the Dragonfly journal

Good teachers have nothing to fear from pupil feedback forms.

By Dragonfly Training

The Customers Should Have Their Say Author: @CoyneDrS

Brighton College has set the cat amongst the pigeons apparently by including pupils in their teacher appraisal system, according to The Times. The newspaper reports that, every three years, the students are asked about a teacher’s performance using a simple questionnaire and a 1 to 5 scale of responses.

I have not actually used this system as part of a formal appraisal system but I have been employing anonymous pupil questionnaires for twenty years and find them a very valuable source of feedback on my teaching.

I can still remember the expression on the faces of my colleagues in the department that I headed in the nineties when I first suggested the concept. “Another one of his mad ideas” was written in their frowns, along with: ”Well, do not ask me to get involved!” I did not ask and they did not participate. That is in contrast to the department that I worked with when I was a Deputy Head. This was 15 years ago but they were so taken with the concept that they made it departmental policy for everyone to get involved and hand the results to the Head of Department.

For all this time, I have taken to issuing questionnaire of approximately 20 statements with a 1-5 scale of responses. For example,

This teachers starts and finishes lessons on time
1 = Strongly disagree, 2= disagree, 3= No opinion, 4 = Agree, 5= Strongly agree

was my opening to a series of questions about basic professionalism. They were then followed by some comments about how interesting and varied the lessons were.

Being a traditional chalk and talk teacher trained in the 70s, I did not do so well on the “uses a variety of approaches” point until I went to my first inspirational INSET with Alan Jervis (@Alan_Jervis) of Dragonfly Training on ‘High Impact Teaching‘. The subsequent feedback from pupils enabled me to track my rapid progress on this score.

Such an approach with students needs careful handling and timing. I tended to use it during my last lesson with a group at the end of the course in the summer; it seemed to me to be an appropriate thing to do at this juncture. It also avoided any bias because a pupil might simply be nice to me (thinking I might recognise their writing in the comments section) and alter their responses accordingly. They had nothing to lose at this stage. The students valued being involved, were flattered to have their opinion sought and gave extremely honest answers. At no point in all that time did I ever feel that a student was “having a go” just because they could do. Having said that, some did choose to remind me of times we had disagreed about school rules.

In time, I expanded the idea and included it in my own annual appraisal. When I was Head, every teacher in the school was seen in front of class by their HoD or a senior manager every year. Feedback was then given accordingly. I always made jokes with the students about why the person was there during the lesson, but told them exactly what it was all about during the next session. When I did so, I gave them a short questionnaire of the same style about the lesson that had been observed. It was useful to compare the two assessments. On the odd occasion, it was interesting to note that the observer was learning a new teaching technique that the pupils took for granted; in one case, it was the use of loop cards for revision!

Good teachers have nothing to lose from this kind of approach and plenty to gain. Those with less confidence in their abilities might be pleasantly surprised by the way that they are perceived their students. In all cases, we can only learn how to improve what we do and that has to be a good thing. We are, after all, professionals and we live in an age where customers expect to have their say on the service provided.

(Please feel free to contact us if you wish to receive a copy of either questionnaire).