How I've Learned to Embrace Feedback in College
In my public speaking class from the fall, one of my classmates delivered a speech during which he spent five minutes thanking feedback. His "Ode to Feedback," though partially satirical, helped me reflect on my own college journey and the ways in which receiving (and giving) feedback has shaped me into the person I am today. In high school, I was used to only receiving positive feedback on assignments. My school's grading system was on a 100-point scale which meant that it was possible (and relatively common) to achieve "perfection" by earning a 100% on a test, paper, or project.
The only thing was, these assignments weren't 'perfect' because nothing really ever is. Even if my teachers included recommendations and comments when they returned my papers, I would be blinded by the grade on top and the 'perfection' it implied. And that's the first thing that changed when I got to Dartmouth. Classes were now graded with letters (A, A-, B, etc.) and grading curves meant that even far-from-perfect test scores could result in an overall A in a course. It also meant that I was able to embrace professors' and peers' comments and suggestions without being blinded by a precise number grade.
In my public speaking course, Professor Compton broke the class into three 4-person "peer feedback groups." After each speaking assignment, we would gather with our groups to discuss each person's speech--the good and, more importantly, the areas for improvement. In the beginning, this process made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I didn't like criticizing parts of my peers' work, and I certainly did not like when they pointed out things I could have done better. After spending ten weeks with these individuals, however, I can honestly say that their comments and ideas were the reason I was able to improve so drastically in my public speaking ability. We learned from one another's strengths and weaknesses, and we celebrated when we saw noticeable improvement! By the end of the term, my group members and I had developed friendships that stemmed beyond the realm of our public speaking class. After working with one another and embracing vulnerability and brutal honesty, we had also developed a special bond!
But feedback applies to more than just classes. When I interned at a start-up in Mexico City last spring, I met with my supervisor weekly if not more often to discuss what I was doing well and what I could improve upon. As a Paganucci Fellow, my teammates and I remained open and honest with one another, and we spent a number of hours throughout the summer holding one another accountable and discussing what we needed from each person in order to be an effective and successful team.
The most important take-away for me is that feedback leads to reflection, which has the power to turn into personal improvement. I am a very different person now than I was in high school--and that's a good thing. Personal improvement and developing an understanding of my own weaknesses in college has allowed me to learn to play to my strengths. And, with the help of honest feedback, I'm still learning everyday how to be the best version of myself.