Feedback: The Mirror to Growth and Development You Need To Know

Maxwell Perkins was not just any editor; he was a pivotal figure in shaping 20th-century American literature. He worked with some of the most famous writers of that era, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. These authors are not just well-known; they are literary giants, having written works that have profoundly influenced American culture and literature.

Perkins possessed a unique talent for providing feedback that went beyond tweaking minor details; instead, it often transformed the entire trajectory of a book.  Take, for instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald. When Fitzgerald first presented his manuscript for ‘This Side of Paradise,’ Perkins saw its potential when many others did not. He didn’t just passively approve it for publication; he actively engaged with Fitzgerald, suggesting significant changes to enhance the story’s impact.

Throughout history, feedback has been a cornerstone of human development. Great leaders, inventors, and thinkers of the past didn’t achieve their milestones in isolation. They had mentors, peers, and critics who provided valuable feedback, helping them refine their ideas and approaches. Leonardo da Vinci, the polymath of the Renaissance, frequently sought feedback on his works, using it to enhance his art and inventions.

Feedback is like a mirror. It reflects our actions, thoughts, and creations, allowing us to see our strengths and areas needing improvement. As we look into a mirror to adjust our appearance, feedback helps us change our approach to various tasks and challenges.

Classroom setting is a great example of the vital use of feedback. When a student receives feedback, it’s more than just an assessment of right or wrong; it becomes a tool for learning and growth. Imagine a mathematics teacher who notices a student consistently making the same mistake in algebra. Instead of merely marking the answers as incorrect, the teacher sits down with the student and goes through the problems step by step. The teacher points out where the student had particular difficulties and demonstrates the correct method to solve the equation.

However, the power of feedback isn’t just in its delivery but in its reception. Openness to feedback and willingness to listen and adapt are essential qualities of a life-long learner. Constructive criticism can be challenging but it is a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block. Consider the experience of a graduate student working on their master’s thesis under my supervision. This student, deeply invested in their research, encountered a common academic challenge: receiving extensive corrections and suggestions from multiple project collaborators. These are typical in scientific research, where continuous and meticulous improvements are part of the daily routine. However, the student struggled to see these corrections as helpful guidance. Instead, they felt these suggestions were personal criticisms. Consequently, the feedback became a source of  discouragement and hindered productive work. The student’s difficulty separating personal feelings from professional guidance illustrates the importance of viewing feedback as a growth tool rather than a personal attack.

Similarly, feedback is crucial for developing skills and understanding in the home environment, especially for parents of elementary school children. When providing feedback, parents need to be specific and constructive. As a father of a third-grader, I’ve found that guiding my son through his math problems, rather than just pointing out errors, helps him understand the material better. Such feedback involves identifying where he may have misunderstood a concept and explaining it in a way that makes sense. While providing feedback, one should use positive language and a tone that encourages rather than discourages. Phrases like ‘You’re almost there!’ or ‘Let’s look at this part together’ can make a big difference. Additionally, parents should pay attention to the child’s efforts and progress, not just the final result. Praising the effort encourages a growth mindset, where children see that a deep understanding of various topics is not an inborn trait but that these qualities develop with time and practice.

Teaching children how to receive feedback is a different yet equally important matter. Ability to receive feedback is a critical skill that will benefit them throughout their lives. Parents can model this by actively seeking and positively responding to feedback themselves. For example, a parent might ask their child for feedback on a family activity or a decision. When children see their parents valuing and acting on feedback, they learn to do the same. Parents can also have open conversations with their children about the purpose of feedback. They can explain that feedback is not a judgment but a tool for learning and improvement. Encouraging children to ask questions about the feedback they receive and to view challenges as opportunities for growth fosters a healthy attitude toward receiving feedback. For all its importance, feedback should be a two-way street. While giving feedback is crucial, it’s equally vital to seek it. Regularly asking for feedback and actively listening can open doors to self-improvement and innovation.

In conclusion, feedback is a gift when approached with an open mind and heart. It’s the compass that guides us towards better versions of ourselves. In an ever-evolving world, feedback ensures we evolve with it, continuously learning, growing, and striving for excellence.

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