BIF and BMGF release Feedback for Teachers: A study of how teachers receive, share and make meaning of feedback

There is a body of research about formal professional development—including coursework, workshops, and long-term coaching engagements. There is far less research about feedback in the form of written data, conversations with managers, or self-reflection. We know that feedback from valid evaluation measures can lead to improved performance, even without formal professional development. We know far less about how to structure that feedback for maximum impact.

"Feedback is the central problem with American education - we are starved of authentic feedback as teachers, and then powerless to follow through on what we learn and to make real changes based on the real young people in our classrooms." ~ 6th grade lanugage arts teacher, charter school

"Teaching is a feedback career." ~ 7th grade science teacher, public middle school

It is with great pleasure that we release the findings from the Feedback for Teachers study to help answer this question. Commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the goal of the qualitative study was straightforward: Better understand the feedback that teachers receive, in what ways that feedback is shared, and under what conditions the feedback impacts teacher performance (both negatively and positively).

Feedback for Teachers summarizes the major themes and insights to emerge from web and fieldwork conducted with 66 teachers from across the U.S. and a variety of school systems. It reflects a robust understanding of teacher feedback that can improve both teacher effectiveness and the student learning experience. 

Embedded within the study are 9 individual elements of the feedback experience integrated with stories and quotes from teachers. Collectively, the elements point to many opportunities for evolving or designing wholly new teacher feedback experiences - those that are centered in a community of learning that supports all teachers and all students striving to reach their full potential.

In addition to a downloadable print report, we have launched a microsite with all of the insights and opportunities as well as a 3-part video series with major highlights from the work. 


As we engaged participating teachers and schools, several actionable insights emerged around the experience of giving, receiving, interpreting and taking action on feedback. What we found is a system at odds with itself; fractured by a formal system of feedback delivered through traditional administrative measures (and quite often ignored by teachers), and an informal system where teachers process and interpret data from the classroom on a regular basis, turning it into action plans for student achievement.

This fissure between the formal and informal has created a disconnected feedback loop that, despite the best efforts of administrators and teachers nationwide, can not be closed without consideration of all the elements that contribute to today's feedback experience.

As demonstrated in this visualization, every day, teachers are managing hundreds of informal feedback moments from students and through reflection, are processing how best to translate those moments into action. This action must align to both long-term classroom and student goals and near-term (in-the-moment) needs of individual students.

At the same time, teachers are reaching out to their peers for advice and to share student updates. Without proper documentation of many of these informal (and valuable) feedback moments, the broad sharing of ideas or actions based on informal feedback is left to the discretion of the teacher. Often, these actions do not correlate to the formalized feedback mechanisms in place by administrators driven by student assessment data. This formal feedback is seen as one-sided, infrequent, and based on a homogenized view of teaching.

Even a teacher’s goals, which should catalyze agency over their own growth, are not always aligned with a teacher’s personal classroom and student goals. Teachers are persistently torn between the informal feedback they value the most (which is actionable, dialogue-based and offers time for reflection) and the formal feedback that evaluates effectiveness. This disconnection between the formal and informal creates a situation where many teachers are unable to meaningfully translate their evaluation scores into everyday practice. 


This study of the teacher feedback experience can be considered a first order of feedback itself - reflecting the actual experiences of classroom teachers grappling with how best to process and apply feedback that teachers receive and act on in practice. Teachers place their relationships with students and like-minded peers at the core of everything they do. The feedback exchanged in these relationships generates knowledge teachers feel is crucial to their own learning and growth, and in turn to their students' learning and growth. For teachers, new formal measures and everyday feedback have not yet begun to work together to create a platform that helps them reach their full potential.

The question before us now is how to build adaptable, nimble feedback systems to keep pace with a continuous climate of change? How can teachers, schools and districts "get better, faster, by working together in flexible but enduring relatinships where collective performance rapidly increases and new knowledge accumulates over time?" (Adapted from The Power of Pull, John Hagel, 2010)

We can learn a lot about adaptation from teachers [and students] who live it every day through collaboration and inspiration. Yet they must believe they can play a meaningful role in the bigger, broader systemic changes taking place. The system must rely on their expertise as much as it does on the layers of disconnected formal practices and procedures created by others.

If just one outcome is clear from this study, it's that to empower effective teaching, we must first empower effective feedback.


We thank all the teachers, administrators and schools who participated in the launch of this initiative. With you as our guide, we take a bold step forward to understand and address the challenges facing teachers nationwide.

We invite active participation with this research and invite you to engage with the content, add your own voice and join us as we set our sight on innovating the teacher feedback system.

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