Before I get started here, I just want to point that that pretty much everything about this experience – as well as the podcast/blog post that capture it – made me really uncomfortable. As someone who prides himself on his ability to step outside of his comfort zone, this still felt like a stretch. This is the Internet, I’ve been sharing here for a while, and I’m not unaccustomed to the occasional negative comment/troll (which doesn’t change the fact that they still suck). That said, I hesitated on sharing this with you for a while and only finally decided to do so because I truly believe that this experience will help me become a better teacher for my students and thought that – by sharing all of the details with all of you – it might inspire you to try it out. Ok, here we go:
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On several different occasions over the past few years, I’ve stated that my goal is to be the best physical education teacher I can be for the students I get to serve. I’ve pushed myself to learn and experience as much as possible in order to develop my teaching skills and understanding of what it means to be a great teacher. I’ve actively put out ideas for all to see/criticize, connected with some of the best minds our profession has ever seen, and reflected on my teaching practice to try and identify opportunities for growth as I go about this career of mine.
That said, there was something that I’ve always wanted to do, something that I knew had been missing from my professional development journey, something that scared the bejeebers out of me:
Asking my students what they think of me as a teacher.
Student feedback isn’t anything new: for years I’ve been hearing teachers talk about how they survey their students to find out how to improve their programs. However, I didn’t want feedback on what games the kids like or what sports they would like to learn about. I wanted to know what they thought of me as the person responsible for their physical education. I didn’t want it sugarcoated or censored in any way: I wanted the raw truth.
I wasn’t fully sure how to go about such a task until I was spending some time with my buddy/educator extraordinaire Andy Vasily a few summers back. If you don’t know Andy, he’s the mind behind PYPPEwithAndy.com and is currently a pedagogical coordinator at KAUST school in Saudi Arabia. We were hiking together in Tremblant, Quebec and Andy was telling me about a survey that the students at his school anonymously fill out in order to assess their teacher’s teaching. As he talked about the process, a lightbulb went off in my head: this was exactly what I had been looking for! I asked Andy if we minded sharing the questions with me (he didn’t) and then got to thinking about how I could use this with my students.
What I’m going to share with you here is the “Why?”, “When?”, “Who?”, “How?”, “What?”, and “Which?” of my experience of having my teaching assessed by my students. Let’s do this!
If you talk to any teacher these days about their teaching, they’ll most likely tell you how they take a student-centred approach to education. “Student-centred” seems to be one of those buzzwords that lives on a spectrum and can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To me, it means that the education experience is being tailored to meet the needs of your students. That means that you’re taking everything from your students interests, experiences, learning styles, dreams, and/or backgrounds into account when planning and delivering your lessons.
This is no simple feat to achieve, and it ultimately means that you need to fully understand your students as learners.
Now to do that, you can take a lot of different approaches. You can survey your students at the beginning of the year to find out what they like or don’t like. You can use a physical literacy assessment tool (such as PHE Canada‘s Passport for Life or Sport For Life‘s PLAY Tools) to learn more about the activities they currently engage in (or the one’s they dream of one day engaging in). You could host a multicultural celebration month in which students can share insight into their backgrounds and culture (maybe even play games from around the world with Sarah Gietschier-Hartman‘s and Seth Martin’s massive list of world games).
All of these ideas will help you gather information that can then be used to better tailor your program to meet you students needs. However, none of them allow you to gain insight into how your students perceive their experience in physical education or assess the quality of your teaching.
In regards to assessing the quality of your teaching, there are a few things you can do. Looking through a framework for teacher evaluation (e.g. Danielson or, what I use here at St. George’s School, The Thoughtful Classroom), you can reflect on your teaching, complete a self-assessment, identify an opportunity for growth, and then set a S.M.A.R.T. goal that will guide your professional development efforts. Alternatively, you can partner up with a trusted colleague (a fellow teacher or a helpful, informed administrator) and have them assess your teaching. This peer-assessment can provide you with constructive feedback that may help you better understand the areas in which you should focus in order to grow as a teaching professional.
That being said, the most important feedback you should seek out is that of the people actually experiencing your teaching, the end users of your program, your students. Knowing what your students have to say about your teaching puts you in the best situation possible to make changes to your pedagogy that will have a significant impact on your students learning in class.
For this to work, the process can’t just involve asking “what do you like to do in PE?” The feedback survey has to cover as many facets of your pedagogy as possible in order for you to truly understand your students’ experience in physical education.
So how do you ensure that your feedback survey can accomplish such a task? Well, let me share how I went about it this year.
This past school year (2017-2018 for any of you future readers) was a tough one for me.
First of all, my wife and I welcomed our first baby into the world! Although I wouldn’t trade the way that Ollie fills our days with giggles, smiles, and poop-explosions for anything in the world, the truth is that becoming a parent was (and is) an exhausting process. Everything I’ve ever done to learn how to maintain balance in my life got thrown out the window and I had to start from scratch (which isn’t always a bad thing). This left me feeling exhausted, scatterbrained, and edgy at work… all of which had a negative impact on my teaching. I wasn’t at my best.
To add to this, my teaching partner (who just happens to be my sister-in-law) found out that she was pregnant (Ollie’s getting a cousin!) and had to go out on preventative leave since she is not immune to Fifth’s Disease (which is a law here in Quebec for pregnant women who work with children). That means that I suddenly was without the person I had spent the last three years teaching with, who handles a big portion of our program, and who I was (selfishly) depending on to help me through the early months of teaching as a new dad. Although the teacher who replaced my partner is amazing and I can’t wait to achieve great things with her next year, change is always challenging (especially when you are operating with what feels like a third of your regular mental capacity).
Finally, the 2017-2018 school year would be my fourth at St. George’s School. It marked the longest time I have ever spent in a single school. As passionate and driven as I am about teaching PE, time and routine wears down on everyone. I felt myself becoming *gasp* comfortable in my school. That something I’ve always been afraid of since comfort sometimes leads to stagnation (which is my biggest fear as a teacher).
Because this year was so challenging and because of the hit I felt it took on my teaching, I thought that it was the perfect time to have my students assess my teaching. I wanted to be assessed at my worst, because that’s where weaknesses in my teaching would be most obvious as they wouldn’t be in the shadow of my strengths.
I teach at the elementary campus of St. George’s School of Montreal. It’s a K-6 campus, and I teach grades one, two, three, and six (my teaching partner teaches kindergarten and grades four and five… yes, we’re aware that it’s a weird split). During my first year at the school, I taught K-2 and grade six. That means that the 2017-2018 grade 6 class would be the last cohort of graduating students who I would only ever teach for one year. Every other grade has had me for a few years, so I’ve had an opportunity to build up a culture around learning in PE and the students have had an opportunity to get to know me/get used to my teaching style.
Because this would be my one and only year with this grade, and because the grade six students are the oldest students I teach, I figured that they would be the best grade for me to do this teacher-assessment feedback survey with. I wanted to hear from students who would be able to provide me with the closest thing to a first impression as possible, who would be the best position to assess my teaching in an objective manner (my littles are corrupted by the fact that I sing songs/tell lame jokes and they love me for it), and who would be in the best position possible to reflect deeply on my teaching methods.
Grade six it is!
As I mentioned in the introduction, the questions I used for the feedback form came from my friend Andy Vasily. He got them from the organization that designed them for his school’s teacher assessment: a group called InterLead out of New Zealand.
The questions came in six sections: five multiple choice sections and a sixth section requiring written answers.
Each of the five multiple choice sections included six questions. Here they are as I presented them to my students:
Section One: Environment
The first six questions of the survey all related to the type of environment that I create in my physical education lessons. This area is one that I’m particularly mindful of as I know just how important it is for everyone to feel welcomed, included, and safe in order for everyone to thrive.
Section Two: Professionalism
The second set of six questions related to my professionalism and the image I project/maintain as a teacher in my school. I was worried that this area would have taken the biggest hit this year, seeing that my life seemed to be all over the place and I constantly felt like I was playing catch-up throughout the year.
Section Three: Relationships
The third set of six questions really meant a lot to me as I do my very best to pour my heart into my teaching and support my students as much as I possibly can. We all know just how important a positive relationship is between a student and a teacher, and I feel as though this is an area in which anyone can thrive if they are willing to put the time in. That said, the way we perceive a relationship might be very different than the way a student does, so I was curious to see how the students responded to the questions of this section.
Section Four: Feedback
Section four had a LOT to do with student-centred education. The way that a teacher responds and adapts to a student’s needs is critical in regards to keeping the student at the centre of the learning experience.
Section Five: Teaching
The last set of multiple choice questions related to how I go about my instruction in class and how my students perceive that instruction. I thought this section was really interesting since the answers would probably be the hardest to guess since they would be so unique to each individual student.
Each multiple choice question included a four-point scale from which students could select their response. Here is the scale used for the first five sections of the survey:
As I mentioned earlier, the survey question set also included a sixth section. This section only had two questions, each of which required a short written response. Here are the questions:
Section Six: Student Comments
I was really looking forward to seeing the responses to these two questions as I believed the trends within the answers would immediately determine what my students perceive as my strengths and weaknesses as a teacher.
In order to have my students complete their assessment of my teaching, I took the questions listed above and created an online survey using Google Form. Our students each have their own MacBook Air as of grade three, so I had the grade six class fill out their Google Forms using that as opposed to an iPad so as to avoid any issues (Forms are still a little awkward to navigate on mobile). To get the link to them, I shared it with their homeroom teacher who then dropped it into the grade’s Google Classroom.
Just something important to note: the Google Form survey was made to be anonymous. I felt as though it were really important to do so in order to get the most honest feedback possible from my students. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t want anything to be sugarcoated or influenced by our relationship: I wanted the raw, honest truth.
When I presented the idea of my grade six students assessing my teaching via an anonymous Google Form, I was pretty nervous. I felt very vulnerable explaining to them why this was important to me and why it was important that it be them who fill it out. I told them that I love what I do, and that when you love what you do you want to keep getting better at it. I told them that I care about my students, their school experience, and the development of their physical literacy. That’s why it had to be them who assessed my teaching in order for it to really matter.
My grade six class filled out the survey during the before last PE lesson of the school year. 25 students were present that day (I know, it’s not a great sample size). I told the students to answer honestly. Someone asked “what if we want to give you a score that is in between two levels?” I told them that, should they find themselves in that situation, to give me the lower score: if I wasn’t 100% deserving of the higher of the two scores, then I should not be given it.
The survey took about 10 minutes out of our 75 minute class, and then we all went outside for a fun game once it was done.
Afterwards, I went through their responses in my office. Here’s what they shared, along with some reactions to it:
Ok, as awkward as this may be, here are the results of my students’ assessment of my teaching.
I was pretty happy with the responses I received in the first section of the survey. The fact that the majority of my students feel physically/emotionally safe in my lessons most/all of the time is incredibly important to me. I always tell my students that my number one job is to keep them safe.
The poorest result in this batch was unsurprising: distractions. I’m not great at being strict and the bright lines in class that I so desperately want to have exist are often fuzzy at best. My students talk over me at times, I let disruptive kids get away with a warning (or three), and my use of humour/excitement in my teaching often gets the class riled up. I prefer to focus on learning, relationships, and fun rather than on strictly enforced rules. That said, realizing that a third of my class only sometimes feels like they can focus without disruption is an eye-opener and something that I’m hoping to correct next year by being more consistent (throughout the year) with the class expectations we set in place at the beginning of the year.
Also surprising was the low number of students who responded with “Yes/all of the time” to the question “People respect Joey”. That said, I get it as it also comes down to the fact that I’m not consistent in the way I require students to demonstrate respect towards me at all times. I joke around with my students and let them joke around with me. At times, I’ve worried that this lessens the way in which they view me as their teacher. I’ve felt it at times: students have said disrespectful things (e.g. jokes, comments) that have crossed a line and seemed surprised when I called them out on it. As much as I never want to lose the relationship I’ve built with my students, moving forward I want to make sure that mutual respect is always the foundation of those relationships. This will require me being more mindful of the words I use and interactions I have with the kids I get to teach.
I was really happy with the results of the first three questions of this section, especially considering that this was the area I was most concerned would take a hit in the year my baby was born. The fact that over 90% of my students agreed that I’m enthusiastic and passionate about teaching meant a lot to me since I really hope I convey that in the work I do.
The results of “Joey sets high standards and expectations” was surprising. I like to think that I do, but maybe the result here also came from the fact that I let too much slide in the way I manage behaviours in my class. Being more consistent – in all aspects of my teaching – is something I want to really focus on next year.
The results to the final question weren’t too big of a surprise. Although I often review student work and give feedback as soon as possible, there were a few times throughout the year that I collected final work and failed to return it. By the time it was assessed, reports had been submitted and we had already begun our next unit so I’d just keep rolling. I need to remember that summative work (e.g. students Adventure Canvases and edited dance routines) means a lot to my students and they want to get feedback on their final work as opposed to just seeing a grade/comment in their report card.
This section meant a lot to me, as I truly care about each and every one of my students and understand the importance of student-teacher developing positive relationships. That said, I was uncomfortable with the amount of “No/not at all” and “Sometimes” results that appeared here (I was hoping there would be none!)
This was an eye-opener as it helped me realize that I need to continue to do what I can to develop positive relationships with my students, get to know their interests/dreams/backgrounds, and communicate how much I care about seeing them thrive in PE and beyond.
More on how I plan on doing this later…
This section was my lowest scoring one, even if you eliminate the “Joey asks us for feedback on how he can improve his teaching” question (which my students responded to by saying “uhh… this is the first time we’ve done this”).
The biggest surprise here were the responses to “Joey knows when we don’t understand and he slows down”. I always feel the weight of time when I’m teaching as I’m afraid we won’t be able to get through all of the content I’ve prepared. Just typing that out made me realize what a terrible attitude that is: the focus should be on the students and their learning experience, not the content. If I’m to take a truly student-centred approach, I need to be able to ensure that my students are comfortable with and clear about what we are learning (and why we are learning it). Less may be more in this situation (as it is in most). I’m hoping to be able to continue to refine my curriculum, learn about deeper learning (a focus of my school’s), and improve the pace at which we go about in P.E.
The results from this section were the hardest to take in and share with you, especially in regards to the sections first and last questions.
The fact that higher numbers don’t exist within the blue dots you see for “Joey makes learning fun and exciting” and “I look forward to Joey’s lessons” was a tough pill to swallow. Without wanting it to dampen the positive results I got in other areas of the survey, I take these low scores very seriously. Luckily, the students were able to provide some insight into why they scored me that way in the last section of the survey (which we’ll explore now).
The typos here were left intentionally as I didn’t want to modify my student’s responses in any way.
Do you see a common theme here? I full-heartedly believe in the importance and role of formative assessment as part of the learning process. The more insight I get into my students’ levels of understanding, the better I can provide feedback, plan lessons, and determine where they are at in their learning. That said, I may be relying too much on written assessment tools or not incorporating written assessment into my lessons in ways that are efficient and that do not disrupt the flow of the lesson.
That said (and I’m totally making excuses here), this was my one and only year with these students. Creating a culture of thinking and learning that includes regular assessment takes time and may require a few years to fully develop. Still, having this first impression review of my teaching style is incredibly important and will help guide my professional development goal-setting as I move forward in my career.
The picture painted by the students’ responses to “What does Joey do well” was one of a teacher who is supportive and enthusiastic (and maybe a little funny… I’ve been working on my dad joke repertoire). The fact that my students say that I do my best to make everyone feel included and supported in class means a lot because it means that they know I care. As the saying goes: “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
So now that I’ve shared all of my students’ responses to this teacher assessment/feedback survey, it’s time to talk about where I plan on going from here.
Based off of everything I learned by reading, reviewing, and reflecting on my students’ responses, I’ve decided to focus on three main goals:
Based on the feedback I received from my students, there was no way around this: my students want more activity time. That being said, I’m not willing to cut out essential assessment opportunities just to have students partake in play time that is in no way linked to learning. I have to find a balance.
The very obvious answer is to find alternative ways of collecting evidence of student learning without it having to be in time-consuming written form. Also, finding ways of baking assessment in throughout the lesson as opposed to dedicated chunks could help create a better sense of balance between student reflection and purposeful play.
Now – I have to say – I thought I was already doing a good job at these things. This was the first year with this group and it could just be that they weren’t used to my style of teaching. That said, another route I might look into is the way in which I communicate the role of assessment in learning. Maybe my students don’t fully understand the “WHY” of the assessment tools we use in class or maybe I haven’t done a good enough job at helping them connect the dots between their learning and the assessment pieces they completed during their learning journey.
There’s a lot that can be done in this area. That said, here are my OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for this goal:
Objective: Improve the ratio of inactive assessment time to active learning time in my lessons.
As much as I want to continue to use humour in my teaching and not come off as some kind of authoritarian presence in my lessons, the feedback my students gave me in regards to being able to focus in class, being aware of the high expectations I set, and feeling as though the class community is built off of a sense of mutual respect helped me realize that I need to be doing a better job at managing behaviours and setting “bright lines” in my expectations (i.e. lines that cannot be crossed without consequence, regardless of who is doing the crossing or when the crossing is happening).
Behaviour management has always been a weakness in my teaching and one that has caused me a lot of grief as a teacher. I’ve been aware of the impact that my lack of consistency has had on my students’ behaviours and have just kept telling myself that one day I would be better at being consistent and managing behaviours in a positive way. Well, that day is today.
Here are my OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for this goal:
Objective: Consistently enforce classroom procedures related to behaviour as outlined during the initial unit of the school year.
Although my students gave me positive feedback in this area via their written responses, this area is so important to me (and my students’ learning) that I want to make sure that I score way higher in the “Relationships” section when I go through this whole process again next year.
I care about each and every young person that walks into my gym. I pour my heart and soul into the work I do because I believe in and have witnessed the power a passionate educator can have on the life of a child. However, there are always students who fall between the cracks. Students who I don’t get as many opportunities to get to know as I do others. Students who require a little bit more effort in regards to building a trusting relationship that will empower them to step outside of their comfort zone, take risks, and thrive.
I want to make sure that I am serving those students. Here are my OKRs for this goal:
Objective: Increase my ability to form positive relationships with ALL of my students.
So there you have it! That is how my teaching was assessed by my students, my reflection on the results of their assessment, and the goals I’ve set to improve my teaching based on my students feedback.
This was a very, very long post and I thank you for reading it. It was also a difficult post to share. That said, if this post helps just one teacher gain the courage they need to go through this process for themselves (and for their students), then it was worth it. If we’re going to say we are taking student-centred approaches, then let’s actually put our students at the centre of our approaches and – using their feedback – tailor our teaching to meet their needs.
If you’ve gone through a similar process, or if this post has left you with any questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter.
Thanks so much for reading and happy teaching!