Growing Leadership Muscles Through Feedback: Showing Students Where They’re Going
Dr. Shaneika A. Dilka, PhD
Psychology Professor, Purdue University Global
Feedback is one of the most vital elements in the learning process. Faculty, instructors, mentors, tutors, etc., serve critical leadership roles in academic institutions and as such, should work to grow their leadership muscles by providing quality feedback to students. Following a recent discussion on using the principles of transformational leadership to improve classroom interactions and outcomes, I was challenged to think about the topic more narrowly and to consider sharing specific details and methods related to linking transformational leadership style to the art and practice of academic instruction. This was perceived as a challenge, perhaps, because both leadership and instructional styles are highly personal and uniquely developed professional skills. Also, the idea of linking transformational leadership and instructional methods did not seem unconventional. After all, Slavich and Zimbardo (2012) suggested that most instructors already display behaviors related to transformational leadership in their classrooms every day. In fact, if we reframe the discussion and evaluate what we do in the classroom, in our instruction, we see that we grow or flex our leadership muscles every day! In the online classroom, one of the most powerful tools at our hands is feedback, and as leaders and instructors, delivering effective feedback can have major implications for our students.
Consider the purpose of feedback; at its most basic level, feedback is intended to give students information about their performance. Hattie and Timperley (2007) suggest that three questions should be asked during the feedback process by both students and instructors, “Where am I going? How am I going? and Where to next?” (p. 88). Through leadership, facilitation, and well-crafted feedback we can continually consider where our students are going and guide them to ask the question, where am I going?, as they develop their work as well. Faculty members can set high standards and provide challenging opportunities (inspirational motivation; see Bass, 1985) through goal identification. Providing students with feedback that is clear and identifies challenging goals that are focused on the primary task will guide the student to answering the question, where am I going?. Feedback structured in such a way generally results in goal-directed behaviors, discrepancy reduction, and increased commitment to the identified goals (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).
How can we show students where they are going? This is often a difficult question because the answer requires an incredibly personalized approach for each student, another dimension of transformational leadership (individualized consideration; see Bass, 1985) that is ever-present in the classroom. To show students where they are going, my intent is always to guide, never to tell. I reinforce existing goals that have been identified, or set new goals when appropriate. In feedback, answers, corrections, and errors are generally not identified individually; rather, resources are provided (i.e. relating to theory, formatting, etc.) to students and they are encouraged to engage in problem solving strategies to further enhance their work (intellectual stimulation; see Bass, 1985). This approach is challenging, self-directed, and increases learners’ autonomy. In some cases, it may be necessary to provide an example of the appropriate method or approach the student should follow; when such cases arise, an example is provided along with additional resources. My primary purpose using this feedback approach is to raise the students’ awareness in order to make them more active in the feedback process, asking, where am I going? Students learn to identify their paths, apply scholarly judgment, and develop invaluable research skills. And as faculty, we are able to flex and grow our leadership muscles, providing our students with the feedback they need to determine where they are going.
Bass, B. M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York, NY: Free Press.
Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112, doi: 10.3102/003465430298487
Slavich, G. M., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2012). Transformational teaching: Theoretical underpinnings, basic principles, and core methods. Educational Psychology Review, 24(4), 569-608. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10648-012-9199-6