COMPONENTS OF HOLISTIC LEARNING
By Dave Till and Christine Lines
This is the sixth article in our series on Holistic Learning, to read the introduction and view the other components to follow please click here.
6. Feedback Loops
Based on his experience with the Findhorn Foundation College, Dave believes, “In any holistic programme you need good feedback methods to adjust and shape the programmes. This is particularly true of any programmes that are groundbreaking.” (Refer to the article on learning contracts for the value of clear feedback!)
Staff and students need to jointly assess their experience at the end of any course and the course needs to be modified accordingly. Feedback sheets and verbal sessions are common tools in the College. As holistic methods grow and evolve, feedback is essential for this to continue in the right directions.
Dave continues, “On the Findhorn Community Semester (FCS) programme at Findhorn, the structure was changed after every programme on the basis of feedback information from students and staff. Feedback sessions were also quite good fun.”
After any retreat or workshop, feedback sheets give participants and facilitators the opportunity to learn from each other, receive appreciation and weave insights and ideas into future programmes, for the benefit of all involved. It’s healthy to know what we’re doing well and where we can improve.
The Findhorn Foundation regularly hold education sessions for co-workers to attend. One important topic for people, however long they’ve been in the community, is giving and receiving feedback. This is defined as ‘the art of telling another person or group how they are perceived or experienced by you.’
There are continual opportunities for the exchange of feedback, in work departments, meetings or reviews to name just a few, and doing so skillfully makes all the difference. Feedback is often verbal and good feedback requires a high level of awareness.
One commonly known technique is ‘the sandwich’, i.e. sandwiching constructive feedback in between positive feedback, which makes it easier for the recipient to digest. Living and working in the Findhorn community, I was soon introduced to new techniques and one that seems so obvious and yet is often overlooked is asking permission to give feedback first. This shows respect for the feelings of the other, recognises the importance of appropriate timing and allows for the mindful pause before launching forth!
Prior to this stage, it’s important for the person offering feedback to first consider their intention. Does it come from a heart felt place, is the intention to create connection?
For the person on the receiving end, it can be helpful to consider ‘where is the 1% of truth in this?’ If it is challenging feedback to hear, this approach has the potential to minimise a defensive reaction and learn from the experience.
Feedback can also be requested via email, for example before the Spiritual and Personal Development (S&PD) team of the Findhorn Foundation departed for their annual retreat on Iona to review aspects of their work, they sent a request for feedback to all co-workers and included a list of questions to encourage response and stimulate ideas. I was surprised by how much feedback I had to offer when invited to do so!
When requesting written feedback it can be helpful to state the mission first, eg. from S&PD, ‘Our overall mission is to monitor and promote the personal, spiritual and professional well-being of the individuals and teams within the Findhorn Foundation’ as this creates a framework for the questions.
Asking specific questions is more likely to generate feedback that is helpful, however creating an open space for any other feedback that needs to find expression is also important. Allowing for anonymous feedback can help create a safe space if someone is concerned how their opinions will be received. Of course we all need to take responsibility in both giving and receiving feedback and be willing to stand by and expand on how we feel.
In giving feedback, the five steps to remember are;
1) Be clear about what the feedback is. Being vague and hesitant will increase the anxiety of the receiver and will not be understood. Being both direct and diplomatic is helpful.
2) Own the feedback you give – remember it is your own perception and not an ultimate truth. It therefore says as much about the person giving feedback as the person receiving it.
3) If the feedback is given regularly it is more likely to be useful. If this doesn’t happen there is a danger that grievances are built up and then delivered in one overwhelming package.
4) It is good to balance negative and positive feedback. If you find that feedback you give to an individual is either always critiquing or always affirming, this probably means that your view is distorted in some way.
5) Be specific – generalised feedback is hard to learn from. Applying the steps of Non Violent Communication (NVC), which is based on empathetic listening and honest expressing, can be helpful – expressing the observation, feeling, need and request eg. beginning with ‘I notice…’
In receiving feedback, the five steps to remember are;
1) It is not necessary to be completely passive in the process of receiving feedback. It is possible to share the responsibility that the feedback is well given. What is done with the feedback is entirely up to the receiver.
2) If the feedback is not given in the way suggested above then you can ask that it be more clear, owned, regular, balanced and specific. Ask questions to understand the feedback given.
3) Listen to feedback all the way through without judging it. This isn’t easy to do however jumping into a defensive response increases the possibility that the feedback will be misunderstood, as the ability to really listen and hear what is being said is obviously reduced.
4) Try not to immediately explain why you did, or didn’t, do something and try not to dismiss positive feedback. Simply hear it and acknowledge it by saying thank you.
5) Ask for feedback you have not been given but would like to hear, eg. “I haven’t heard your feedback about my presentation yesterday, how do you think I did?”
Each week we will introduce a new topic. Please feel free to add your views and comments to expand on it more fully.
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