The overlooked art of receiving feedback | Russell Lazovick

The overlooked art of receiving feedback | Russell Lazovick

I can’t dance. I see other people moving gracefully, interpreting what they hear through
their bodies with elegance and creativity and a clear connection to the rhythm,
to the beat. They twirl, and they hit, and they
collide, all almost effortlessly. Smiling throughout, they’re having
such a wonderful time. And still, dancing does not
come naturally to me. I can hear the music, I just can’t seem
to get my body to move in any coherent or elegant
way to the music, and it’s not comfortable for me,
or for anyone who sees me. And I’ve tried, I’ve worked hard to overcome
my middle school wallflower fears, I’ve taken lessons, I watch other people
and try and copy what they do, even when the dancers are scripted though, they never seem to come out the
way they’re intended. The universe has a sense of humor,
about most things I think, but certainly, about my dancing. I know this, because I’ve been fortunate
enough to have two incredible daughters, unique and inspiring kids who challenge
me and fill me with unending joy. Because they like books and games and
movies and sports and theater and school, and I cannot leave this out,
they are both competitive dancers. That’s right, of all the activities my
kids could have pursued both were drawn to of all things, dance. Now when I was a new parent, I couldn’t
have cared what my kids were going to be passionate about. I was going to be supportive and
over-involved and of course proud. I had dreams of teaching them things like how to ride a bike or
how to read a book, why the sky is blue and why they should
always be kind. I had visions of one day coaching a team or helping them in whatever activity
it was they wanted to do. And what the universe decided was
that my kids wanted to dance all day, everyday. They train 4-6 days a week, hours on end, and when they come home, all they want
to do is dance some more. They watch dance on TV, they choreograph
their own routines. No matter what else is going on dance has become a constant in our house. And thankfully, they ask me to join in,
so I do, unhesitatingly, my middle school teachers would be proud,
and I’m terrible. But the wonderful thing is, they haven’t
given up hope. They give me feedback, they’re direct,
sometimes cruelly so, but I’m open to it all, and it’s actually fun to hear what they
think, to take their feedback on my dancing
and try and get better. But I realize this has not been my
experience with feedback in other aspects of my life. Feedback is tough because it challenges
our sense of self. When someone else breaks down
a performance that’s important to us that we’ve practiced over and over again, that we connect with that somehow
makes us feel special, walls go up. I think back to my time as a
classroom teacher and those walls would appear for me
every time I was evaluated. My administrator would give me feedback, and the second she started I was coming up
with support for my decisions. My walls were up. Honestly, I was doing everything in my
head except truly listening to the feedback. As an administrator, having conversations
with my colleagues, I realized I wasn’t alone
in this struggle. Walls were everywhere, but
we don’t talk about them and we never practice
how to bring them down. Now I realize these walls exist almost as
an innate defense mechanism, and the greater the connection between
the activity and our sense of self, the higher those walls can be. So when my girls give me feedback on
my dancing, the walls are low, because I don’t define myself as a dancer. Now give me feedback on an activity
I connect with, that I’m passionate about, and even though I consider myself
to be an open, growth-minded person, the walls shoot up. And they can be towering. This isn’t unique in education. Honestly you can find it anywhere. If we care about what we do, there’s a natural inclination to
defend ourselves against feedback. And the universe has that sense of humor. Because in this case, those selfsame
walls intended to defend us actually hinder our growth. They make it less likely that
we will hear the feedback and maximize its impact. So if we want to grow, the universe has
decided we have to work. In many cases, that work only gets more
difficult as we get older. Because there seems to be this expectation
that as we know more we shouldn’t need feedback
in the same way. As students, we understood that
receiving feedback was part of our defined role. As we grow up though, receiving feedback becomes less and
less a part of how we define ourselves, which is interesting because if you
look at adults who have mastered anything, one of the things they’ve also mastered
is the ability to hear and use feedback. Now so much focus is placed on
the delivery of feedback. Educators are constantly trained on how to
most effectively give feedback. It’s our job. But when do we train students, or anyone
for that matter, on how to receive feedback? Because the truth is, the ultimate power
rests with the learner, the one receiving the feedback. We, the ones trying to grow, have control
over how we hear and use feedback regardless of how well or how poorly
it’s delivered. What I’ve learned as a parent and an
educator is that the reception of feedback is far
more important and far more powerful than its delivery, and yet, we rarely
talk about it. Receiving feedback is not about saying, “I’m open-minded” or
“I have a growth mindset.” Receiving feedback is a skill
that when mastered, helps us to be more open-minded. It helps us develop that growth mindset. But like any skill,
we have to practice it. You don’t see an athlete
walking out onto a field or a performer walking out on stage without countless hours
of prior preparation. And yet when do we actually
prepare to hear feedback? Mastering the reception of feedback
involves an integrated set of skills but there is one critical foundational
step that we all must take before we start and it’s so often skipped. We have to define success in
whatever activity we’re working on in large part on how we take feedback. I’ve experienced the power of this one
step both professionally and personally. Professionally, a number of years ago,
the state in which I work, looking for ways to evaluate educators
to promote better professional practice, designed and implemented a
quantitative, research-based system that had templates and
rubrics and calculations, all intended to foster growth. At the end, what we learned though,
what it was most successful at growing were educators’ walls. However, the system did the single most
important thing: It made feedback a clear component of our
professional practice. Almost unnoticed initially, once we
educators realized that reflection that hearing and using feedback was a
core component of our jobs, of our role, we had to focus on what that meant. We broke it down, and we practiced, and that work has opened us up to
growth in ways that rubrics and templates and calculations could not. Personally, this same underlying truth is why I’m open to feedback
with my daughters. While it’s true my walls are lower
when talking about my dancing, that’s not why I’m able to
hear the feedback. It’s actually not about my dancing at all, it’s about my being a parent. I want my kids to grow up to be adults who can interact with feedback
in a positive way. So I was determined to be
a model for them. Showing them that I can engage in
activities about which I’m self-conscious, like dancing, and still receive feedback
in a positive way, even in the face of my own insecurities, hopefully’ll lead them to develop those
skills themselves. I had made receiving feedback
a core aspect of my role as a parent, and by doing so upfront, I focused on ways to be best prepared to
receive feedback from my kids before it came, whenever it came,
and in whatever form it came. Now I still embarass my daughters
with my dancing, but I hope I’m teaching them too. They give me feedback, I take it,
and together, we practice, so that they can learn to take feedback
in a way that builds them up, rather than brings them down. I want them to understand, that if we’re
going to be great at anything fill in the blank with any activity that
we’re passionate about, we have to make receiving feedback a core
piece of that activity. I can honestly say after six years of
constant feedback on my dancing, I am certainly a better dancer.
I’m not sure anyone would say “good.” But without question, better. And more importantly, I know I’m a better
father. And everyday I work tirelessly to make
sure I’m best prepared to hear and use feedback. We all can, and when we do,
we can all be dancers.

1 thought on “The overlooked art of receiving feedback | Russell Lazovick”

  1. An endearing story of what we can learn from our children and how it can translate to improving our workplace performance.

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