The Power of an Alliance: Equity in Feedback

This week, we are going to continue our discussion on building alliances.

One definition of an alliance that I really love from definition is “a merging of efforts or interests by persons, families, states, or organizations.” I think that beautifully describes what we want to accomplish between teachers and students and teachers and their students’ families.

One key way to build and keep an alliance in the classroom is to provide equity. Last week, I introduced the Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement, or TESA, from the Los Angeles County Office in Education. As a reminder, TESA has three main strands along within five interactions that lead to student learning.

If you haven’t read last week’s blog, The Power of an Alliance: Equity in Responses, I encourage you to do so as this will give you insight into the first strand. In this blog, I want to tackle the second strand: equity in giving feedback. Here are the five interactions found under the feedback strand:

  • Affirm/Correct
  • Praise for the Learning Performance
  • Reasons for Praise
  • Listening
  • Accepting Feelings

I’d like to include an excerpt here from my book, Building a Bridge from “I Can’t” to “I DID!”.

Feedback serves many different purposes. Feedback provides direction for instruction, affirms correct or thoughtful responses, builds self-esteem, and increases value. When students participate in any capacity in class, they want to know what their teachers think about their responses, and students who rely heavily on the relational aspect need it even more. Unfortunately, research shows that lower-achieving students are often ignored or do not receive feedback.

As educators, we must be intentional to ensure that we are acknowledging and affirming all students. We also need to keep in mind that if students are incorrect in their thinking, they typically expect to be corrected. As we are determining the best way and the appropriate times to correct or affirm our students, I think it is always an effective excercise to switch places with the student, thinking through how you would want to be corrected or affirmed. When you throw out an idea or a possible outcome, what response would you like to get? If you are incorrect in an idea, how would you like to be corrected? If you submit a project or write-up to your boss, how would you want to receive feedback? This is a great excercise to help us remember that students, no matter what age, are people as well, and many of the feelings and responses you would have and want are the same for them as well.

Kleiber, J. 2018. Building a Bridge from “I Can’t” to “I DID!”: Creating Independent Learners through Culturally Responsive Teaching. p 124.

So let’s take a look at each of these interactions.

Affirm/Correct – this is simply as it sounds – the teacher learns to give ongoing, consistent feedback equitably to each students.

Praise for learning performance – the teacher praises the student’s learning performance. This goes beyond grades and data, although growth should always be praised. This can include participation, effort and attempts, and thoughtful answers.

Reasons for Praise – the teacher uses praise to give useful feedback to the students. The teacher also gives equitable reasons for praise. For example, one student isn’t always praised with “good try!” and another student praised with “Great job! I love the way you figured that out!” Both of these praises are effective, but we want to make sure we aren’t always praising one student for grades and another for effort. TESA suggests that praise has these characteristics. Praise should

  • immediately follow the accomplishment,
  • be specific to the accomplishment,
  • be informative or appreciative,
  • be varied and credible,
  • be natural rather than theatrical,
  • be individualized, and
  • be attributed to effort and ability.

In Engagement By Design, Dr. Russell Quaglia’s Student Voice Survey revealed that only 53% of students surveyed said that their teachers affirmed them when they tried their best. That means that almost half of the students surveyed did not feel praised for their best efforts!

When we are reaching the students for whom school is difficult, or where school is their safe place and the teacher is their main role model and leader, not receiving praise in any capacity can be devastating to the student, and detrimental to learning. However, receiving authentic, individualized praise can be just the thing needed to push them over the edge to success and independent learning.

Listening – I love that this is listed as feedback, because giving the other person the respect to actively listen sends a very clear message that their voice is valuable. This can be empowering to students who are not used to having their voice heard, or are not confident in sharing their thoughts and ideas. Responding by asking clarifying questions, or agreeing with specific, relevant reasons, making eye contact, and being attentive are all valuable ways to give feedback that the student’s voice is valued through the teacher’s listening.

To sum up this conversation on feedback, students need to know that:

  • you are listening to them,
  • that you value their effort and their voice,
  • and that they are valuable enough to you to offer them feedback.

For more information on building alliances, visit to learn more about our summer workshop!

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