

That’s three checkmarks for me on this “report card” assignment.

So how did I do?

Let’s take a look at some responses for the lower risk, question one:

“You understand things from the student’s point of view and help in every aspect of school as much as you can. You are friends with everyone one in the school and have touched at least one kid in every classroom in some way.”

“You are really good at allowing us to work on our own pace and you are pretty flexible with our projects, so far you have really let us be responsible for what we learn and I think that’s one of the reasons this class has been so interesting.”

Many kind comments. So far so good.

Now for question number two, which is the really vulnerable one:

“I just think that sometimes we are let to be responsible for our own time which some people might have trouble with and therefore they end up having nothing done because some of us are bad at time management.”

“Give more instructions before letting us do it or instead of just putting the instructions on the weebly, in person when you teach i can understand you better than by writing.”

“Sometimes there are too many inspirational speeches and less saying “go do work” instead of talking for the class.”

“I think that you actually need to teach something rather than just tell us look on my weebly or watch a video. I think if you actually taught something for once we could have more success in your class and get stuff done more efficiently. All in all your job as a teacher is to teach not to tell us what to do and watch and expect everything to be perfect. Thanks.”

“I know I dont pay attention a lot but you can some what help with that. Maybe you can come check on us more to keep us on task.”

My gut reaction is to be defensive: “That isn’t what I was intending or trying to do. Cut me some slack. What’s your responsibility for the learning?”

I remind myself this isn’t about trying to be “right” or “wrong.” Each student’s perspective and remembered experience is correct and I need to listen carefully to each perception.

I did a similar feedback exercise earlier in the year and also received a range of “explain more” and “don’t talk so much,” “teach me” and “let me learn.” I can’t be all things to all people. My challenge is find out who needs which approach.

There’s a challenge in providing flexibility and letting students manage their own pace towards a set end project date. The course outcomes specifically identify time management as a learning goal. Students struggled with setting SMART goals and even more so with following them. I have to figure out how to improve the shifting of responsibility for the managing of learning tasks to the students. A creative film project is a complex endeavour and problem solving is a key skill they must develop.

Despite these learners growing up in the digital age, I’m surprised how many will sit in a computer lab with 28 other students, with a cell phone in their hand, and wait for me to get to them to answer a question that, yes, they could have quickly searched online or read in the instructions on the course web page.

This feedback is a reminder that students have diverse needs and expectations and that I can continue to get better at addressing their needs.

Asking for student feedback is scary, yet necessary to have a sense of how the learning environment I’m creating is effective or not.

It’s also creates greater empathy to experience what students may feel when they receive feedback.

With renewed empathy, off I go to write student report cards.

professional learner, university instructor

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