Feedback and Criticism

For our middle of the summer professional development (every summer we send the kids home for 24 hours right in the middle of the season so we can clean everything thoroughly and have a little in-service training) one thing we did was hand around a general feedback sheet for each person. As a group, we all passed our sheets around and filled out a few comments for each other person in the list.

There were a few interesting psychological observations I had during the process – first it was interesting that as a few comments accumulated for each person, I found (and others agreed about this pressure when we discussed it later) that I wanted to learn what others had said about that person before formulating my own opinion. Since we were giving only 40-60 seconds to write a few lines of feedback for each person, I found that it was mentally draining to try to formulate a full picture of the person and then write a comment, and instead I would read quickly over the list and add one or two comments to sections that seemed like they were under-filled, or I felt were too one-sided. Interestingly I didn’t feel the need to balance ones that were one-sided if I felt like the person really needed the feedback in that direction, though if I disagreed with most of the comments in a one-sided area, I would definitely comment to try to balance it out. There was also an interesting curiosity and lopsidedness to the information that everyone had. Since you were commenting and passing around all 35 other people’s sheets, you got to see what was accumulating for their comments gradually and feel the tone of the whole group’s comments develop even though you had no idea what people were saying about you. I found that odd assortment of information/blankness to be stressful.

Afterwards, we collected all of the sheets, photocopied them, and then returned the originals to people the next day. For the most part people seemed to take the criticism and praise well, and really only the most emotionally immature people were outwardly upset that they received negative feedback. While there were a few mean-spirited comments, it was overall a very productive and considerate process, and even the people whose reviews were the harshest were filled with positive comments. It seemed like the people who got upset were having trouble more with the fact that they had negative comments at all than with the actual content of the negative reviews. I think this is an interesting potential negative externality of the “participation” awards and removal of grading from many elementary schools / academics. Some of the people who responded poorly seem like people who have likely had a family/educational environment that stressed inclusion and feelings over collectivism and results, so while they are caring individuals, they lack the grit to hear something negative. Also interestingly enough, several of the people who responded the most poorly to negative feedback are people who I would most strongly identify with having a fixed mindset and not a growth mindset.

I will have to check back with my Assistant Director sometime next week to hear how all of the counselors have responded in their check ins with him as he has worked through those lists with people and helped them turn constructive criticism and praise into goals for the final weeks of the summer.

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