As an educator, and student, there are many times when I offer or receive feedback. Over the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on how I receive feedback in the hope that I can offer feedback in a way that is constructive and kind, and useful to the recipient.
I am looking for feedback constantly. Not to flatter my ego but so that I can improve and develop. In my work as an Antenatal Teacher with NCT, reflective practice and evaluation play an important role, they stimulate and support each other (Neil, 2015). I need informal and formal feedback from the parents I teach so I know if I am meeting my Aims and Learning Outcomes. So I know if I am meeting their learning needs.
With my university students it’s a two way street. I offer them feedback informally on facilitation practice throughout the year and formally when I grade their assignments. They offer me feedback on whether I am meeting their learning needs so they can do their best work. If not, I adjust what I am doing and we reevaluate how we are doing.
It is easy to take feedback personally, as an attack on our selves rather than on a behaviour or a task, especially when we are not expecting it. Even the kindest given feedback can hurt. That’s where S.A.R.A. comes in. Being aware of our reactions to constructive feedback can help us deal with them. I offer an example of my reaction to some feedback I received a couple of years ago and how I worked through the S.A.R.A. curve. It doesn’t matter what the feedback was, my reaction was the interesting thing.
Shock: My initial reaction was disbelief. I couldn’t believe that they meant me. I didn’t understand how they could feel this way about me. I cried.
Anger: The shock quickly moved to anger. How dare they? I didn’t say that, or if I did I didn’t mean it like that, they’ve just misunderstood me! It was easy to move the focus of the feedback to the person who had fed back rather than me. After all, if they were ‘wrong’ I must be right.
It could have been very easy to get stuck in this part of the curve. Anger can last for days or even weeks in some cases. I stomped around and slammed some doors. I may have yelled at the cat. Luckily, according to Rogel (2010), the more extreme our shock and anger response to feedback, the more committed we are likely to be to change.
Resistance: Also known as denial or rejection. In my case I decided that I knew what I was doing so I could keep on doing it the same way. Personally this stage doesn’t usually last long, once i get over the anger and start to think logically, I move on to the acceptance stage.
Acceptance: This is the point where I began to ask what I needed to change. How could I adapt my behaviour to improve? How could I be and work better? I spoke to colleagues and mentors. I did my research and hopefully became a better educator. I used the gift of that feedback in a positive way.
Some feedback models also include an H for Honest Effort to accept the fact that even with a genuine willingness to change lapses might occur. It takes time to change habits and behaviours. We are, after all only human.
In my MA module, H818 – The Networked Practitioner, we are constantly offering and receiving feedback by working in the open. It feels very exposed, especially if you are struggling to catch up on work (everyone knows how behind you are) or need clarity on a concept. It’s also liberating in that everyone is in the same boat, as exposed as each other. It provides an honesty and clarity to feedback offered and received, and is always kindly given and genuinely welcomed.
So the next time you receive feedback, or offer it to another, be mindful of SARA(H).
Neil, H. (2015) The evaluation cycle: how students, practitioners and tutors can develop their understanding, preparation and practice, to enhance and enrich their work. Available from: https://babble.nct.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/The%20Evaluation%20Cycle_0.pdf
Rogel, C. (2010) Using the SARA Model to Learn from 360-Degree Feedback. Available from: https://www.decision-wise.com/using-the-sara-model-to-learn-from-360-degree-feedback