Stevenson Coaching Letter #30

Hi, I hope you’re doing well.

There is a great article in a recent New Yorker about instant feedback <> .  A Finnish company, HappyOrNot, makes and sells these gadgets-about the size of a lunch box on a post waist high, with buttons indicating level of happiness that customers can punch as they walk by-that tell you how your clients are feeling about your service in close to real time.  I frequently change planes in Dublin, and I walk by two or three of these boxes between arrival and departure.  I had never really given them any thought-well, that’s not quite true, I thought of them as some kind of gimmick.

Turns out that airports, football stadiums, and convenience stores are using them to track customer satisfaction to great effect.

I know that we think of feedback in a very limited way.  Supervisors give feedback to teachers, for example, but rarely think about getting feedback on how useful their feedback is.  (This is a mistake.)  Teachers give feedback to students (most of it, according to the research, not very effective), but very rarely ask students for feedback about the efficacy of their teaching, and fail to see information that is easily available to them, such as student performance on assessments of all sorts, as feedback about their teaching. (This is also a mistake.)

I was in an algebra classroom the other day, and the students could not have been clearer that they had no idea how to work the problem.  They were not disruptive, they were just not doing anything.  The teacher walked around the room, encouraging them to get on task.  It didn’t seem to occur to her that they didn’t know how to do the task.  She never asked, and I am completely confident that she never thought of their off-task behavior as feedback to her.  It was mind-boggling.

I have often thought about the fact that within a few hours of shopping at Apple, I get an email survey about how well Jemima or Kendrick served me, and how great it would be if we could do that in education.  But this article made me realize that my thinking has been much too cautious and limited.  What if there was a HappyOrNot terminal outside every school office that would tell the principal how people felt as they left?  What if the superintendent could see how kids felt as they left every cafeteria in the district at the end of lunch?  What if one of these things was outside every classroom in a high school? 75 teachers with 140 kids each, that’s over 10,000 data points per day.  There’s even an app that shows you where the problem spots are-as I said earlier, in real time.  Makes those annual climate surveys seem really lame, doesn’t it?

I know, I know.  Trust me, I can imagine all the objections.  But please tell me that this has made you think just a little bit differently about feedback?

Let me know if there is anything I can do for you, or if you have any other feedback…

Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Program Coordinator
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106
Office: 860.586.2340

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