A feedback loop is defined as any system, circuit, or device where the output is in some way returned to the input. In general, feedback loops can be considered any process that leads to producing more of the same.
Feedback loops are all around us. A positive feedback loop builds on positive energy to continuously produce better and better results. On the other hand, a negative feedback loop can be likened to a downward spiral. Bad results contribute to even worse results in the future. Keeping a vigilant eye on the variety of feedback loops in our lives will lead us to getting what we want more of the time. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Negative Feedback Loop
You’ve perhaps noticed that search engines and social media platforms have been designed to give you more of what you show an interest in.
If I start clicking on political ads which align with my current beliefs, it’s almost guaranteed in today’s digital atmosphere that I will be shown another very similar ad. This lack of opposition can lead to me growing a strong, determined opinion that my beliefs are correct.
If my political beliefs are already a bit bigoted, I may inadvertently enter into a negative feedback loop, spiraling lower and lower into the depths of hatred and extremism with every click. Because of the way these algorithms are designed, I am rarely or never confronted with beliefs which challenge my own. In the absence of strong critical thinking skills or self examination, I may never consider an opposing viewpoint.
Positive Feedback Loop
In another example, I join an exercise program at my gym. In class, I make new friends who also value fitness and community, which encourages me to continue attending. After a few weeks, I start to notice improvements in my strength and energy. This further adds to my resolve to continue attending the class.
In this example, my positive experiences continue to build and produce more positive results in my life. It’s very likely in this case that I will continue to attend class due to positive peer pressure and feedback.
In these loops lies a grave danger for teachers, or a fabulous opportunity, depending on how you choose to approach the situation.
The Feedback Loop in Your Classroom
Right now, you’re in an upward or a downward spiral with every child, class, and even coworker that you interact with daily. So which is it? Let’s look at a couple different loops.
Your Loop with One Kid
After getting to know Sally and Katie’s situations, it becomes pretty obvious why Sally loves the class and Katie doesn’t. Likely, we have both of these students on our roster right now.
Sometimes we get caught up in the idea that Katie should be able to change her own situation. We say or think things like, “Well obviously if Katie would just start acting right she wouldn’t get in trouble!” It’s important to remember that children lack the maturity necessary to think critically about their role in a negative relationship. I can assure you that the loop will never change direction unless you, as an adult, are the one to change it. Remember that you are the professional. You are the one with the skills and the self control required to resolve this situation. Children simply react to whatever comes their way, in the ways that they’ve seen or been taught. You alone hold the power to shift the paradigm.
Your Loop with A Whole Class
Which class would you rather be a teacher in? Which class would you rather be a student?
Feedback loops don’t ever need to be negative. With careful attention, we can monitor the kind of loop we’re in with every coworker, class, and child. The importance of this is due to the self perpetuating nature of the loop. If you’re in a downward spiral in any area, it will most likely continue unless strongly decisive action is taken.
Now that we’ve established what a feedback loop is, and most likely come to grips with the fact that we have a couple negative ones lingering in our lives, perhaps we’d like to change that fact. If you would like to reverse your negative loop with a student or an entire class, remember that you will most likely have to start the shift by dumping a lot of your own energy into the system. If your current loop is only producing more and more negative energy, it will take a serious effort to inject even a small dose of positive. You will be fighting against inertia. Do not give up. Soon your spiral will reverse. Your kids will start to produce positive energy on their own, which will make it easier to be positive in return.
To help you make the shift, consider trying some of these strategies.
- Talk about how much you like enjoy that student/class.
- Write lists of names on the board of people who are on task. Give tally marks every time you catch them doing the right thing. Only take away tally marks in extreme cases and do it quietly without a lot of fanfare.
- Email/call parents when their students have done well
- Explicitly state expectations. Praise students who follow them.
- Talk to your students about their own interests.
- Give small rewards like stickers or smiley faces for good behavior.
- Assign work that students are able to complete. Praise them for their success.
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