Gen Y teachers tend to desire sustained, constructive, and individualized feedback from principals to help them become more effective in the classroom.
Best practices in private-sector talent management frequently include offering substantive and thoughtful feedback as a strategy. According to Lawler (2008), a critical factor in the successful recruitment and hiring of high-quality employees is “offering to provide [them] with feedback on their performance, in order to attract those who wish to learn and develop themselves, while dissuading those who do not” (p. 11). More specifically, offering feedback to Gen Y candidates is particularly useful, as this is a workplace condition that, on average, they value highly. When NAS Recruitment Communications, a human resources firm, released its seven strategies for retaining Gen Y employees in 2006, feedback was a recurring theme.
Indeed, frequent observation and thorough feedback were found to be very important to the Gen Y teachers surveyed for this study. When given the choice between working for a principal who is a frequent visitor to their classrooms and a principal who only stops in once a year, Gen Y teachers were overwhelmingly—70 percent—in favor of the former (see Figure 14). Importantly, older teachers also are largely in favor of having the principal offer frequent feedback (61 percent).
The desire to be mentored through observation and constructive feedback also was expressed by the teachers interviewed in the focus groups. In general, the teachers explained that they understand that there is work to be done to improve their practice and that they cannot improve on their own. One elementary school teacher from Wisconsin said the following:
I would prefer my principal to walk in. In fact, he does all the time. He walks in and observes all of us. I have no problem with my teaching, and I would like people to come in and observe me because I want to hear constructive feedback. I want to know, what am I doing, do you find this effective, what am I not doing? If you’re going to come in and evaluate me, make it meaningful for me and my students. Don’t just come in and give me a “satisfactory”—I appreciate [when] principals actually take the time to care for the child’s education and make sure that the teachers in there are really doing their job.
Teachers expressed a desire to be observed and critiqued to strengthen their own teaching and keep them accountable for their professional decisions. Although some interviewees said that they were initially wary of having an “open-door” classroom, they have ultimately come to appreciate it. A middle school teacher from North Carolina said the following:
The school that I’m at this year, there are administrators in my classroom every single day. The first couple weeks of school, I … was scared, thought I was doing something wrong, but now they know me, they know how I am as a teacher, and I feel like I’ve earned their respect. I also feel like it’s helped to make me a better teacher, because I’m always on my toes and I know anytime somebody can walk in. I want to make sure that I’m doing a good job and what I’m supposed to.
Because of their interest in collaboration and professional learning, Gen Y educators solicit feedback from their supervisors and mentors more frequently than their older colleagues. In general, those who participated in the focus groups were quick to point out that the comments do not necessarily have to be positive or celebratory; they just need to be available. “I love feedback,” exclaimed a high school teacher from Washington, D.C. “It can be critical; it can be positive, whatever.”