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  • Writer's pictureBethany Huebner

One Thing I Underestimated As A Professor

clinician educator

Racing heart, sweaty palms, shallow and rapid breathing, dry mouth, and dilated pupils. A recent release of adrenaline is pumping through my body. Can you guess where I am? It was my first practical exam…as an examiner. Although I’m pretty sure I felt the same way for every single one of my practical exams while in PT school…this was supposed to be different. But here I was feeling the exact same way I did when I was a student. Thoughts in my head, “What is going on!?! I’m supposed to be the one in charge and I’m not the one being judged. Why am I feeling so anxious?” I had to be the patient for my first student and as they took my blood pressure, I kept trying to do deep breathing. “130/86,” my student confidently stated. Whoa! My blood pressure hasn’t ever been that high…ever. “Get it together, Bethany,” I kept thinking to myself.

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” -- Bill Gates

My anxiety meter was off the charts prior to my first practical exam (as an examiner) because I had no idea how to give meaningful feedback. I didn’t want to let anyone down…my mentor and lead instructor of the course, the other instructors, and most of all the students. I knew what it was like to be on the other side of that door (I describe it here in a recent post) because I had been there recently. I knew it was now my job to effectively evaluate and provide constructive feedback for the student’s growth in the program, but I also had wanted the students to like me. I was afraid that if I provided a lot of constructive feedback, I would determinately affect the student’s confidence forever and maybe even cause them to want to quit. I was also afraid that if I didn’t provide them with any feedback, they wouldn’t continue to push themselves to improve…they would have a false sense of mastery. There was my anxiety ridden dilemma…just moments away from my first feedback session.

Providing students and/or employees with feedback is a must. Just like Bill Gates describes above, “That is how we improve.” Providing feedback communicates you care about that person; you care enough about the person to encourage their growth and to facilitate their learning. Feedback isn’t about disingenuous fluff or providing false confidence. Good feedback is instructional and facilitates the student or employee to move forward in a positive way. Now as the receiver of the feedback, students and/or employees need to have an open mind and be ready to receive feedback, but I could write a whole separate blog on that…so we will save that soap box for another day. Let’s focus today on the different types of feedback and how we can utilize them to help support, encourage and facilitate learning in the people we care about.

1. Feedback about the task.

This is the most straightforward level of feedback. It is providing information about errors. This level of feedback is more "information" focused which allows the student to build knowledge. Knowing whether something is right or wrong is imperative to the learning process because that information becomes the base of the pyramid for future learning. If the student is building their house upon sand (aka the wrong information) then as the house gets bigger it will fall.

As educators or mentors, we can utilize this level of feedback early on in the discovery and learning process. Providing early and timely feedback on whether something is right or wrong will help in the long run as concepts become more complex.

2. Feedback about the process.

This level of feedback is the most powerful and fruitful type of feedback. It provides information about how the task was completed or the process used to create a product. This feedback creates a connection between how the student or employee approached the task, what went well and what didn’t go well. It can also help them think about other strategies that could be useful in the future to help the process become more efficient or have a more polished end product.

As educators or mentors, we can utilize this level of feedback throughout our teaching to help students or employees continue to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. A lot of times as the student, it seems easier when you get to a roadblock to look towards the teacher to provide the answer, but it is exactly at that moment that the student needs the encouragement and feedback to keep working. I find this to be a really hard area for me to address at times because as a teacher it also seems easier to just give the answer at times too. But, that would be doing them a disservice because the next time they come to a road block they will just expect you to fix it.

3. Self-regulation Feedback.

This level of feedback falls back towards the student’s ability to monitor their own learning. This type of feedback can enhance skills in self-evaluation and produce confidence within the students as they begin to see their errors and correct them.

As educators and mentors, this feedback can be tricky. The teacher or mentor needs to be on the watch for when the student or employee performs self-regulation so the feedback can quickly be provided. This would be encouraging words like, “I am impressed by how you stopped mid setup of your manipulation and began again. Did you feel like the first setup was wrong? What else could you do to aide in setup?”

4. Feedback about the person.

This level of feedback should be avoided at all costs. However, this is probably the form of feedback that comes the most naturally. I have found myself saying many times to my son, “You are so smart,” or “You are a good boy.” This type of feedback can actually be the most detrimental to a student’s progress because it focuses on the person instead of the process the person completed. Why is this a problem? Because the receiver may believe that intelligence or positive outcomes are fixed and have nothing to do with the process or effort exerted. They may think people are just naturally smart or talented, but in reality, people have to work hard and exert high amounts of effort in order to achieve their goals. If you haven’t read Mindset by Carol Dweck, I recommend giving it a read. She covers the ins and outs of the fixed and growth mindset in a very easy and digestible way.

As educators and mentors, we need to avoid this type at all costs. If you find yourself thinking or saying, “You are so smart!”, figure out a way to make it about the process. If a student or employee did something well and you want to praise them….do it! But, just remember to praise their thought process, their effort, and/or the self-regulation and not the person.

Feedback is an important part of the learning process and as an early professor, I truly underestimated its power and importance. I admit even now, I don’t always feel like I do this as well as I would like. I tend to fall back to wanting my mentees or students to like me and I want them to do well, so I try to just be really positive. I know they have worked hard and when they fall short of the intended outcome it is hard to provide the needed feedback in a way that doesn’t break their heart or stifle their confidence. Understanding how feedback of the process has helped me tremendously to give positive constructive feedback that helps students learn and grow.

What have you found to be your go to way to provide feedback? Are you on the tougher end of the scale or softer end?

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