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What's the Story? 

Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


Truth Triggers, Relationships and Identity

How we respond to school reports and other forms of feedback



Adult: “What did you learn at school today?”

Child: "Not enough. I have to go back tomorrow!”


Yip. It's that time of year again. No, not winter, okay, well, yes winter, but really I was referring to it being school report time for some schools.  Did you hear that collective sigh from all the teachers reading this? Yeah, it's hard work and takes lots of energy and time. Was that a sigh from parents I heard then too? Oops, maybe that was me! I used to really look forward to school reports. Note the past tense there. But almost every time one came home, I would pick it up and think ... "that is so not my child!" Yeah, well you see where I'm going with this right? It was either so airy-fairy that it didn't say anything useful or it read like the teacher knew nothing about my child at all. And then there were the ones that just made no sense whatsoever because of how they were reported.

"Report-card time can be an emotionally intense experience for parents and teachers" (Willi, 2017). This we can all appreciate, right? Teachers have the tricky job of conveying, in a tiny amount of space on a report card, that a child is accepted and respected for who they are, while also indicating their current levels of proficiency, progress over time, a sample of next learning steps, and some suggestions for how they can be supported with their learning at home. Phew! That is a lot to fit in such a little space! But it's really important this can be achieved because, after all, what's the purpose in all that effort of report writing if, at the end of the day, it's not perceived to be useful for families?

School reports are, at their simplest, a means of providing feedback for students and their parents/caregivers about a child's learning at school. When we look at it this way, as a feedback mechanism, we have a chance to consider our responses in a different light. Three factors are seen to impact on the way we receive and respond to feedback. Heen (2015) identifies these as:

  • Truth triggers: Do you believe the feedback to be accurate and true? Does it fit with how you see yourself/the child/person whom the feedback is about?
  • Relationship triggers: How do we feel about the person giving the feedback? How might this influence how we receive and respond to the feedback?
  • Identity triggers: How are we storying the feedback?


Well, that first one certainly resonates with me. At home my child has read “Zac Power” chapter books but is on yellow at school. Hmmm. Really? No. I don't believe the feedback is accurate. Then there are relationship triggers ... Well, I find that a break down in trust from on-going issues with 'truth triggers' and a general lack of respect for dialogue between home and school and/or any responsiveness to our input, tends to result in a little distrust, so yeah, this can come into it. And then, in turn, I think this leads to how future communication is storied. Not so well.

With even one of these triggers 'set off,' feedback can feel at best, redundant and worthless, and at worst, when perceived as showing a lack of respectful understanding and responsiveness, like an attack. But "feedback isn’t an attack, it’s a gift" (Credit Suisse, 2011); at least that is how it is offered. Ultimately, we can't change anyone else, only ourselves, so it is up to us, as the receiver of the feedback on our kid's progress (or as is more likely to be showing, where they are 'at'), as to how we choose to respond and move forward - if for no one else, then for our kid’s sake. The above factors provide us with a means to reflect on this.


So where to from here?

If you feel there is a discrepancy between what is being fed back and what you see or experience, talk with the teacher and share some examples from your perspective. Opening up dialogue and sharing from different viewpoints can be very enriching if all parties are open to listening and learning from one another. If you are a parent advocating for your child this can be difficult.

Be sure to separate the 'who’ from the ‘what'. Try to put aside any negative feelings you may experience toward the person giving the feedback. It is very easy to mix these emotions with your response to the feedback they are providing. Try to separate them out and look at the feedback objectively. Yes, it can be hard! But it will help with working together and moving forward in a positive way.

As Young (2011) puts it, "we become the story we tell ourselves. Not because of fate, or self-determination, but because we filter the future and edit the past to fit our preferred narrative." Try to story the feedback as a means to move forward and grow. Storying is a holistic process which involves "all aspects of self (mind and body, spiritual and social)" and is "inherently holistic in nature" (Webb, 2011). It provides an opportunity to play with possibilities, to explore, create connections, and promote positive change.


Feedback and gifted learners

This leads to another idea worthy of reflection. Giving and receiving feedback are life skills. So how can we support our kids in developing them? And further to this, are there any needs specific to gifted learners that we need to consider? Let's tackle that last question first with an excerpt taken from Gift-Ed Connections (2014), before we look at what supporting the development of feedback tools might look like in practice:



Supporting the development of giving and receiving feedback and feedforward

The great thing is that, with a bit of reflection, we can continue to develop our own proficiency in giving and receiving feedback and also feed-forward. Likewise, we can support our kids to continue developing these skills. Luckily for us (or perhaps unluckily, depending on the context!) we all generally have plenty of opportunities to practice them!

At home

  1. Talk about the purpose of feedback and assessments as a way to shine light on the pathway for learning. It is an opportunity.
  2. Clarify homework expectations with classroom teachers to be able to provide your child with feedback on what they are doing well and help them to reflect on what they could do next and/or to improve further.
  3. Focus feedback on the task and/or process, not the child, and embrace errors as a form of learning.
  4. If you feel courageous and have open, positive dialogue in your family, you might like to provide your child with an opportunity to give you a performance review as a parent. You might be surprised!


At school

  1. Talk about assessments. Discuss with students the purpose of what they will be learning and the purpose behind assessments, both in general and specifically for any given learning focus. Look at criteria together. What specific learning and outcomes would the teacher like to see from this and what would the students like to see. What will success (or steps towards the ultimate goal) look like? Show students exemplars and discuss them as a class in relation to the outcomes being sought. As Spiller (2009, p. 6) states, "a conversational process means that there is a greater sharing of power between the assessors and assessed and a climate that is more conducive for students’ receptivity to feedback.”
  2. Appreciate that as John Hattie states, "the culture of the student can influence the feedback effects."
  3. Teach and role model the value in errors as an opportunity for reflection and growth.
  4. Explicitly teach the skills of feedback, feed-forward and receiving constructive criticism.
  5. Provide opportunities for these skills to be used, such as: 
    • through the use of peer feedback strategies like "Compliments, suggestions and corrections;"
    • interim grading whereby student and teacher reflect on progress using a template such as an assessment matrix or rubric; the student then has time and opportunity to develop a plan to progress further with the specific learning focus;
    • through provision of checklists for students to help them understand the various aspects required of them, and to help parents and caregivers in providing useful feed-forward to support students with homework assignments (Schlemmer & Schlemmer, 2011).
  6. Provide access to gifted education programmes such as Small Poppies, MindPlus and Gifted Online to provide opportunities for children to extend and apply knowledge and understanding at a deeper level through the feedback and feed-forward process, with like-minded peers and specialist teachers.


So ... it's that time of year again - yes - report time. How will you receive your child's report and respond to it in a way that will benefit your child?



'What's the Story?' is a new blog section which is being written for the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, with posts being added regularly. The purpose of this space is to share musings and anecdotes relating to giftedness and gifted education to provide a form of information and support for those living with and/or teaching gifted learners. Please do share them along.


We would love to hear from you.  Grab a virtual cuppa and share your story in the comments.

What's the Story? Making the world a better place for gifted kids, one yarn at a time.


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Please note that the views expressed in these blogs are those of the author and not necessarily representative of the views of the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

 Image credit: happy wet fathers day ! by naturalflow is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. The image has been modified. India mid year report 2006 by Adrian Price is licensed under CC BY 2.0. 

Truth Triggers, Relationships and Identity

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