All-Star Facilitator Series

Letters to Self: The Importance of Reflective Feedback

The Safe Zone Project Team

All-Star Facilitator Series

This is an one of the many lessons in our All-Star Facilitator Series, designed to help social justice educators improve their skills. Click here to see the rest of the posts, or if you have an idea for a lesson get involved. Note: this series spun off into our book, Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation — where we expand on some of these lessons, and include others.

One day before a Safe Zone workshop during my undergrad days I sat in my currently empty classroom (feeling awkwardly dressed up to be sitting alone in a classroom) racking my brain thinking, “What the helllllll did I tell myself I wouldn’t do this time and what actually went well in the last workshop?”

During those years (and… pretty much still every time now) I worry right before a workshop starts that I am no good at this, people are going to hate it and not learn anything, how did I get myself into this mess.  Luckily after a few dozen or so of those experiences I figured out some tools that help me put those thoughts down and allow me to remember the ones that are more important.

Learnin’ From My Mistakes

After that Safe Zone I pulled out one of the feedback forms that I handed to my participants and began to grade myself.  “How’d I do today, self?”  What went right? What would I not do again?  What did someone say that surprised me?  What did I learn from these experiences?

It wasn’t until years later (actual years) that I realized a few things about that experience:

  1. If I’d have given myself feedback all along I’d be 100% better facilitator both then and now.  Participant feedback is important, sometimes it is really hard to tell what resonated for some and not others without that direct ask, but self-feedback is something we often do not talk about (or do).
  2. I gotta write it down.  I might have walked out of that workshop previous with a boat load of feedback or thoughts on how I’d do things differently but nothing sticks (for me anyway) without that writing it down piece.
  3. If I did those two things I would have repeated fewer mistakes.

Now… I will be the first to assure you that sitting in an empty classroom, presentation hall, pavillion (bucket list: do a workshop in a pavillion!) writing a letter to yourself about how you did that day feels super goofy.  But it is so important. You know in interview shows when they talk to famous people and ask, “What would you tell your younger self?” and the famous person always answers back something super simple (and typically a word you don’t associate with them at all) like, “Patience.”  This is the thing that I would tell my younger self (and that I am now sharing with you) – don’t underestimate the importance (or power) of feedback.

Moving Forward With Self-Feedback

To cut down on that goofy feeling you have doing all this I wanted to make the steps that I follow acquiring feedback real clear so mostly because following these is the way I trick myself into believing I have to do it.

Step 1: Get the feedback.

Couple of options here.  Best case scenario: you’ve thought about the type of feedback that you want before the workshop, and you’ve drafted a specific feedback form for yourself for that workshop. If you’ve not done any of that but you still realize feedback is important, write down a couple of quick questions during an activity participants are doing by themselves and answer those questions later.  It helps me to have this written down (like this) because again I trick myself into thinking its a requirement of some sort.

Step 2: Seriously did you give yourself feedback?

It sounds simple now, but I assure you after a workshop goes awry or you’re totally exhausted from being challenged by participants for 2 hours the least likely thing you’ll want to do is give yourself feedback on what you could have done better.  But it will make you stronger, your future self with thank your past self at your next workshop, I promise.

Step 3: Why don’t ya do something?

Read the feedback within 24-72 hours so the workshop is still fresh in your mind.  Ideally, do this when you really have time to absorb (take notes perhaps).

Step 3.5: Read it again, but way longer than 72 hours later. I’ll save feedback notes that I wrote myself for a year, sometimes longer. When I reflect back on them after that long a time, I get a completely different (and sometimes really helpful) nudge. Plus, they’re fun to read.

Step 4: Be amongst the self-disciplined elite.

Write yourself a new action plan, curriculum, gameplan for next time.  If you take that feedback you have from yourself and from others and actually change your curriculum or goals for next time before the next workshop when everything is still fresh.  You will separate yourself from the herd and be amongst the will-powerfully strong self-disciplined elite.  I can tell you that I do not do this every time… or even most, but it is something I always strive for (and that my future self always thanks me for.)

Typically there isn’t a sure-thing in life.  If you want one sure-fire, bonafide way to make yourself better: get feedback, give feedback, receive feedback, act on the feedback.  And you’ll be better. Guaranteed.