The Art of Receiving Feedback


messy library (2)
Photo by Carla Meyrink from The Teaching Experiment

When I was a teacher, I dreaded receiving feedback on my performance in the classroom. One year, I had been given half of the highly disruptive students, the ones we called frequent flyers because they frequently ended up in the dean’s office. Needless to say, my classes didn’t always go the way I wanted them to. My evaluator, a retired vice-principal, was flummoxed by the behavior she saw in my class when she observed me. I had an autistic student who regularly screamed and forced my other students to be evacuated. I had students who swore, fought, and even refused to sit down. That same year, a student broke my ribs and threw me into a wall.


Needless to say, she had no idea how to help me improve my teaching when faced with such extreme behaviors. She finally told me to “reorganize that shelf over there.” I have to admit the shelf was messy. Students had thrown books up there as well as trash, and one end was sagging under my battered dictionaries, but I could see no connection between cleaning the shelf and improving my teaching. Another year, a principal observed one of my classes (which was actually well-behaved ) and told me to “create a system of loaners” for students who did not have a pencil. Again, the feedback she gave me did not seem to connect to what I was trying to do as a teacher.

Often, though, the feedback I received from other observers was quite helpful and fearhelped me to improve as a teacher. Even though I could see the value of the feedback, however, I dreaded receiving it. Receiving feedback on my work, whether it be teaching or writing or any other endeavor, can be a daunting experience.


Recently, I signed up for Christian Mihai’s From 0 to 5K in Six Months programPart of the program involves Christian reviewing my blog and offering me feedback. I waited in dread for a week as he reviewed my blog. I kept trying to reassure myself that the feedback would be fine, that positive or negative it would help me become a better writer. But I feared it.


Even though feedback about performance is about something I do and not who I am. I have trouble separating my self from my work. To me, I am my work. In reality, however, my self and my work are two separate entities. If I fail as a writer, it doesn’t mean I’ve failed as a person. People may not like my writing, but, in the end, I am responsible for how I receive the feedback. I can choose to use it to make myself better or to ignore it (as I did with reorganizing the shelf). I have to remember that not all feedback is applicable to what I want to do, but I can decide which feedback will help me.

As a writer, I need to continue to seek feedback from other writers. Without feedback, my writing will grow stagnant. I need to perfect the art of receiving the feedback, use it as I see fit (or not), and then let it go.




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