Getting the ducks in a row

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Getting the ducks in a row

With the publication of Student Feedback, the first two books in a series of three are now in place.  Logically, Student Feedback is the first in the series, so it now feels as though things are properly lined up.

In this newsletter I want to explore in more detail why I see the collection and use of student feedback as being the first step in transforming the teacher-student relationship.


1.  Collecting and using student feedback

Education is undergoing a major transformation, which has, at its heart, a fundamental shift in the nature of the teacher–student relationship. In a rapidly changing world, it is no longer enough for educators to equip students with skills for the predictable, algorithmic work that was characteristic of many nineteenth- and twentieth-century careers; young adults today must be prepared for work that requires creative and collaborative problem solving – they must be equipped for an uncertain and challenging future.

The shift from a teaching relationship to a learning relationship is fundamental in preparing young people to thrive in the twenty-first century. From the student’s perspective, the shift is characterised by replacing summative assessment and simply being told what to do with formative assessment that stimulates learning by helping them to answer the question: if this is where I am now, where do I go next?


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The systematic collection of student feedback for classroom teachers, followed by its use at the individual teacher level and at the whole school level, is a gentle but sustained way to allow new behaviours and beliefs – behaviours and beliefs underpinning the transformation of our education systems – to be gradually adopted and become the norm that defines a culture: “the way we do things around here”.

Supporting students to develop autonomous (or self) motivation, rather than using controlled motivation – reward and punishment – is fundamental to the changes taking place. Moreover, this support must be provided within an environment of mutual unconditional respect between teacher and student, where formative assessment is provided in both directions. In short, teachers need to model twenty-first-century skills to their students.


From a teacher’s perspective, this is a substantive cultural shift that involves multiple changes in both beliefs and attitudes – one that is difficult under any circumstances. The belief that an educator’s practice, once developed, can remain static over time is no longer tenable; yet, to replace it with an acceptance that professional practice is always evolving takes time. This change also involves the adoption of new behaviours: self-reflection, goal setting, trying something new, reviewing it – all within a dynamic and demanding environment.

Collecting and using student feedback is a powerful catalyst towards engendering these changes in attitudes and behaviours. Focusing on students and their needs stimulates educators to reflect on their professional practice in the light of student feedback and, with the right processes in place, make incremental changes to improve student experience.

Allowing feedback to go both ways begins to reduce the traditional, one-sided nature of the teacher–student relationship, creating a connection that is more mutual: we are in this together, let’s give each other feedback so that we can increase learning for both of us.

Reprinted from the introduction to Student Feedback: using student voice to build twenty-first-century skills

2.  Red Brain Blue Brain now fits as a focus on the behaviours that characterise the teacher-student relationship for the twenty first century

With a climate of interdependence gradually being developed through the systematic collection and use of student feedback in the service of improving the student experience, the opportunity for educators to work on increasing their blue brain/red brain ratio becomes viable.  The goal of this work is to remove the red brain altogether and be able to present always one’s best self to students and colleagues.


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In Red Brain Blue Brain, I show how we have grown up having two mind states.  In the blue brain we are at our best – confident, collaborative and creative.  In the red brain we become self-focused, impulsive and emotional, and we lack choice in how we respond to people and events.

I also show that there is a pathway to managing, reducing and eventually removing the red brain, leaving us operating at our best all the time.

I believe that twenty first century skills are characteristic of someone who operates in the blue brain as a matter of course.

By modelling this to children we help them to grow without developing a red brain in the first place. Much, much easier than trying to fix it after the fact.


This is not easy for an individual to do such that creating a climate that encourages it is an important step.  This what collecting and using student feedback systematically can do.


3.  A book focused on vertical development in schools is the third in the series

After running a trial survey of fifteen participants, the main survey is underway with data being collected from all the leaders in the first school in the survey program.  The survey being used is the Washington University Sentence Completion Test that is a well-proven instrument for measuring vertical development in the range that is of interest in education.

The survey is made up of 18 sentence stems that participants can complete.  When we do this, we project how we see the world into our answers in terms of content, language and perspective.  Careful coding of answers provides a reliable measure of level of vertical development.

First results are looking very interesting but still too soon, and too little data, to draw any conclusions.


Education is undergoing a major transformation, which has, at its heart, a fundamental shift in the nature of the teacher–student relationship. In a rapidly changing world, it is no longer enough for educators to equip students with skills for the predictable, algorithmic work that was characteristic of many nineteenth- and twentieth-century careers; young adults today must be prepared for work that requires creative and collaborative problem solving – they must be equipped for an uncertain and challenging future.

John Corrigan