a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
For many language teachers, the term affective filter has become part of our vernacular. We talk about lowering students’ affective filters so that negative feelings like fear don’t get in the way of learning. As a mentor, I know that for many teachers, one way to raise their filters is to talk about giving them feedback, especially if that also includes an observation. Have you ever considered how giving feedback might make your mentor feel? Many of us are anxious about it too. Here are five questions you and your (peer) mentor can discuss as a way to lower your affective filters.
How do feedback interactions make you feel?
Remember last week’s discussion about being critically self-aware? Instead of a stiff upper lip, be open and honest about how feedback—and observation too if applicable—makes you feel and why. Your attitudes and emotions affect a mentor’s demeanor and actions in your classroom and the way we go about facilitating conversations with you. Make sure you ask us how we feel too.
On what aspect of your teaching are you inviting feedback?
Are you willing to invite your mentor into your classroom? Are you open to hearing our perspective or answering our questions about what’s going on there? Would you feel more comfortable asking for feedback on a lesson plan or other course materials? Mentors feel better about feedback interactions when you’ve invited us to engage in them.
What are your expectations?
After telling your mentor where feedback is welcome, you two may need to negotiate exactly what shape it will take. Are you expecting to receive advice? Are you willing to come to your own conclusions? How could your mentor help you to be reflective and critically self-aware? How much ownership are you willing to take? Since mentoring is developmental by nature (rather than assessment-oriented), mentors would prefer to facilitate rather than give feedback. In fact, we’d rather you come to your own conclusions and give advice to yourself.
What should your mentor look for?
What question should s/he answer? Would one of the questions you listed after last week’s post work? It’s much easier to sort through all that’s happening in your classroom when we’re focused in on one aspect or when we’re looking at a single element on lesson plans and other materials. And we feel more comfortable about facilitating feedback when you’ve identified an area you’re concerned about.
What form could be used?
When mentors are observing, using a form helps. Based on some questions from teachers I mentored, I designed an Activity Management form to focus my attention. Follow up conversations—even with teachers who had expressed negative feelings about being observed—went smoothly when I could say, “You asked me to pay attention to…This is what I noticed…Why do you think that’s happening?…What have you tried?…”
If you and your mentor are just getting started, you may not know what to focus on. “Sandra” used a broad form similar to The Story of a Classroom  in order to describe classroom events. Then, she asked her mentee to read and underline anything that stood out. This approach opened the door to reflection and self-analysis—which the teacher got excited about. The next step might be a second feedback interaction exploring one of the areas the teacher self-identified.
 Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis “Toward Facilitative Mentoring and Catalytic Interventions,” ELT Journal 69, no. 2 (2015).
 Adapted from Melissa K. Smith and Marilyn Lewis, Supporting the Professional Development of English Language Teachers: Facilitative Mentoring, (New York: Routledge, forthcoming).
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
1. Decide what aspect of your teaching you would most like to receive feedback on as you head toward your essential questions/outcomes from our destinations post.
2. Invite your (peer) mentor to facilitate feedback on that aspect of your teaching. This may mean that you will also need to invite them to observe a class or look at lesson plans or an assignment you’ve given students, etc.
3. Before the feedback interaction, work through the questions in this post together.
4. If necessary, select, adapt, or design an observation form.
5. Also, review last week’s post so that both of you are asking and answering questions in productive ways. Your mentor may also want to use some of the questions you came up with last week.