Monday, May 20, 2019

The Most Useful Observation Feedback You Ever Got

Part of my job involves reading the evaluations of full-time faculty as they come in.  (Admittedly, between graduation, the gas leak, and this week’s OER conference at UMass, I’m a bit behind.  But still.) I don’t actually write the evaluations or do the observations; the deans do that. But I read them and, when everything seems in order, sign off on them before they get filed.

In my teaching days, I got observed by deans.  In my deaning days, I did observations. Now I read hundreds of them.  But I’m still not completely sure what kinds of feedback faculty find most useful.

To be clear, usefulness to the professor isn’t the only function of observations.  If someone is going badly off the rails, they can provide documentation to support some sort of intervention.  On the flip side, if someone’s fitness has been called into question, an observation can help exonerate. They’re written in the third person for a reason.

That said, though, most are only read by the professor, the dean, and me.  Presumably, they’re usually read most closely by the professor; that’s who has the most at stake, and they only have to read one.  

So, this one is particularly for the faculty out there.  What’s the most useful observation feedback you ever got?

“Useful” doesn’t necessarily mean “positive,” although it could.  I mean it in the sense of “helping you improve.” What helped you get better?

Thinking back to the feedback I got as a teacher, the most useful stuff usually came from students.  The evaluative ones from deans were sort of...fine...but not terribly useful. Given how much time these take, and how many of them we do, I’d like them to be better than just fine.

So, wise and worldly readers, I (and the deans) look to you for guidance.  What’s the most useful feedback you’ve received on an observation? Alternately, what would be useful to receive?