One of the problems with using feedback to improve performance is that it can be scary. Most people do care, to a greater or lesser extent, about what others think of them. The potential for loss of face or nasty surprises associated with hearing what others think of our performance can be scary, and people will go to considerable lengths to avoid receiving feedback.
This is true even when the feedback is delivered solely with the intention of helping you improve – still more so if, as so often, there is a hidden agenda or an emotional load attached to the feedback.
So, when we were visiting Harrogate College the other week, we were intrigued to hear about a way of improving performance that is peer-led and involves no feedback whatsoever, but still gets results.
Teaching Squares, developed by Anne Wessely of St Louis Community College, is beginning to spread through the education world. It’s a way that teachers can improve their own performance by learning from observing others.
It works like this: four teachers from different faculties team up and work out a schedule of observing each other taking a class. They are not there to assess or offer feedback, just to learn and to look out for tips and methods they could incorporate into their own teaching. After completing the classroom visits, they reflect individually on what they have learned from others that they could incorporate into their own teaching, what they want to continue doing, and what changes they have made in their own teaching as a result of their observations. Finally they meet for lunch and share the results of their reflections.
Of course, this could work with three teachers or five, but the consensus seems to be that four is a good number which gives a variety of peers to observe without getting logistically overcomplicated.
If you are a teacher, you may want to try this out in your own institution. If you aren’t, you may want to think about how you could adapt the Teaching Squares method to your own profession.
Many colleges that use Teaching Squares have made their ‘how-to’ guides available on the web – all the ones I’ve seen have been clear and easy to understand. This one from Leeward Community College in Hawai’i gives you everything you need to know to be able to start using the method.