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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Creating a culture of teacher feedback to encourage shared learning in schools

Numerous studies show the most important factor in the performance of students is the quality of their teachers. Unfortunately, many teachers lack access to performance evaluations or feedback mechanisms designed to help them improve in their work. In collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gravitytank provided a practical vision for increasing the frequency and quality of teacher feedback and defined a roadmap for implementation in support of the Foundation's long-term education strategies.

INVESTING IN TEACHERS

In his 2012 Annual Letter, Bill Gates exposed a hard truth about the U.S. Education system: “I still find it hard to believe that 95 percent of teachers are not given specific feedback about how to improve.” While teachers spend most of their time focused on teaching their students, they also seek to learn themselves. With this as our call to action, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation asked gravitytank to visit schools across the country to better understand when and how teachers receive meaningful feedback.

Client

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Industry

Education

Featured Outcomes

Illustrative experiential concepts
Workshop facilitation with teachers from around the country
Project deliverable microsite
Teacher narrative video

TEACHERS HELPING TEACHERS

Our research took us across the country and into K-12 schools ranging from charter to public to special needs. We quickly learned that lack of teacher feedback was not the problem. Teachers receive feedback from multiple inputs throughout the day, including school administrators, students and even software. The real issue was the quality and source of the feedback. Spending time with teachers, we learned that the most valuable, meaningful feedback came when they could exchange actionable insights with their peers. Identifying new techniques and hearing honest feedback from other teachers who share a deep understanding of the day-to-day challenges and priorities of the profession was paramount. Successful teacher-to-teacher feedback generates an attitude of positive reinforcement and camaraderie. A healthy dialogue among teachers helps to motivate and empower them to apply best practices directly in their classrooms.

Unfortunately, the structure of the school day and lack of infrastructure for teachers to provide each other feedback hinders important professional development. For most of the school day, teachers are isolated from each other in different classrooms and work around tight schedules, leaving little room for peer interaction between classes. Furthermore, due to the lack of existing systems around peer feedback, teachers don't feel prepared to give each other meaningful developmental feedback.

FOSTERING A CULTURE OF FEEDBACK

During our research, gravitytank uncovered nearly one hundred innovative approaches to teacher feedback. Illustrating these findings, we translated them into an Apples to Apples-style card game for teachers to use during a series of workshops as well as the Teaching is Learning Summit in Florida and Chicago Academy High School. Exploring real-world scenarios and practical techniques, the game sparked important conversations between the Foundation and teacher participants about ways to foster a "culture of feedback" and support greater exchange between teachers. Our card game prototype was recently produced and released as a professional development tool.

Educators played through a card game of existing and proposed feedback scenarios and were asked to imagine how they might apply the approaches to their own work.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TEACHER FEEDBACK

gravitytank delivered a dynamic internal website examining the current state of teacher feedback, with embedded videos of teachers and administrators speaking about their classroom experiences and the challenges of providing feedback to each other. These research findings were used by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to make more effective grant making decisions.

Our project concluded with a series of recommendations addressing effective opportunities for teacher feedback, with a particular focus on teacher-to-teacher feedback. Our recommendations encompassed investments into school infrastructure, information technology and professional development opportunities.

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