In education, we value communication and feedback. We know that growth occurs when we take action on feedback we get. Even so, no one likes unsolicited advice. When discussing what supporting teachers does not look like during a Twitter chat, the comment “unsolicited advice is about the worst support one can offer” led to a lengthy conversation.
Here are four ways to keep the feedback we give from seeming like unsolicited advice.
1. Build relationships first.
When the relationship or trust is not there, giving feedback is more likely to feel like unsolicited advice. School leaders must continue to build trust and deepen relationships with staff members so that they can share feedback that will help staff members grow.
Sometimes we give our input because we believe that others want our advice or information. One suggestion is to ask the recipient for permission. For example, “Would you mind if I shared an idea with you about your classroom arrangement that I learned from another teacher?” It also prepares the recipient for what is coming and helps to eliminate surprise.
3. Consider how it is said.
Have a method for giving feedback, whether you sandwich it between compliments or use a phrase that makes it nonthreatening. Just blurting out advice without framing it or giving notice of what’s about to come can cause a recipient to be surprised and get defensive.
4. Offer the opportunity to consider and respond.
Let the recipient know you are open to hearing from them if they would like to take time to consider the information and get back to you with a response or question.
Sometimes the baggage people bring to work prevents them from receiving feedback or advice, no matter how well-stated or intended the advice is. It should be noted that ultimately, it is up to the recipient to decide if they will act on the advice or not.
Leaders who create cultures where risk-taking is valued and applauded will find that it opens up the door to looking for and accepting feedback. When one takes a risk, it is with a chance of failure. Being willing to learn from failure is a mindset that understands the process of “experiment-feedback-iterate-repeat.” Even so, sometimes the only way to avoid making feedback seem like unsolicited advice is not to give it at all.
Jennifer Hogan is an assistant principal at Hoover High School in Hoover, AL. She is the 2018 Alabama Assistant Principal of the Year and one of three finalists for the 2018 National Assistant Principal of the Year. Visit her blog, The Compelled Educator, and follow her on Twitter (@Jennifer_Hogan).