Where Logic Meets Love

From Course Evaluations to Self-Evaluations

Thursday, December 2, 2010

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From Course Evaluations to Self-Evaluations | Faith Permeating Life
One of the things I advocate for most at my job is the student voice. I feel that education is vitally important, and we can't improve education if we don't listen to our "customers" -- the students. This is why it's so frustrating to me when instructors dismiss evaluations written by students as having no value. Students need to be able to have a say in whether they're receiving the quality of education they're paying for!

I recently realized that the issue in improving education is not so much identifying "good" teachers and "bad" teachers and getting rid of the bad ones. It's no coincidence that the instructors I had in college who made a point of saying that our evaluations didn't matter were usually the ones I disliked most. The biggest concern is instructors who are willing to accept feedback vs. those who aren't.

I've encountered two examples recently of really excellent teachers being very receptive to student feedback. I discovered that an instructor at our college who recently received a very prestigious teaching award (and also happens to be one of my favorite people) not only encourages her students to complete the end-of-semester course evaluations, but actually has the students write down a few sentences at the end of every class about what they found useful and not useful about the lesson. If there are contradictions (half the class likes breaking into small groups and half the class hates it), she presents the dilemma back to them and asks them to devise a resolution. Similarly, a friend on the other end of the education spectrum (teaching first graders), who received near-perfect scores on both parts of her PRAXIS exam, holds "morning meetings" with her students to go over the daily agenda and get their input on any problems the class may be having.

It seems like a contradiction in a way -- why are the best teachers seeking student feedback when they're obviously doing a good job already? But it makes sense that it is that spirit of constant self-reflection and openness to feedback that made them so good in the first place. In any business, the worker who can receive constructive criticism gracefully and learn from it is going to be more successful than the worker who is defensive and refuses to see any truth in the feedback they're given.

So this was my first revelation -- that the importance of course evaluations for performance review is not in identifying the highest- or lowest-scoring instructors, but in identifying over time which instructors are able and willing to learn from and improve upon their teaching methods as a result of their feedback.

My second revelation was how this same truth applies not just to education, but to life -- to self-improvement, specifically. As I've said previously, I'm a fan of Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project blog, and I finally got my hands on her book of the same name. She talks in her introduction about how people criticized her embarking on this project because she wasn't unhappy. She was pretty happy, in general, but wanted to find ways to be happier. She says you don't have to miserable to want to improve your happiness. Just as even the very best teachers can learn from student feedback, even a very happy person can find ways to bring a boost of joy into their life. And there's nothing wrong with that.

This is also similar to an idea often mentioned by Scott Smith of Motivation to Move, whose Daily Boost podcast I listen to. He talks about the importance of asking yourself once a week, "How's my life going?" It's a way to have self-reflection and self-feedback. Even if things are pretty good for you, it's not until you take the time to do this self-reflection that you're able to really make progress toward your larger life goals.

So how is my life going? It's good -- I have a lot to be grateful for -- but I'm also excited about the possibility for challenging myself and bringing more peace and joy into my life.

How is your life going?

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