No, “No,” and Know
Everyone can use appropriate doses of feedback.No feedback is debilitating. It keeps educators from being able to determine whether or not they are on the right track, whether or not supervisors care, and keeps good communication in the unknown. Everybody is busy. That is an old tiresome excuse. What is most important for learning? Some feedback to tell if people are on the right track, wrong track, or they should find another track.
No feedback is worse than a “no” response from someone. At least at “no” response is active and clear. If an activity or an assessment is not giving data or information needed to be productive, we can take the feedback, stop or change the direction. Receiving direct information helps to eliminate mind reading or making assumptions. Clear feedback, about how the behavior is being viewed or the results, helps to self-correct and get on the a better path.
Know(ing), or more explicitly, when feedback is known, that data can be positive or negative. If it is negative, an option is to adjust or stop. Negative feedback usually gets an emotional response. which is a double-edged sword. Emotional events can enhance or impede learning.
Neurologically positive emotion activates the pleasure center. The brain gets a dopamine hit when an event is perceived as positive. When an event occurs that is perceived as negative, the amygdala activates the “fight or flight” mode. The brain causes chemicals (cortisol and adrenaline) to be released to ready the body to deal with the threat. One of the effects of these chemicals is a diminishing of frontal lobe activity. In other words, when feedback is fearful or threatening, critical, higher level thinking is less likely to occur and learning is impeded
To emphasize this point, it is the perceived sense of threat. The threat does not have to be real. That is why a learning culture and the relationships within classrooms, schools, districts, and communities are a critical element when dealing with data and feedback.
Positive feedback signals to keep doing what is working because of the good results. The brain responds by releasing dopamine into the system, which is the pleasure neurotransmitter. It feels good and the tendency is to keep doing it. On the other hand, dopamine can cause dependency on drugs and alcohol or other addictive events. Dopamine doesn’t distinguish between good or bad. It only signals what feels good. This is why some, mostly kids, will spend hours on video games. They become addictive because the game is built to be progressive, keep engaging the attention. Every time the score is better, it feels good. When a new high is attained, another new high is received.
So, when feedback is known, what to do? A reverend in north Minneapolis, when addressing our African-American male students, said, “when ignorance ends, responsibility begins.” I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. If something is not working and nothing is done, that is not responsibility or accountability it’s abdication. There is a saying in the Bible, “the hottest corners of hell are reserved for those, in the time of crisis, remain silent.” It is time to use data as feedback rather than blaming and shaming.
Let’s look at feedback as information to inform our learning practices, review how the system is designed and not continue doing what is not working. In order to do this means informing our learning strategies rather than conforming to what is having moderate, if not, mediocre, results.
To have these conversations a culture of learning from and with data without fear will help work constructively rather than persecuting people. W. Edwards Deming, years ago, suggested that if you are not getting the results you want, look at the design. Organizations are getting 100% congruence with what we are designed to do. He said basically this is design issue not always problem people.
Maybe it is time to change the “F” word from failure to feedback. Maybe changing the culture will help move ahead without threat and use the data as information in a positive direction.