Feedback Isn’t Defeat

Today I felt defeated; a colleague unwittingly tapped into the dark place where I keep my self-confidence.  We were discussing my goals and her response threw me into a frenzy of self-doubt that was accompanied by messy tears. At that moment, all my work quickly became pointless. I was frozen with doubt and just wanted to find a quiet place to tend to my wounds.

After a ridiculous amount of time spent on self-pity, I pulled myself together and thought about my reaction to the feedback I received and what I learned from it. There was no self-flagellation involved; instead it got me thinking about our students (I often go down these rabbit trails). We are constantly giving our students feedback, both written and oral, but are we paying attention to the aftermath of our feedback? How often do I work with a student who has poured their soul into a piece of writing or response to literature and, with one benign comment, I send them spiraling into the abyss of insecurity? Of course I pay attention to a student’s initial reaction to my feedback and my feedback always includes compliments, but what happens when I walk away? When I wait a few days before I check back with readers and writers, I often find the writing we talked about erased or scribbled out. These young writers are not yet equipped with the emotional tools necessary to wallow, reflect, and revise; instead, they decide their writing stinks and begin anew.

I don’t want fledgling writers to give up because of something I said. When working with young readers and writers, we have to make time in our conferring plan to check back in before they give up on their masterpieces.  In order to build confident writers, feedback cannot simply be a check mark on a list of names. We must be purposeful in checking in and pause long enough to teach our students how to make progress based on feedback. We need to teach our readers and writers that feedback isn’t defeat; feedback is progress.