Give Me Something I Can Use!

Twelve years of my life were given to teaching English mainly to adult learners. Unexpectedly, loads of other opportunities came with this occupation. One of them was a “Teacher/Trainer/Observer/Feedback-giver”

After observing some amazing teaching going on in the classrooms around me, with one teacher in particular, I found it really challenging to give any feedback on what was missing or needed to change. In a post-observation meeting we went through her lesson plan, steps executed, things I’d witnessed that maybe weren’t so obvious to her – eg. high level of student engagement. Great stuff that she wanted to keep doing [insert your own eye roll here]. At the end of our meeting, this teacher was close to boiling. I saw it [after 30 minutes, I saw it, yep, call me Quick-Nic]. I asked what was up. And this phrase changed my feedback-giving forever:

“Give me something I can use!”

Gulp! I’d given her a big fat nothin’. Zero next-step material. In a feedback session, on the receiving end, we’re waiting for our “next step”. We’re waiting for that thing that we can use to take that next step. That’s your job as a “feedback giver”. What is it that this person in whatever context isn’t doing? What needs to change to take them to their next level? What do they need to add? What do they need to stop doing? 

“Give me something I can use!”

In my own experience, as a music student (voice, piano, songwriting, band), the times I’ve grown the most are when I’m given something really specific. Something I can use! Before I get to that, let’s look at what doesn’t work, and why.

Some statements that you want to avoid (I know, seems silly to even write this) are intangible things like:

“Just let yourself go.”

“Be yourself.”


Oh and the classic:

“Don’t be afraid/nervous.” 

These kinds of statements are vague and lofty. What are the steps to “let yourself go”? Is there a first step? What one thing could my feedback-receiver do to “be themselves”? And “Relax” is a huge word. There are massive industries around it. Do you mean “drop your shoulders” or even “breathe out first?” See my other article about that physiological science flip.

It could be as small as: “When you start singing/speaking, I notice you’re leaning forward on the balls of your feet.” State a fact. Let it land. Explore the effect. If your person is aware of this, they usually agree and add to their “fault” list… hear them briefly, then ask a question like “How would it feel to stand with both feet making contact with the ground, then start singing/speaking?” Maybe even let them try something out with you there. If your observee knows their “fault”, check together what they’ve tried in the past. Together arrive at one idea, one small step, that they implement in their next session/attempt/performance/presentation. The more specific you are with your feedback, the more specific the next steps become.

I will be forever grateful for this specific feedback about feedback:

“Give me something I can use!”

It’s practical, actionable, accountable feedback that helps us all take our next step. One step at a time. One problem/fault correction or missing piece at a time.

What’s your best and worst story of feedback giving and receiving? How has feedback helped you take your next step, not ten steps, just ONE at a time? I really want to learn more about this.

Comment here now. I’d love your feedback.

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