The Importance of Feedback

“We all need people who give us feedback. That is how we improve” – Bill Gates

Adults are self-deterministic as learners. This means that we seek to control our own performance and improve it where possible. To do this, we need to know (1) what we have done well, (2) what areas we can improve, and (3) how to improve.

Millennials are a generation where they have learned to be self-reflective and, at times, self-critical (Rodsevich, 2019). Over 70% of Employees under the age of thirty reported wanting daily or weekly feedback. Feedback is required for work performance, which unlocks the potential for increase in salary, position and earning power for employees.

For firefighters, the ability to increase skill proficiency, knowledge and performance is much more important. As firefighters, we are expected to make instantaneous decisions based on little to no information. We must constantly be reflective on our performance constantly seeking the opportunity for improvement. We can only do this by becoming lifelong learners, but also at the same time, have a strong sense of what we need to further learn or what we need to do to improve. Feedback is the key.

We all have “blind spots”, which are areas of performance and knowledge base that we may think we have mastered but have not fully realised yet. Feedback allows us to improve skills, knowledge and behaviour. We must know to improve.

TAARS

When giving feedback to students and firefighters, you should remember the following acronym: “TAARS”:

  • Timely – Feedback must be given in a timely manner so that the information can be related to the most recent performance. Lev Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist, and constructionist educator believed that a learner needs support in the form of guidance to improve to the level of mastery, a theory which he referred to as the Zone of Proximal Development. A major component of the theory is the use of “scaffolding” which is using techniques to support the learners. Feedback is a scaffolding technique, especially when specific and actionable feedback is given.
  • Accurate – Feedback must be accurate to the skill and performance. This means that if feedback is given on rolling a 1 ½” hose correctly, but the feedback is contradictory to how the skill was initially taught or explained, then performance can actually decrease. This situation can occur when multiple instructors are teaching and they are not on the same page, giving contradictory direction or information
  • Actionable – Feedback must be based on what can be improved on. The feedback cannot be based on something that the student can not improve. If a student is being taught to do confined space maneuvers in a small opening, and the student physically can not fit in the opening, then the feedback on the student entering the hole is irrelevant and not actionable by the student. This leads to frustration, which stops the learning process.
  • Respectful – Learning can be incredibly stressful for students. When we struggle to learn a new concept or skill, most adults become self-critical, destroying confidence. The student does not need feedback, which is demeaning or nonconstructive, then the student will immediately stop learning. As adult learners, we must feel safe to make mistakes and fail. If we do not, then the adult will focus on the ramifications of failure instead of focusing on success.
  • Specific – To improve on any performance, we must be instructed exactly where the improvement needs to be made and how to do that. Most of us can think of a frustrating learning experience where we felt the feedback we received was of no value because there was no clear identification of what needed to be improved and how to improve it. As teachers, we are in partnership with our students, much like a coach and athlete. We cannot do the skill for them, but we can clearly explain how to do it and where to make changes.

In summary, learners cannot perform at a high level without a clear direction of what to do, how to do it, and why the skill is important. This can only be accomplished through self-reflection and receiving quality feedback.

 

References

Rodsevich, M. (2019, April 08). Five Advantages Of Employee-Driven Feedback. Retrieved from Glassdoor for employers: https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/five-advantages-of-employee-driven-feedback/

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