Strengths-Based Feedback

For many, the New Year is a time to focus forward on growth — the learning and habits that will make our lives better both personally and professionally.  Nicole Vagle’s post on strengths-based feedback caught my attention, and I thought it had great advice for building our students’ strengths.  Reflecting on her advice, however, took me back to a teaching failure that I will never forget.  This year’s writing will begin with transparency and a story about the important things we can learn from our students.

Her comment stopped me in my tracks.  I had just passed essays back, and one of my honors student moaned, “Ms. Thompson, don’t you ever put anything good on our papers?”  In my mind, helping them to become better writers meant drawing their attention to the areas that could be improved, and even though I thought I had also put positive comments, it obviously was not true for this student.  My improvement started that day, and from that major failure (and that student’s honest feedback), I became a better educator as I got better at acknowledging students’ strengths in their writing.

Here’s why this is so important.  According to research by Susan Brookhart, when students are more confident, they will achieve at higher levels, they will be more open to feedback that helps them improve, and it fosters a sense of possibility (2013).  Isn’t that what all of us want?

From failure comes growth.  Building on students’ strengths is a core belief, and it took a student’s feedback to make me aware of how I could improve.  Thank you, Starsha.  You helped to make me a better teacher.

For more on strengths-based assessment, go to Strength-based Practices Increase Achievement and Confidence.