Feeding the Feedback Loop: The Value of an Uncomfortable Conversation

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My list of reasons for admiring educators and school leaders is long, sincere, and quite honestly, a bit mushy. In observing first-hand the daily life of the noblest of fraternities, it’s clear to me that this profession consists of some of the most passionate, caring, and hard-working members of our society. They are assuredly deserving of more respect, greater pay, and deeper gratitude than they receive.

And while they are usually overworked and always pressed for time, I’d like to, in a most respectful way, ask them to initiate a potentially awkward and painstaking conversation with the software provider with whom they just broke up. Let me explain why.

He Said: She Said

Over the summer I spoke with a group of leaders from a small district about the software their schools would be using in the coming year. They mentioned that while some of their principals would no longer use a certain product due to quality concerns, others held a nearly opposite opinion. Same grade level. Similar schools. Similar student demographics. Similar teacher profiles. Different conclusions. In my perfect world, where everything is measured meticulously and communicated clearly, these district-leaders would have understood the origins of the different conclusions. Perhaps it was a difference in the quality or quantity of the training provided to the educators. It may have been variation in the reliability of the Internet, technological experience level of the students, or the fidelity with which the program was utilized. Most likely, it was some combination thereof and a variety of other factors that were never communicated back to either the district office or the software provider.

Constructive Criticism is Critical and Welcome

I would typically argue that it isn’t the responsibility of the dissatisfied customer to provide feedback. After all, why should someone reward the company that just failed them with valuable advice? However, in this context there are two key reasons why it makes sense. One, the feedback that an educator and/or school leader can provide is unique to a specific experience that will undoubtedly repeat itself in the absence of improvement. Two, the education software industry is still in its infancy, in need of sound practices to ensure market-wide evolution. Feedback loops, especially those involving dissatisfied customers, are integral to making this happen.

In the recent “Teachers Know Best” study from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the author explains a critical and frustrating disconnect: “many instructional product developers have told us they don’t have a good way to receive ongoing feedback about what teachers need and want from their products.” While the conclusion of the relationship may not be ideal timing for the developer, the demand for input is clear. And, with an abundant supply of input it seems the solution is a simple matter of connection.

The longer I spend in the field of education the more my list of reasons for admiring educators and school leaders grows. However, alone and atop the list has always been the willingness of its members to share their time and expertise with each other for the benefit of students and the betterment of the profession. Though possibly uncomfortable, it is in these types of concluding conversations with software providers that I see opportunity with benefits that are orders of magnitude greater than the time and resource invested.

This article was originally posted on the Learning Accelerator blog.

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