The greatness of the spoken word from one to another must never be underestimated. As educators, we must exercise great caution and care when speaking. Students are watching every move we make, hearing everything we say (even though it doesn’t always seem like it), and we are powerful figures to many of them.
Just yesterday, a colleague of mine mentioned that another person made a comment about doubting my completion of my PhD. I was so shocked and hurt that I wanted to cry… I only have one more semester before I finish coursework and it was unprofessional and hurtful for this person to say this. I kept telling myself that I was set up beautifully to finish this PhD and that I was doing everything right to set myself up for a professorship, but the doubt set in immediately… I wanted to shut down and do nothing… I sulked, I complained, I went through the many stages of grief… and then I sucked it up and got angry. It was then that I decided to write today’s post on the spoken word, particularly criticism, and its effect on students. Even though this “naysayer” is not a professor and is not one of my teachers, I still hold her in high regard, and was truly impacted by the negativity expressed toward my academic journey. I kept thinking of how much more hurtful it might have been had it come from a professor or a mentor!
In a 1988 article on destructive criticism, the author notes that preferred methods for feedback include prompt delivery, consideration, and SPECIFIC! The article, however, found that many educators, bosses, and people of great power still ignore these preferences (I know… 1988… But these still tend to hold true today). This study looked at both constructive and destructive criticisms and how they were received by the participants.
Destructive Criticism included an inconsiderate tone, general feedback, and included threats. Although there are many string teachers who give constructive feedback all of the time, I can think of many who during rehearsals will still say things like, “Well, didn’t you practice at all?” Or “That wasn’t right at all… Aren’t you reading the music?” The participants in the destructive criticism group felt more angry and tense after the session. Participants from the destructive criticism also reported a stronger likelihood of simply leaving the room, avoiding the “accomplice,” and less likely to collaborate. Additional findings include that participants in the destructive criticism group appeared to reduce their self-set goal and actually achieved LOWER on their tasks than their constructive criticism group! So not only does destructive criticism make us feel angry and less collaborative, it actually discourages high standards and causes disruptions with tasks.
None of this is terribly surprising for any of us. But it is a good reminder to be careful during rehearsals (a breeding ground for criticism!) to practice constructive criticism and to encourage community with your students instead of avoidance. We must constantly think:
And always remember to balance the criticism with praise! I think again of my colleague who was speaking ill of my own future and imagine that if she was worried, she might have called me and I would have felt much better. Instead, I feel like a child who was just grounded but I don’t know what I did! Now, I want to avoid her and am even angry toward her! Let us be better to our students and practice the constructive criticism!
Baron, R. A. (1988). Negative effects of destructive criticism: Impact on conflict, self-efficacy, and task performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 73(2), 199–207.