The following suggestions are offered to guide the educator needing to offer constructive criticism to students, co-workers, or employees. Because most educators seem to not enjoy an activity that feels confrontational, constructive criticism is often avoided to the detriment of the student(s), co-worker, or employee.
Proverbs says much about dealing with others, even in difficult or contentious situations. For example, Solomon says that “a friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (17:17).” Later he reminds us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend (27:6);” so even in tense times when we must offer constructive criticism, we should be faithful to honestly and lovingly critique students, co-workers (if we are responsible to do so), and employees.
Several years ago I shared some notes that I jotted down nearly three decades ago about this topic. Through the years I have leaned on these principles to help me. I share them below as
10 Commandments for Constructive Criticism
- Constructive criticism is both a positive and negative evaluation.
- Constructive criticism is motivated by love for and desire to build up a student.
- Constructive criticism is built on a foundation of a previous relationship.
- Constructive criticism does not label students.
- Constructive criticism must be designed to fit the individual—one size does not fit all.
- Constructive criticism should be given at the right time and place.
- Constructive criticism needs effective interaction.
- Constructive criticism offers solutions rather than only identifying problems.
- Constructive criticism is calm and caring, not confrontational.
- Constructive criticism assumes an ongoing relationship that will continue to nurture.
Successful teachers learn quickly that the privilege of criticism must be earned; a student must trust a teacher before criticism is accepted. Successful teachers come to understand that the ability to teach requires the ability to critique, both positively and negatively.
So, effective teachers are either building a trust relationship so that criticism is accepted or they have already established a trust relationship and are using criticism to advance student learning.