Year: 1996-1997
Month: March
Leader: Group I

Situation/Case Study:

As part of a course, a teacher requires students to reflect in journals. In the course of their reflections, kids sometimes write about other teachers in ways that makes it apparent who is being discussed. The teacher who requires the journals is questioning whether or not the information about other teachers, both positive and negative, should be shared with them. Students in this class are promised anonymity and privacy for what they write in their journals. What they are saying may be important for the teachers to hear, but the students appear not to feel comfortable or safe sharing it directly with the teachers. The teacher who requires the journals says that more than just one or two students are writing about teachers in their journals. This teacher feels that it would be possible to act as a conduit to pass the information along rather than act in an evaluative capacity. An example of the kind and level of comment being written is the following paraphrase: Respect. In this class people don't respect the teacher or each other. I don't feel safe or like I can speak because there aren't rules.

A teacher might be concerned that individual student comments out of context could give a false idea of the total group of students’ impressions of that teacher. A teacher might feel that feedback is ultimately good to receive and may actually help people become better teachers. But it may not be well received because it calls for significant change in what they do. A teacher might question the validity of student opinion/judgement because it lacks maturity and insight into why the teacher is doing what he or she is doing. Students might not like something that in the long run is justifiable and reasonable. A teacher might question why he or she would take the risk of sharing information with someone who may not want to hear it. A teacher might question whether they have the right to give other teachers feedback from students-both because of confidentiality of journals and because teachers usually don’t convey criticism to each other. A teacher might feel that other teachers would be threatened by having feedback come to them via a chance journal assignment rather than through a more systematized and legitimized process. They might value the information, but resent the conduit.

Theories behind practice:
Schools have particular channels for evaluation and feedback to teachers. These channels are generally hierarchical and well defined and usually do not include students. Teachers relate as colleagues. That relationship can be upset when a teacher steps out of the non-evaluative mode, even if it is just to pass along information. Evaluation/criticism are seen as an inherent part of that kind of exchange.

Impact on others:

Decide not to share the information on the basis that the message isn't wanted from the messenger and therefore the messenger becomes the loser. Work to build in systemic means for gaining student feedback on a regular basis.

What message gets delivered when someone speaks for someone else - when you don’t keep it direct? Within the system as it stands who can legitimately give teachers feedback and offer criticism? Would this issue be played out the same way in the middle school and/or elementary school setting? How do the dynamics amongst staff differ in different schools within the district? Why? What would have to change systemically and philosophically for students to feel like they can give feedback more directly? More basically even, is student feedback credible? Once received, are teachers allowed to decide that negative student feedback is inaccurate and decide to continue as before because what they are doing makes sense in the long run? Or does all student feedback need to result in teacher change?