Teachers Need Real Feedback

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Today, we would like to discuss a topic that is fundamental to the successful teaching of children. This includes teaching children with ASD and other related disorders, as well as neurotypical children. 

To better expand on this crucial subject within our practice based on the science of Behaviour Analysis, but to also draw on the worldwide impact of more efficient teaching methodologies, I would like to share a speech that was delivered by Bill Gates on TED, called ‘Teachers Need Real Feedback’.

In his speech, Bill Gates states that: “Everyone needs a coach…We all need people who give us feedback – that is how we improve.” I hope that this resonates with all parents and colleagues that are familiar with the building blocks of the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis, which is based on the systematic and ongoing analysis of teaching approaches, and the resulting progress of the child.

Understanding what ABA is at its core, is the way to truly understand why it is the most successful evidence based approach to teaching children with ASD. “Applied” relates to behaviour that is socially significant. “Behaviour” from an ABA perspective is anything that we do (including speaking, thinking, eating, reading, etc). “Analysis” refers to the fact that ABA is data-driven. Progress of a child is measured and teaching methodologies adjusted accordingly. 

In his speech, Bill Gates does not specifically talk about ABA therapists or teachers of children with ASD, however the fundamental concepts of his speech apply to those of us working with and teaching children with ASD day-in-and-day-out. According to Gates, ‘Feedback’ is the key metric of successful teaching that profoundly improves the competency of teachers themselves, and in turn helps them achieve the best outcomes for their students. 

In talking about how teaching reflects on the performance of their students, Bill Gates explores how many of the world’s top 14 countries have a formal system to help teachers improve. The answer? 11 out of 14. 

“#1 in the world across key standardised academic attainment metrics is the province of Shanghai, China. Gates says that “one of the keys to Shanghai’s incredible success is the way they help teachers keep improving. They make sure that the younger teachers get to watch master teachers at work. They have weekly study groups where teachers get together and talk about what’s working. They even require each teacher to observe and give feedback to their colleagues.”

I have heard one of the UK’s BCBA’s (a well respected colleague) state that when he was first introduced to ABA, he thought of it as “the UK’s best kept secret”. It does not cease to amaze me that a teaching system (aka ABA science), which incorporates feedback and improvement strategies (deemed vital to teachers across the world to ensure the best possible outcomes for their students) can remain a secret. 

The important takeaway from Bill Gates’ speech is that teaching is one of the most important professions in the world. It is fundamental to raising more independent and capable new generations. ABA is well ahead of the curve in allowing its junior staff to receive the much needed supervision they require to improve their skills and knowledge. However, a lot more work needs to be done in the UK to increase supervision by senior staff, to improve access to consistent feedback through group discussions and peer-to-peer review. BACB recommends that 20% of the program time for each child be delivered by and directly supervised by the BCBA consultant, which is proven to improve outcomes for children under care. A recommendation so significant, yet often not adhered to in our profession. 

At First Bridge Centre, we are proud and fortunate to be building something unique with our esteemed colleagues, Risca Solomon (BCBA) and Tracie Lindblad (BCBA), amongst others, who are passionate about the science of ABA and the way it can help us improve the lives of children and their families every day. We come to work every day determined to learn more and improve every day, to achieve the best outcomes for the children under our care.

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