Your Feedback Method Does Not Work!

My colleague (fellow trainer and former participant on a short trainer skills course), came up for a quick hallway conversation at a conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. She said she had been thinking of me lately, and then made a comment which became a title of this post. By ‘your way’ (of giving feedback) my colleague meant my gentle and respectful way of talking to teachers. I was very curious! Having very little time for a more in-depth conversation, I asked just one question: ‘Did the teacher you were trying to give feedback to want any feedback? Did s/he ask for it?‘ As you may guess, the answer was ‘no‘.

I am hoping to catch up with my friend and to hear the full story (with our busy schedules and travels, it seems hard!) Meanwhile, I started thinking what IS ‘my feedback style’? Being polite and respectful in the way I talk to a teacher is a part of it (and very important part!) but what else makes it ‘my way’?

I then recalled a ‘feedback conversation’ with my friend and colleagues Ron Bradley** (who is also a fellow trainer and trainer of trainers, and a reader and commenter on this blog). Ron commented on my Trainer Integrity post and recalled ‘The Green Zone Gift Box’ activity he did on a course for teachers and trainers. 

Reminded by that hallway conversation I thought to share our chats with Ron about this feedback attitude, beliefs and metaphors. Hope you enjoy reading it!

** you can find more information about Ron at the end of the post**


Zhenya: So Ron, could you tell me more about this activity?

Ron: ‘The Green Zone Gift Box’ was a session I came up with for a group of participants/trainers in Turkey. The ‘green zone’, or ‘communal zone’, refers to a puzzle activity used to build team cohesiveness. It was created and delivered in response to one participant (and the group leader) from the Ministry of Education. [By virtue of his position, he thought he carried authority and gave feedback as such]. In the green zone,  jig-saw puzzle pieces are shared without regard to the person or ego. Once an idea is given up/shared/placed in the metaphorical green box, it no longer has one’s authorship, or ego attached.

One example of such puzzle activity from Business Balls free materials collection can be found here.

Zhenya: How does it work in relation to feedback on someone’s lesson?

Ron: When a piece of feedback is placed (metaphorically) into the Green Zone Gift Box and when retrieved by the receiver, the ideas, suggestions, criticisms have no ownership and can be regarded or rejected without the reference to the giver and therefore potential bad feels and possible rejection.

Zhenya: What you said reminded me of one feedback metaphor ‘Candy on the Table’ (I wrote a post about it a long time ago). If we imagine that the green space is the ‘table’, the picture may have to change this way.

Ron: Yes, exactly: once the feedback piece is given up in the Green Zone Gift Box, there is no ownership of the idea[s]…not until they are picked up by the receiver of the gift. The shared ideas or feedback are read in private, so to speak, with no response or reaction given to the giver (after all, the giver is unknown). It is the receiver’s choice as to what to do with the ideas or feedback—accept and act upon, or reject.

Zhenya: Makes sense to me! What if, for example, there is a question or clarification needed? Can there be a dialogue?

Ron: If some clarification is needed, the receiver may seek it from the giver and/or do further research until the receiver feels comfortable and confident. The Green Zone Gift Box can be metaphorical or actually implemented.

The Green Box Theory of Feedback. Developed by Ron Bradley, Global TEFL

Zhenya: Ron, thank you for this conversation and idea sharing. I love the feedback discussion questions on the slide.


Now, back to the title of the post: I really don’t believe there could be ‘the’ feedback method or style, always working, with anyone we are talking to. There is no ‘right’ method, I think. To me, putting a candy on the table and letting the teacher decide whether or not s/he wants to eat it is crucial. By doing so, I am aware I can hear ‘No thanks!’ in reply.

Questions to Readers:

What do you think about the Green Zone Gift Box and Candy on the Table? What other feedback metaphors do you use?

Thank you for reading!

**A more formal introduction: Ron Bradley is a senior teacher trainer and trainer of trainers with World Learning SIT Graduate Institute, and he is a very experienced and well travelled ELT-er (a trainer, trainer of trainers, educational consultant, online course facilitator, U.S. State Department English Language Specialist) I had a chance to co-train with Ron on several courses in South Korea, and we have been in touch for years sharing training and teaching ideas and insights.**

In Daejeon, South Korea, many years ago 🙂

About Zhenya

ELT: teacher educator, trainer coach, reflective practice addict
This entry was posted in Trainer Reflections and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Your Feedback Method Does Not Work!

  1. Ron Bradley says:

    Hi Zhenya, I look forward to any feedback from your readers.

    Here are two examples of feedback sessions I delivered on two SIT courses Ellen and I taught.

    The first took place in the mid 2000s at SIT. The teacher in question taught a lesson that was totally T centered with lots of verbage. At feedback, he told me that he didn’t want feedback and that was just the way he taught. So I proceed with the other teachers and began to close the session when he said, “Aren’t you going to give me feedback?” Not sure why this turn around, but I gave him some feedback that was rejected (I must have been too direct. But I think he knew what his issues were given his initial response–“No feedback”). It turned out that he had recorded his lesson, and after listing to it, his eyes were suddenly opened. His comment was, “I don’t think they understood a word I said. His next lesson was to a very low level Saudi women and was a complete turn around. He used rods to teach prepositions of place, as I remember, using almost no language except that needed to model the target language. Here is a distinct case of a teacher needing to give himself permission to receive my and his own feedback.

    The other example from a course in 2012 involved a listening lesson. This teacher was highly experienced in teaching children reading. Her approach was to read a story and pantomime the meaning as she read. She applied this same approach to her listening text. The task was for the students to mime or act out the story as she delivered it, showing their understanding. The problem was that she also acted out the story as she read it–after all this was way she was used to teaching. Of course, her acting out the story undercut the objective–for the students to show understanding. Now they got their cues directly from the teacher–no need for the students to understand the story–just follow the teacher’s actions, and thus giving the impression that they understood the content.

    In feedback, she felt the lesson had gone very well and did not see the dilemma. I was very direct and told her the problem as I saw it! Big mistake on my part. After all, she had years of experience. The result, of course, was a stalemate. I often wonder if she ever realized the issue.

    I have often thought about my approach and how I might have done it differently. Perhaps a better approach would have been to ask her what her task objective was (which I normally do) and by asking if by her miming the meaning herself could have given the “answers” away, thus not allowing her to accurately assess the students’ understanding. This would have given her a better opportunity to consider the issue more objectively.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Andriy Ruzhynskiy says:

      Your post brings up an eternal question, Zhenya. Thank you for that! And it is super fantastic to hear from Ron! What a lovely picture! 🙂
      The metaphor that I often use if a big bowl placed in the middle of the table where we are sitting. I always invite the trainees to throw their ideas to the ‘bowl’, and it is the teacher’s job to decide what they want to pick up from it. Also, this metaphor helps me to highlight the importance of being non-defensive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zhenya says:

        Hi Andriy

        An eternal question indeed! Thank you for reading and commenting!

        I love the bowl metaphors, too: sharing a meal is a great way to show that everyone at a table is friendly, and a chance to pick what to eat or not to eat (or to get packed and take away for a late supper?) is very important.

        Interesting how both candy on the table and the bowl are about food 🙂 It suddenly prompts me that eating is not for the taste only, and we need all the variety of vitamins, etc. to have a balanced diet and quality life. Also, everyone’s body is different, so naturally, not all the ingredients kindly offered by the others would ‘work’. ‘No hurt feelings, it is just the way my body works’ kind of thinking?

        Thank you for helping me think more in this direction! Good luck on the course if you are running it, and safe travels home!


    • Zhenya says:

      Hi Ron

      As always, my gratitude goes to you for not only writing the post together, but also for expanding and extending the conversations with more examples from your experience. Wow!

      In the first example, the key line (to me) was this: ‘It turned out that he had recorded his lesson, and after listening to it, his eyes were suddenly opened.’ This teacher actually got so much courage and willingness to reflect. I wonder, about the initial attitude (‘No feedback to me!’): could it be something about being a man in the society where men are supposed to be stronger/better and can’t lose face, etc.? You did not mention where the course took place but did say he taught the lesson to Saudi students (women).

      My big impression from non-ELT reading world was/is the book ‘Thanks for the Feedback’ from HBR team, and they classify 3 types of feedback we can give, receive or request: appreciation, evaluation and coaching. To me, what we are trying to do using the ELC at the SIT courses is mostly coaching, whereas sometimes teachers may simply want some appreciation? This may be true for the second teacher in the example you gave. I guess, she perhaps wanted to be praised for her creativity, engaging students, etc. Did she want to hear anything critical about her lesson? Not sure she did. I guess if we keep offering our input and put more ways to ‘improve’ the lesson on the table (being ‘direct’, in fact, is a big topic for another conversation!), we will hear more and more reasons why we are wrong.

      I would love to think more about both examples!


      • Ron Bradley says:

        Zhenya, the course involving the Saudi women took place at SIT; not sure of the year, but mid 2000s.

        Thank you for your additional thoughts. There are infinite ways to view the same statue, and they could all be right.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent post.
    Thanks for sharing!


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