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Choose To Be a Mirror

Brene Brown explains “Without feedback there can be no transformative change. When we don’t talk to the people we’re leading about their strengths and their opportunities for growth, they begin to question their contributions and our commitment. Disengagement follows” (2012, p. 197). Every educator and caregiver I am speaking to these days is worried about engagement. I hear this worry in questions such as "How do I make sure they...?" and "Are they really reading at home right now?" and "What can we do to motivate them to..."

In my book Mindsets and Moves (2015) which is all about student ownership and engagement, I devote an entire chapter to how we can be mirrors for our students. What I mean by being a mirror is to see our role as one who reflects back without judgement what we see. When we withhold our judgment it allows students to take ownership for the quality and outcomes of their own efforts. This reinforces a growth mindset and helps reinforce student ownership in their own process.

Rather than speaking about our own opinions about what we see students doing we can speak about the actions they took and what the outcomes of those actions were. By choosing to be a mirror I allow the reflection I offer to be untainted by my own personal preferences, ideas, and timelines about where a learner should or could be in their learning experiences.

Being a mirror is a form of teaching. Instead of teaching the student something brand new, we are teaching them what they are already doing, how to talk about their learning process, and when and why they could choose to do it again. Transfer cannot happen without metacognitive awareness of what and how we do things. What if we viewed some of our teaching opportunities through the lens of reinforcement and transfer? In this way, what it means to teach gets broadened and redefined.

This mirroring feedback that teaches has five qualities. It is specific and names what the reader did. It is asset-based and focuses on what the reader already is doing that is helping. In addition, it is growth mindset-based and describes the effort and work the reader put in, not just the end product. It can be transferred from one reading experience to another. Finally, feedback that teaches is helpful when it is non-judgemental and sticks to neutral statements about what the reader did without our “shoulds” or “I need you to’s.” Feedback supports ownership when we don’t make it about ourselves and keep our focus on the reader.

The "bonus" of paying attention to how you give feedback and act as a mirror now during distance learning, is that the same qualities will carry over once we are back in schools with students.