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Bill Gates: Teachers Need Real Feedback

Clear, systematic feedback is crucial to growth, says Microsoft Founder and Philanthropist Bill Gates.

The trouble, says Gates, is that people with one of the most important jobs in the world — teachers — aren’t getting it. “When Melinda and I learned how little useful feedback teachers get, we were blown away,” Gates told an audience at a 2013 TED talk.

“Today, districts are revamping the way they evaluate teachers. But we still give them no feedback that actually helps them improve their practice,” he added. “The system we have today isn’t fair to them. It’s not fair to students, and it’s putting American global leadership at risk.”

In his presentation, Gates laid out a program from his foundation called “Measures of Effective Teaching” that involved 3,000 teachers throughout the nation. The program included extensive teacher observation and student surveys as diagnostic and development tools to improve teacher performance.

In short, the program documented significant improvements from teachers watching one another via their own DIY videos across the country. Sarah Brown Wessling, a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa, simply sets up a portable camera at the back of her classroom and shares the recordings with fellow teachers.

She explains why this works: “There’s a difference for teachers between the abstract of how we see our practice and the concrete reality of it. What video offers is a certain degree of reality. You can’t really dispute what you see on the video. There’s a lot to be learned from that, and a lot of ways we can grow as a profession when we actually get to see this.”

“[Video] can convey things we cannot convey in a lesson plan, in a standard, or even in a book of pedagogy,” she concludes. “It’s been a powerful tool in my own reflection.”

You can watch the full, 10-minute presentation below. You can also learn more about the project, access resources and insights at metproject.org.