Kenner: Educators Need Feedback Just Like Students Do

By CHRIS KENNER 
Teach Plus New Mexico

“Ms. Kenner, can you look at this please?” “Wow Edgar! Your writing has come far this year! Let’s take a quick look from the beginning of the year.” I flipped to the beginning of his writing notebook to a page in August, then to today’s writing page, so that Edgar, one of my 5th graders, could see just how far he’s grown. Edgar smiled all the way back to his desk as I also beamed with pride.

There’s something magical when a student recognizes their own growth through feedback. They strut to their desk with a little more confidence, they’re a little more willing to step outside their comfort zone, and they even go out of their way to help others.

Feedback allows us to grow, all the while reaching further as we improve.

When, in 2021, I submitted my educator’s dossier to the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) hoping to attain the next level of licensure, level III, I expected the same level of feedback and attention to detail as I give my students. Instead, the dossier experience broke me.

My dossier included three strands of student work analysis, detailed description of every aspect of my classroom, including student demographics, school demographics, and curriculum. Strand A was dedicated to lesson planning and demonstrating student growth. Strand B was an analysis of two students’ growth throughout the school year in one particular subject area. Strand C focused on professional learning and collaboration. Once my dossier was completed, I gave it to several coworkers to review and give feedback and made adjustments. I felt confident as I submitted my dossier and settled in to wait. 

A month later, I learned I failed all three strands. The NMPED’s email included a link to review feedback on my submission and to receive free coaching. When I clicked the link, however, it took me to an error page. I emailed the help page, called, and left messages. I wanted to improve and to do better. Then, after no response was forthcoming, I wanted to give up. Disheartened, I considered staying at my current licensure level. 

Then something serendipitous happened. As part of my Teach Plus New Mexico Policy Fellowship, I joined the teacher licensure advancement working group and, with my peers, led a focus group with dossier reviewers. Because of this work, I gained a deeper understanding of the current dossier system and the changes that are needed. 

First, NMPED should provide dossier reviewers with ongoing professional development so teachers like me can get on-time thoughtful feedback. Ongoing training, collaboration, and mentorship opportunities would help make the system more uniform. NMPED should also allow for longer grace periods for submitters to make corrections and receive coaching throughout the entire dossier process, not just before or after submission. This would also allow for educators to make real-time corrections in their submission. 

Next, NMPED should provide seamless support for teachers when they encounter a challenge with the dossier process. We should not find it impossible to connect with a reviewer via email or phone. I recommend clear, transparent, and accessible support systems.

If the New Mexico dossier system were to improve and if teachers were to receive meaningful feedback throughout the process, I believe that more educators would remain in the classroom, teaching and inspiring students. Now more than ever, with teacher shortages, New Mexico needs to make the teaching more appealing for current and prospective educators. 

With feedback, Edgar began to believe in himself more. His confidence in other subjects grew, specifically in math where he had been struggling the most. After many months of reflecting and reviewing the failed dossier, I decided to try again. Luckily I have some very helpful colleagues that gave me more meaningful feedback and I’m submitting my dossier in the summer. Fingers crossed. 

Chris Kenner teaches 5th at Horizon Academy West in Albuquerque. She is a 2021-22 Teach Plus New Mexico Policy Fellow.

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