In My Panic Zone: Teaching Feedback Seeking

By J.M. Monica van de Ridder

Teaching is something that I have been doing for over 20 years. So, in general, I don’t worry about it. I think I know what works and does not work.

Things were very different for me this time. I was worried, and I felt very much out of my ‘comfort zone’ almost in my ‘panic zone’ (Brown, 2008; Palethorpe & Wilson, 2011). I had developed an intersession for M1 and M2 medical students on how to optimize their learning processes in the clinical setting through goal setting, self-regulation, receiving and seeking feedback. The content on feedback I am familiar with, from goal-setting and self-regulation, -I assume- I know more than average.

I tried to discover my fears. What is worrying me?

Before the course started, I wondered if I would be able to turn this ‘dull’ theory, which social science people are so used to, into something that is helpful for medical students. Do they stay motivated when we talk about it? Am I able to translate it enough to their own learning process so they are able to see the added value? During the course I was wondered when I saw the students sitting behind their laptops, if this means that they are physically present, but mentally not here? All of these questions, but more so the underlying assumption that I might be failing, worried me. What if at the end of the course they saw it as a waste of their time? How will it impact my career if they rated this course very low? It is a good course, but would it receive a second chance?

The pressure got even higher when I read my students’ weekly assignment about their hindrances in learning, what they would like to change, and their goals for this course. The inner struggles of the students really touched me. Some of them hated their own procrastination behavior, and they did not manage to overcome it. Others put the pressure so high on themselves that they felt they were continuously in their panic zone. Others were dealing with their own insecurities, comparing themselves constantly with others. And there were those who were struggling with how to deal with the large amounts of literature they are studying to prepare for their STEP 1 exam.

My mind is spinning again: How do I help this group of students with such a diverse group of needs and goals? Is this course good enough? Are my assignments going to help them?

I realized I need to teach what I preach: Seek feedback. I heard myself asking: Is there anything in this course so far you would like to change? What did you get out of this today? What was your eye-opener from the last session? Was this helpful enough for you? If yes, what did you take away? I hear myself saying: Please tell me now what you would like to change, because now I can change it. Be open, be critical.

I received positive answers, they told me what was helpful, what they learned, and it seemed useful. I received encouraging emails. However, I am Dutch, they are American, and there are cultural differences between The Netherlands and the USA (Hofstede, 1986). What if they give these answers out of politeness, and they don’t want to disappoint me? What if they say it because they are afraid it affects their grade if they say something critical? What if I can’t read their signals of dissatisfaction well enough?

Thinking about my fears makes me realize two things: Everything I teach my students I can apply myself. I teach them how to seek feedback? That is what I need to do! Only reaching out to them and explaining to them the ‘why’ behind my feedback seeking – my worries and my fears – (Owens & Hekman, 2012) will give me the answers and will make this course better. It feels uncomfortable to do that; I feel so vulnerable (Kelchtermans, 2009). This is far out my comfort zone… but, is that not what I ask my students to do? And… is that not what learning is…?


J.M. Monica van de Ridder, PhD, is an assistant professor in the offices of Faculty Affairs and Development and Medical Education Research and Development at Michigan State University. She is director of the Clinician Educator Mentoring Program. Her passion is feedback research.



Brown, M. (2008). Comfort zone: Model or metaphor? Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education, 12(1), 3.

Hofstede, G. (1986). Cultural differences in teaching and learning. International Journal of intercultural relations, 10(3), 301-320.

Kelchtermans, G. (2009). Who I am in how I teach is the message: self‐understanding, vulnerability and reflection. Teachers and Teaching, 15(2), 257-272. doi:10.1080/13540600902875332

Owens, B. P., & Hekman, D. R. (2012). Modeling how to grow: An inductive examination of humble leader behaviors, contingencies, and outcomes. Academy of Management Journal, 55(4), 787-818.

Palethorpe, R., & Wilson, J. P. (2011). Learning in the panic zone: Strategies for managing learner anxiety. Journal of European Industrial Training, 35(5), 420-438.


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