With 10 minutes left in the school day, one of my students would not leave me alone. He had asked for feedback on his work and behavior every five seconds.
“Sensei, how did I do? Am I doing better? Can you bring up my grade now? Please don’t write me up for throwing that pencil? Can you add the extra credit points back that you took away? How can you not give me an A? This is art class!”
When students forget my name, I tell them to call me sensei, or wise, respected, master of knowledge, instead of the typical “Ms.”
It takes all my sensei strength to continue giving constructive feedback to this student. My negative feedback loop begins to spiral into self-reflection on my ability to control my emotions as a teacher and as a human. I want so badly to react with anger, and I know that if I do, this teenager wins.
I caught this student throwing a pencil across the classroom to a classmate, not turning in work, and not following directions. And now he’s in my face asking me, in the same class period, why I am not giving him an A+ in the class. Seriously?
We all get stuck sometimes. Our brains and emotions send us into loops of negative feedback that affect every new situation we encounter. Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes and from all places. Our peers, teachers, family, friends, and even our own thoughts all contribute to the loops we let run in our minds.
So how do we break the negative ones?
This is a question I face every day. As a teacher for the last seven years, I need to know how to give and take feedback. The work done in a classroom requires many types of input including, but not limited to, verbal, auditory, written, visual, and emotional.
As an educator, giving and receiving feedback is what determines a successful assignment. It is a teacher’s job to always provide ethical and constructive feedback to students, even when the students are not doing the same. Learning to control the tone and value of the input for 30 students at a time is a struggle.
And as most of us know, feedback from young adults is not always positive nor well thought out. Teens run on their emotions and say what they are thinking, often making irrational and disrespectful comments. It is the teacher’s job to set an example of how to react, which can present enormous pressure for the teacher, and mistakes happen.
But a wise sensei knows that errors are opportunities for growth—for both teacher and student—and can turn that moment into a lesson.
These skills are not just crucial to a teacher or student, but to all of us. Many adults tell me that their co-workers in other jobs behave like my students and they feel a similar frustration. And the feedback scars we all carry from family, friends, and our own minds can take a long time to heal.
Below are steps discovered through my own humble sensei trial and error that help me deal with the negative feedback loops I confront in my classroom, and that can also apply to everyday relationships:
1. React only when you are ready. For example, “I need some time to think about how I will react to your behavior, which does not serve the well-being of this class or person.”
2. Breathe and count to 10. Take a full breath with each count. Breathing brings oxygen to the brain which allows you to react more clearly. Be sure to count in your head, or it might have the wrong effect.
3. Meditate daily to know your own mind and emotions better. The better you understand what triggers your reactions, the better you will be at controlling them.
4. Give yourself specific and constructive feedback, instead of focusing on the negative. Do research to back this up by asking those who matter most to your success.
5. Learn to manage your emotions and stay calm. People are often trying to get a response for their own reasons. It is not always about you. Someone could lash out because they are having a bad day and want control. If you get upset too, you lose power, and they win.
6. Discover the motivation of the feedback giver and find the best way to resolve their concerns. When you know their goals, you can figure out how to both win.
7. If you’ve made a mistake, admit it and recover gracefully. There is nothing as simple as an apology but so many people refuse to do it because of pride. But keep in mind that saying you’re sorry too often or without specific intent can anger others or cause them to lose respect for you.
8. Be willing to agree to disagree with their opinion. Some people refuse to change their minds and arguing with them will only make them and you more upset. Stop the loop by stepping away.
9. Tell others how you would prefer to get feedback. For example, “I see you have a concern. When you yell at me like that, it is hard for me to understand. Can you address your concern calmly so I can help you? Or can you come back and talk with me when you are calmer?”
Author: Sara McKee
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May