“If you prick us, do we not bleed?” — Shylock (from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice)
I caught part of a radio interview this afternoon on Q with Gian Gomeshi — the guest was Greg Graffin, the (now middle-aged) front man for the punk band Bad Religion. I know almost nothing about punk, but the guy sounded like a sweet, thoughtful person, doing his music thing, and teaching at Cornell.
What got my attention was that Graffin said he didn’t read reviews of his music, and didn’t read student comments on the faculty evaluations and the end of his courses. He’s afraid of the criticism.
Okay, it’s NOT that I CAN’T relate. Criticism — even private criticism from learners, written on an evaluation survey that only you read — is painful. Worse (obviously) if the learner is trying to be hurtful. And knowing nothing of fame myself, I don’t know how it would feel to read a published review of my work.
All that said, the evaluation comments at the end of a workshop or course aren’t about YOU.
They are about how the learner experienced the event, how the learner interpreted you, and how the learner negotiated meaning from the content, activities, and interaction with other learners.
While some learners might offer vapid griping — Graffin’s fear was a student calling him “boring” — and others might try to be insulting, the most helpful comments you’ll read will come from learners who ask for specific changes, or give you new insights into your teaching, methods, or materials.
Here are a few tips for rethinking post-course evaluations:
Look for patterns
Are many learners, over many trainings, giving you similar feedback about your organization, timing, or tone?
In a pile of friendly, supportive evals, are there one or two grumpy folks who totally didn’t get you? Or missed the point of your training, came for the wrong reasons, or didn’t appreciate your sense of humor?
Read those, but don’t dwell on them more than on the comments from your fans. (Oy, I know — easier said than done!)
Treat feedback as a gift
Learners came to the event to take something away (skills, concepts, new contacts). If they take the time to evaluate the event and your presentation — bonus! Free coaching for you.
Find the grain of truth in any comment, and shake off any negative tone you’re picking up. That tone could come from anything — the learner’s fight last night with the boyfriend, a bounced check, a flat tire on the way to the event….
The important thing is, maybe what they are saying is legitimate. Maybe you left some context out of your intro that would have helped, or maybe you need to think about using additional instructional tools, like a scoring guide, or agenda.
It might be you
Have you been leading a longer course? And ignored repeated feedback from the same learners? In that case, you might need to own both the content and tone of negative eval comments. (Sorry to point out the obvious…)
Remember how it feels
The next time you give feedback to a fellow instructor, keep it useful and professional.
Ask for what you need. Praise specific methods and materials.
You might dislike the instructor, but, well, that might be obvious without writing about it in the course eval! Just in case the instructor bleeds when he’s pricked, go ahead and use a butter knife if you have critical feedback.
Have you ever skipped reading your course evaluations? How do you prepare to read them — and process the good, the bad and the ugly?