In part 2 of this 5-part interview series on the professional development blog PLTogether, Edthena CEO Adam Geller interviews former classroom teacher and education expert, Nina Gilbert about how to provide constructive feedback to teachers.


Here is the transcript of that interview:

– Welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena the platform that streamlines observation and feedback to teachers to ensure that they’re able to help their students reach their full potential. Today I’m joined by Nina Gilbert, she’s a former classroom teacher herself who actually still teaches, but in a completely different classroom setting sometimes on movie sets, Nina thanks so much for joining us.

– Thank you for having me Adam, happy to be here.

– We were talking previously about your experience doing school design. And I mentioned that you’re still a teacher and let’s say a nontraditional looking classroom because I think that’s relevant to this kind of broader question that many educators are facing which is redesigning what learning looks like in their classrooms, especially when their classrooms may not even be a physical space anymore. So I guess, you know, we can talk about how a leader might support those teachers. But first take me through like, talk a teacher down off the ledge. Who’s coming to your teacher to teacher heart-to-heart feeling like everything’s rough. Like help me see how I’m ready for this moment I’m ready for this challenge.

– Sure for me, it’s about helping teachers, helping other educators find those small wins. Like just hour by hour, course by course, class by class. Find something great that you can focus on and identify as an accomplishment. Whether it’s a student who finally got that concept or a teacher who finally figured out how to make that light bulb come on for her students. But when you look at everything that we’re facing now as a country, you’re looking at the challenges schools and school leaders are facing. It’s overwhelming. It can be so daunting to think about everything that has to be accomplished and challenges and hurdles jumped over. But there are so many bright spots in so many positive stories that can be shared and we have to find a way to kind of decompress and look at these small wins whenever and wherever we can find them.

– That’s a good reminder for teachers who are take a deep breaths every day but to remind themselves of the small wins. You know, I think about, the practices that I every time this comes to mind, I think, yeah I should do that more but the idea of the gratitude journal where you write down something good because there’s always something good to talk about in the day, and then you can remind yourself of all the good incremental things you’ve done the way. Okay so now let’s flip gears. You know, teachers are they’re the ones doing the heavy lifting and their creative spaces. That might be totally digital right now but behind every great teacher, hopefully is a great leader who’s supporting them. What should a leader be thinking about right now in terms of supporting a teacher to be making all the changes that are necessary to adapt to pandemic teaching?

– I think what’s really tough for both teachers and leaders is this whole evaluation piece Some teachers are really nervous that their ability to perform in this remote environment, if they are not to doing an exceptional job and you know, how will I be evaluated? So if teachers feel that they can receive some support and feedback, that is non-evaluative that maybe it would allow a lot more, a lot of authenticity and transparency as teachers try to find a way to become an excellent online or remote educator. I think for leaders, they’re really focused on a number of things, the wellbeing of their students, making sure that their teachers are well equipped and supported but there’s always this ever-present like compliance issue. Making sure that you’re meeting all of the compliance requirements, whatever’s required by the District or the State, or if you have Federal Programs, almost public schools will have Federal Programs are responsible for making sure all of that is accomplished. So I think having an environment or a culture where there’s constant feedback open lines of communication multiple ways to communicate with each other, since a lot of schools lease in the Metro area, some are, you know remote or hybrid, others are completely remote. Others are coming in one or two days a week. And so I think the way that we are accustomed to communicating with one another that’s changed quite a bit. And folks feel like they’re kind of isolated in they’re in a silo and on an Island alone. And so I think this is a great time to create more professional learning communities, having frequent check-ins a lot of peer to peer support because this is kind of strange and unusual for everyone or students or teachers or principals or boards. The whole country is grappling with this new normal.

– You said something there that I think is interesting. You reminded me that, we should be doing the kind of good practice that we maybe should have been doing all along, which was being explicit with those members of our teams about the distinctions between let’s call it a high stakes conversation evaluation and the ongoing set of conversations and relationships you wanna have with that educator. Because in the absence of that it’s almost like, how does the teacher feel safe to ask for help, right? Like that, that unknown may be holding them back even more than it would have held them back in the past, because they can’t show up in another colleague’s office or another colleague’s classroom and read the body language. And in the energy of the room to know is this a safe place to ask for help?

– That’s right. And I think teachers are dealing with they’re asking themselves questions they did not ask this time last year. And those questions are not, am I going to sign my contract and come back to this school next year but do I feel safe, not just professionally to go and ask for help, but do I feel that my school is a safe place to work right? While I’m trying to understand this new remote digital distance learning process, I’m also worried about my health. Can I continue to work in this current environment and make… If schools can open the doors for more frequent dialogue around that, making sure that teachers feel not only supported professionally pedagogy is just one part of the experience you have to also feel, if you look at a hierarchy of needs, like do, am I having my basic needs met when I come into the school environment. And even if the school environment is online do I have the tools and the support required to create the type of balance that I need? So if I am online, zooming with my students or my colleagues all day and all evening and all night

– And all weekend

– And I think I mentioned earlier that we’ve gone from working from home to living at work because now your workspace is actually in your home and is in your living room, your dining room, your bedroom your kitchen, and there’s no place to decompress and kind of create the type of balance and wellbeing and wellness that you need. So I think making sure that leaders are focused on all of it and that’s a lot for the year. Like you have to be not only the principal of a school or assistant principal or Dean or whatever your role is but you also are responsible for these kind of quality of life check-ins like, how are you doing? Because people are still sick, they’re teaching through a pandemic and that’s not happened in our lifetime.

– It’s it feels like you’re reminding us that while we’re very practiced at asking the questions about the whole student being supported we need to make sure we’re also asking that question about the teachers in our school communities to ensure that they’re feeling supported and so that they can continue to come to work and be successful in their roles. So we need to take a break. We’ve been talking about teachers next we’ll be talking about supporting students a little bit more directly if you’re just joining us and wondering what we talk about next or what we talked about before or who else I’ve talked to, head over to for the rest of this conversation as well as many more. Nina thanks so much for joining us and we’ll be right back.

– Thank you.