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Feedback: Start, Stop, Keep

Feedback: Start, Stop, Keep

This is such a simple and powerful strategy that I first learned from Stuart MacAlpine in one of his professional learning sessions. You can use this at any stage of your work. I’ve used it after the first day of a two-day workshop, after a few months with a new team, and whenever I want to check in on how things are going for my students. I prefer sticky notes, with one idea per note, but you can also use a google form. With sticky notes, it allows everyone to see what others are saying and for me to physically sort them into common themes. 

I introduce it by sharing my desire to be responsive to their needs so we can all do our best learning together. I invite them to consider the structure, pace, talk time, and anything else that we can revise. START: What could be better? STOP: What isn’t working? KEEP: What is working? I ask them to write down as many things as they would like, one idea per sticky note. Then I have three sections on a board labeled Start, Stop, and Keep for them to add their sticky notes. I also invite them to notice what other people have written. 

Once I have sorted and reflected on the feedback, I make plans to revise and communicate trends and my responses in our next session. This is an important part of building trust over time. When the team or class sees that I am taking on their feedback, they are more open to giving honest feedback going forward. 

Here is an excerpt from a K-12 team meeting midway through term one after I sorted their feedback. This was a fairly new team. We talked through each point as a group and made additional comments. 

Thank you for the initial quick feedback – here are key take-ways:

  • We  value our longer meetings and co-working times. We feel supported as a team and enjoy the collaboration in this group. Thank you for making these times work. 
  • We want to learn more from each other – across schools and campuses. Suggestion for feedback: let’s build in meeting time to share more – maybe rotating schools? Also, I can build in time to share key pieces of Dover’s work.
  • Also, for systems we share across parts of the school, we want time to support each other. We have built time for this later this month.
  • We are excited to dig into the curriculum together. Do we want to request a larger chunk of time for that, maybe after December break?
  • Clarity in agenda items – bigger picture and today’s work. I will try to be clearer and connect to consistent topics. Can we use the pre-reflection time in our meeting to ask clarifying questions?

When I use “Start, Stop, Keep” with my class, I take a few minutes in our next class to share the trends and explain any revisions that I’ll be making. Sometimes I explain why I won’t be changing something and invite alternative ideas. For example, when students asked if they could listen to their own music whenever they were working independently, I explained that so much of our work in English is collaborative and supportive. When we have our headphones in, it makes it hard to check in with partners or to hear me when I have a quick tip. We then talked about why they wanted to listen to music and all agreed that they like calm during reading and it helps them not be distracted by other noises. Someone suggested I play calm music for the class. Done. Then they said that on drafting days when they aren’t talking to their partners hardly at all, they like more upbeat music to help them write quickly. But they all like different music. We agreed that on drafting days, they can use their headphones. 

While these kinds of conversations take time, I believe they are so valuable as we build shared understanding and trust. In addition, I am constantly learning and growing in my practice by listening to feedback. Do you have other simple strategies for collecting feedback?

Growing Up with Feedback

Growing Up with Feedback


There is a lot out there about why feedback matters and how to best seek it out and give it. I won’t go over all of that. Instead, I’d like to share with you a more personal perspective on why I value feedback as I grow in my practice as a teacher, coach, and leader.

When I was in middle school I desperately wanted to fit in with my older brother and his friends. They would play basketball in our driveway for hours and hours but I was too small, too slow, and missed the basket most of the time. No one ever wanted me on their team. But when all his friends were gone, my brother would stay out in the driveway with me, patiently teaching me how to shoot. Each time, he would explain and demonstrate exactly what he had seen me do to help me with my next shot. He did this when I missed and when I made the shoot. That specific feedback allowed me to refine my shot until I could shoot a swish from anywhere in the driveway.

My second story also involves my brother giving me feedback. This time, I was in high school and he was in college. He came home for a visit and met my boyfriend. Later, I asked my brother what he thought. I was hoping for rave reviews but instead, he said, “He’s okay. But I don’t like who you are when you are around him.” Yikes! At the time, my seventeen-year-old self was more indignant than reflective. I tried to ignore my brother’s words. But after that high school romance died, my brother’s words came back to me. I reflected on my behavior when I was with that boy and how it didn’t match who I was with my friends and family. Those words stuck with me as I explored other relationships, both romantic and platonic. They helped me build a mental meter stick for myself as I considered if these relationships were helping me be the kind of person I wanted to be or not. 

When I began teaching, I knew that feedback from my students and my colleagues would help me refine my skills and reflect on the standards I wanted for my practice. I’ve tried a few things over the years, and now I have several routines to seek feedback (see upcoming posts). This year, as I stepped into a new leadership role, I applied those same routines. Each time, I learn something that helps me refine my practice. I am thankful my brother helped me build this reflective, growth mindset. 

Writing in Middle School Art

Writing in Middle School Art

Rebecca and Sarah are two amazing art teachers in our school. They explicitly teach, model, and guide students to their next steps through creative art units. They study the works of other artist and support students to try on those styles while adding their own artistic touch to their work. They want their students to start incorporating the language of art when discussing their own and others’ pieces. They also want to build the foundational skills for their students to write about art which they will build on high school. But they were noticing a startling difference in how students talked about art and how they wrote about art. The students’ writing was below their expectations. And so, they reached to out me as the literacy coach to help them think through how they could support their students’ writing in art.

We started with an initial meeting for them to share their concerns and hopes with me. Through that conversation we were able to identify several key strategies we use in writing workshop that could be helpful for them in art: starting with a mentor text (from real writing about art that exists in the world), identifying and listing key writing skills on a student facing checklist, and using their own writing to model steps and strategies. Rebecca and Sarah then asked if they could come and observe an English writing workshop lesson to see how we teach with mentor texts.

Next, I brought them into one of our grade seven writing workshop classes for an observation. They set up their notebooks with two kinds of notes. They made a T-chart to capture what they noticed and what they were wondering. They set up a page to capture specific things the teacher was doing to unpack the mentor text. We were in the classroom for about twenty minutes to observe the lesson and the first one-on-one conference. At different times, I whispered key moves the teacher was making that I wanted them to notice and how those moves supported the students’ learning and ability to work independently.

After we left the classroom, we took a few more minutes together to discuss what they had observed and for me to answer their questions. We decided that the next step was for them to select a few texts of writing about art that would be accessible for their students to use as a mentor text. I had a few picture books from the library ready for them to start their investigation. We decided to meet again once they had time to collect these texts.

We touched base a few times on email and in passing at our Friday morning staff teas, but with reports due then high school art exhibition projects coming in, it took us a little longer than we had all hoped. But, we all persisted and last week were able to reconnect and continue the conversation. I’ll write about that in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!