Becoming a better teacher (and human) by using Brene Brown’s 10 Principals For Engaged Feedback

I was just reading Renée Brown’s wonderful book, “Daring Greatly”. (Check her out here.) I’m now reading the chapter where she talks about her 10 Principles For Engaged Feedback and it’s something that’s so important for me as a teacher to keep in mind. For me this is so important because giving feedback in the wrong way can damage relationships, whether it’s a student, someone you love or a co-worker.

In any of the teaching I do, there are many, many situations where I am giving feedback to someone. It’s a huge part of teaching isn’t it? But, I’m not adhering to all these principles and I think it would make me a better teacher if I started working with them.

Let’s just take one and talk about how it can help me in my teaching. I’ll start with this one, “I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.”

This idea is something I was aware of before I read Ms. Brown’s book (I called it, “catch them doing something right.”), but it’s something I can still do better.

In her book she talked about a process she uses with their classes. One person will be giving a presentation, then the folks who were observing would give feedback. But here’s where it’s different: she would have every person giving feedback find three things that were good, and then state one thing that could be better. It’s a great ratio and it’s helpful in this way– If you’re giving feedback and you say one good thing and then another bad thing that needs to be fixed, it’s too easy for the student to only focus on the problem and not really get the positive message. With this 3 to 1 ratio, it’s much, much easier to remember the good things.

Here’s an example some feedback I might give from one of my drum classes: “The good thing is you’re playing all the notes. Now, here’s the thing that needs to be fixed: we need to do it in time with the metronome to keep the tempo steady.”

Now this type of feedback is better than saying nothing positive at all and only talking about what needs to be fixed, but it’s still all too easy for the student to only remember the problem and not what was good.

Here is an example of the same situation using the 3 to 1 ratio: “So here’s what you did well: number one, you played all the notes. Number two, your technique was very relaxed. Number three, because your technique was relaxed, you got a great sound out of the instrument.

“Now, here’s the next step in developing your skill with this piece of music: you need to be able to play it in time with the metronome to really solidify your tempo. It’s great now, but once you do that it will be amazing.”

In this example, I’m certain it will be very hard for the student to miss all the things that were great. And, I did a better job of presenting the challenge in a positive way, almost as something aspirational, “if you do this it will be amazing.” (That last bit was a nice, but unintended bonus.)

I think we’ve seen how this helps me as a teacher, but how can it help me in more basic, purely human level? It improves the quality of my interactions with other humans. When I’m not giving feedback in a healthy way like the second example, it’s just so easy to have damaged relationships. Damaged relationships with your students, with your coworkers, and with your friends and family. Sometimes, as the Zen Buddhists would say, it feels like my life has been ‘one continuous mistake’–especially with my relationships. So, for me, this is how using Brene’s principles makes me a better human.

And so far all we’ve talked about is just one of Renée’s 10 principles for engaged feedback. Maybe we can make this a serial topic in my blog! 🙂 Every week I can take one of these 10 principles and talk about how I can use them when teaching drums to make me a more effective teacher. What do you think?

And of course, these 10 principles are useful in more areas than just teaching–it’s useful for any kind of feedback with your loved ones, or any kind of work environment.

Focusing on this one principal today (“I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes”), how could you use this to give better feedback to the people you work with (or your family, etc.)?


Here’s the full list of Brene’s 10 principles:

  1. I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
  2. I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).
  3. I’m ready to listen ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue.
  4. I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
  5. I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
  6. I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
  7. I’m willing to own my part.
  8. I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings.
  9. I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
  10. I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.
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