Building a culture of feedback in every school | Ernest Jenavs | TEDxRiga

Building a culture of feedback in every school | Ernest Jenavs | TEDxRiga

Translator: Ilze Garda
Reviewer: Reiko Bovee When was the last time
you heard somebody say, “Wow, this new government regulation has really improved
the education for my kid!” (Laughter) I haven’t either, but I bet
you have heard somebody say that their child’s life
has changed radically because of the change
of school or a new class. The difference in the quality of education
across the schools within a country is far greater than the difference
in the country averages across Europe. So in order to improve education
for our kids right now, instead of bickering
about the next legislation, we should be finding ways to improve the quality of education
school by school. And the way we can do this is by building a strong culture of feedback
within every school. I used to work
as a strategy consultant in London. I helped large organizations
improve the way they do business. I worked with some
very exciting organizations in fields like diamonds
and sewage treatment, and I saw that there was
one big difference between those that were rapidly improving
and those that weren’t. And it was their wilingness to listen to their costumers,
to their partners, to their employees. Feedback from others
is at the core of how we improve. So two years ago, I left the consulting world
and founded Edurio, which is a web platform that helps schools very easily collect feedback
and analyze feedback from students, parents, and teachers. Schools have been working in the dark. There’s a growing desire
from teachers and school heads to find ways to improve
the quality of education, but they often lack the information to know what they should be
doing differently. Currently, the only systematic data
used in schools is the grades. And is that really a measure
of good education? I was recently having dinner with a friend who was very impressed
with the new school for his son. He spoke about his willingness
to get out of the bed in the morning, about the wonderful class environment, and the joy he now had for learning. He didn’t mention the grades once. As we heard before, good education is so much more
than just imparting information. It’s about motivating, developing skills and competencies
that will support us in life. So how do you build that? Well, the University of Chicago
has created a framework of five essentials that are important for good education. You need effective leadership
from the school principal around a shared vision; collaborative teachers
working together with each other to improve the way they teach; involved families, where the school and a family
have a close relationship; supportive environment
that is safe, motivating and fun, and, of course, ambitious instruction, where the classes
are challenging and engaging. Our 15 years of research show
that if schools are good at most of these, students’ results will be better. How much of that
is measured by the grades? Not a lot. So if you want a truly transformational
education for children – which I assume we do, right? – we need to look wider and help the school understand how it is doing
and where it can improve. Looking at the grades
won’t help with this. In fact, there is just one good way to find out if we’re motivating
our students and giving them
the education they deserve, and that is to ask them. This is what feedback
in education is about. It’s about asking those involved to share their observations
and their feelings. Feedback isn’t evaluating
or grading the school, as it’s often perceived. In personal life,
we get feedback all the time by having personal conversations
and asking questions like “What do you mean I dance funny?” or “Do you think I should quit my job
to pursue my dreams?” At schools, there are hundreds
of students, parents, and teachers. So if you rely on conversations,
you’ll only hear from the active ones and miss out on a large number of people
you’d love to hear from. So in schools, the best tool for this
is anonymous feedback surveys. But more important than how you do this
is what questions you ask. It’s important to discuss
the full school experience, so our team has spent hundreds of hours creating research-based surveys
and testing them on over 200 schools that instead of asking vague questions
like “Do you like your teacher?” look wider. We ask the students if they understand where this subject is applied in real life or if they discuss
their mistakes in class. We ask the parents how good their communication is
with the teachers and school heads. We even get feedback from the teachers
about how they give and get feedback. That’s how much we love feedback. But asking the right questions
is important not just to improve. It actually tells everybody
about what the school cares about. When we were testing
our surveys for the first time, some teachers objected to one question, and it was, “Does this teacher
treat you with respect?” One teacher told me, “My job is not to respect the students,
it’s to educate them.” Well, if the grades are all
that the school focuses on, you’re unlikely to get
much more than that. Now, because of the growing focus
on education quality, schools are moving from having no feedback
to collecting feedback, and sometimes even asking
the right questions. And that’s unlocking
a lot of very exciting analysis. An exciting analysis is how I got interested
in educational feedback in first place. I was studying
at the University of Manchester. I was studying decision sciences, a science about helping
organizations make decisions based on evidence rather than a hunch. Anyone who has worked
in a large organization will know that’s a little bit like world peace: everybody’s talking about it,
but it’s never actually happened. At the beginning of my first year,
I got an e-mail from a professor, he was looking for somebody
to help on a research project. The task was to analyze
10 years of student feedback data and find out how they link
with the quality of education. Now, I’m one of those weird people who believe that every question in life
can be answered with Excel – or at least I did before I got
into a relationship – (Laughter) so, of course, I took up the project. After waiting for two months for the university
to give me access to the data, I finally got the memory stick
with all the wisdom. I rushed to open it,
and it was an absolute mess. It was a pile of files
in different formats, depending on whoever
had the fun task of typing hundreds of feedback surveys
into Excel that year. There was broken formulas
and missing numbers. So before I could become a data explorer,
I first had to become a data janitor. I spent weeks trying to get
everything into decent shape. And many schools have this: where they’ve collected
the valuable feedback, but it’s sitting in a dusty shelf
or a messy Excel sheet. That’s actually worse
than having no data at all: you’ve spent all this effort collecting the valuable information
you just don’t use. So why does this happen? Well, analyzing data is really difficult. Nobody wants to be the data janitor. It’s such a pain. I have had actual nightmares
that have happened entirely within Excel. And even if we had the time, we just aren’t very good
at dealing with data. The Economist published an article in 2013 showing that a large number
of scientific articles contain basic statistical errors,
leading to the wrong conclusions. And it’s true: when we were publishing
the research I was telling you about, after two rounds of external review, I discovered that I had accidentally
switched the axis in one of my charts, meaning that they showed something
completely different than the text. So expecting schools to improve
just based on the plain data is a little bit like a doctor
giving a cardiogram printout to you and saying, “Here, go figure out
how to improve your health! Use Google.” So instead of the plain data, we need to give school heads results
that are easy to access and interpret. And this is something
we’ve been doing at Edurio, and it is giving
some very interesting insights. Look at this chart showing how students
feel about the pace of learning. We saw in many schools that within a class you have some students
saying that the pace is too fast and some saying it’s too slow. This is something you can’t just fix
by going faster or slower. This shows the need
for a more individualized learning. Or here, teachers could compare
the results across the classes they teach. Some who teach both primary
and secondary school levels were very surprised to learn that they consistently achieve
very different results in the two levels. This shows that the same teaching methods don’t work the same
across all year groups. So they could either start adapting
the way they teach the classes or focus on teaching the ones
they click with the most. So now schools can go further
than just collecting the feedback. They can actually start exploring it. But still, exploring takes a lot of time. And time is a very precious
resource in schools. When the OECD surveyed
school heads in 34 countries, it asked, “What is preventing you
from being better at your job?” Workload came first, ahead of the budget. So wouldn’t it be great if the principal didn’t have to spend
all this time looking through the charts and could just see
what’s relevant for the school? This is where I want to take schools. Forget about the results,
go straight to the insights. We can learn
from other industries in doing this. A mentor once told me that innovating
in education is really easy because you don’t actually
have to innovate, you can just do what business
was doing ten years ago. And businesses everywhere
are finding smarter ways to analyze massive amounts of data
and get to exciting insights. On Twitter, you have software
reading millions of tweets and understanding how you feel
about various products and brands. In large corporations, algorithms are digging through
employees’ surveys to find out which factors have the biggest impact
on employee satisfaction. And this is really exciting: algorithms are starting to do
the job of researchers and automatically giving us the insights. This is what we are working on
at Edurio at the moment. We are analyzing hundreds of thousands
of text comments to find out how the students are really feeling. We are building algorithms that find which questions
the school should pay attention to. Here we analyzed how the different questions
in our student surveys relate with student motivation. The higher the column,
the higher the correlation. For this school, we found
that motivation had a strong link with how well the students understood what they needed to do
in the lessons and why. This shows where the school
should look first if it wants to improve
the motivation of its students. And this is only scratching the surface
of what feedback can do in education. Imagine if you were able to predict
that a student might drop out just looking at how their motivation
changes across the years and take action now. Or if you could advise a child
on their future career or study choices based on how they feel across different subjects,
teachers or lesson types. Or of you could help
a school to figure out how best to allocate students by class and which teachers
should teach which classes to have the biggest learning possible. Suddenly, something very impersonal
like anonymous surveys could start giving very personal insights about how to improve
education for every student. Suddenly, we can start understanding not just what the feedback says
but what it means. This is where technology can take us. But it’s not enough. There are still schools
that get all the way to here and don’t get anything out of it. Because there is one last step missing, and that’s action. The school has to do something
with the feedback it gets. Not everything – big change programs
that try to fix everything usually fail – but just one, two or three things
it wants to do differently next year. Sounds obvious? But this is the most difficult step. And then, the school
actually has to communicate back to the parents, students and teachers
about what those improvements are. People don’t want to give feedback
if they feel nothing will change; that’s the problem we have with voting. That’s why technology alone isn’t enough,
schools need a culture shift. So when will schools start
climbing this ladder? Well, they are doing it right now, and they are achieving
better education for their students. One of the schools we’ve worked with
recently did a survey on bullying, where it asked the students if they had experienced emotional
or physical bullying in the school. The results were encouragingly low, but they identified a couple of classes
where somebody said they had been bullied. The school then worked with the school psychologist
and the class tutor to improve inclusion in those classes and fix the problem
before it became a news article. Now, this is a school that didn’t wait
for new anti-bullying legislation. It listened to what their students
were telling it and took action. And these are the actions
our children need right now, school by school, classroom by classroom. And that is why I believe every school needs to dare to build
a strong culture of feedback. Thank you. (Applause)

8 thoughts on “Building a culture of feedback in every school | Ernest Jenavs | TEDxRiga

  1. People living in the U.S. should be grateful for their economy and political regime because it provides them with people like him who has the possibility to change something for the better.
    Even though it is only the first, it's a big step towards better education which will without a doubt change the world entitely little by little.

  2. What schools is he talking about? Where I am we use constant methods of assessment and constantly use feedback throughout each lesson. We don't just focus on summative assessment (grades in tests) but instead look at formative assessment. I always give my students feedback forms.

  3. Great concept! finally we have someone who is actually providing a solution vs those that just want to gripe. I'm currently in the middle of a research paper on educational reform right now. I am going to use some of this material. don't worry, I cite my sources lol

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