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Looking Forward for Feedback
By Lisa Picha, Lower School Psychologist

Feedback. We all give it and get it, but is it the best way to communicate with our students and each other? Joe Hirsch, author of The Feedback Fix: Dump the Past, Embrace the Future, and Lead the Way to Change, has a different idea. Joe Hirsch works in a private school in Dallas, Texas and has been delving deeper into the concept of feedforward.

Feedforward was initially developed by Marshall Goldsmith, a professor, behavioral coach, teacher of executive function and management education. The concept has been around for a while but seems to be gaining attention in educational practices. It has been used quite a bit in management structures and evaluation to improve communication practices. Feedforward is commonly described as a method of teaching and learning indicating a future path or desired behavior. In a sense, moving forward in a way that we are developing while acknowledging that we are a “work in progress.”

In his book and conversation with Jennifer Gonzalez from "Episode 87: Moving from Feedback to Feedforward" from Cult of Pedagogy, Hirsch discusses feedback and implications. He outlines some common pitfalls of feedback. For example, most of the feedback that we receive is “backward looking” and doesn’t end up resulting in the kind of response or change that we are hoping for. He outlines three main reasons for this:

  1. It shuts down our mental dashboards. Too much feedback or the wrong kind of feedback causes overload and disrupts executive function skills.
  2. It focuses on ratings, and not on development and can be perceived as judgmental.
  3. It reinforces negative behaviors. Hearing constantly about flaws feeds learned helplessness and interferes with the process of coming up with solutions available to us.

Feedforward communication is future-focused and meant to foster autonomy, creativity, resilience and ongoing dialogue between a teacher and student, administrator and staff, colleague and colleague, parent to child and a whole host of other relationships involving person-to-person interaction.

Hirsch’s concept of Feedforward is defined by six characteristics that are most easily recalled by an acronym he uses - REPAIR:

  • Regenerates
  • Expands
  • Particular
  • Authentic
  • Impact
  • Refines

The image below is a quick reference for the differences in feedback vs. feedforward.

Feedback vs Feedforward

For our students, we can use more “what if,” “yes, and,” “where to next,” “what went well” and “even better if,” “what if we tried this?” “how might we do this?” language to help change the conversation from a one-time event to ongoing dialogue. Parents play an important role as well because characteristics of feedforward dialogue support growth and “who we are becoming.” Try mixing in these types of feedforward comments to see what comes next.