Routine feedback

In a routine week I observed several other teachers. Observation can be a stressful process for the observed and the observer. It changes the dynamics in a classroom, whatever the parties try to do. Yet, the observation process seems to provide more insight into the observer than the observed. I picked up several little techniques I could usefully employ, even in these last few months. I wonder why people get tense about being observed: indeed your best critical observers are probably your students – just a pity they don’t often give you feedback.

Gombik observing

Gombik observing

Feedback is necessary for learning, but it can get overwhelming. I stay in a bed-and-breakfast: next day I get an email asking me how I enjoyed it. I book a concert: “how did you enjoy the booking service, sir?” “How did you enjoy the theatre?” “We would appreciate your opinion on our servicing of your car, on your purchase of our vegetables, on our buses.” ‘They’ can ask my opinion about everything. And long questionnaires? “Just five minutes of your time”, while I am still filling in the questionnaire some half-hour later. Then I get a reminder: “You haven’t completed the questionnaire yet, sir.” But what if I don’t have an opinion?

And you know that each bit of response is going to be minutely analysed by some computer program somewhere (and probably the NSA). Some computers know exactly what you purchase, where you travel, what you eat, and with the RFID on the containers, what you throw away. So purchases–waste = consumption.

There seems to be an obsession with feedback and analysis, even at the expense of getting a task done. Maybe I’m just old-school: I would prefer effort to be devoted to core tasks. And different people can achieve the same result in different ways. There are after all myriad ways to skin a cat (a somewhat unpleasant proverb for someone with cats!). I suppose the obsession comes from singular ‘crises’ or ‘catastrophes’ at some point in the past, so everyone has to change: rules and regulations are brought in to prevent the problem occurring again. But ‘next time’ a different issue arises. Feedback seems to promote attention to small, perhaps relatively insignificant detail, and may come at the expense of the whole. No-one gives attention to the whole: we just go away and grumble and criticize in mutual silence. Until it all breaks down. Again.

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

The week was not all routine. There was a delightful concert with the Philharmonie Zuid-Nederland in Kerkrade, with clarinettist Michael Collins playing Mozart’s clarinet concerto. Really enjoyable. True to form, next morning there was the email asking for my opinion on the theatre.

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