Part 1 of our conversation with Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn, authors of multiple books about offering feedback

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Here’s a transcript of the conversation:

– Welcome to PLTogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. And today we’re talking with Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn. They’re the authors of multiple books, including one called “Feedback to Feed Forward, “31 Strategies to Lead Learning”, which we’re going to be talking to them a bit about. They’re also the founders of an organization called Tepper and Flynn. Amy and Patrick, thanks so much for joining us.

– Hi, thanks for having us.

– Yeah, thank you, thank you so much for having us.

– Absolutely. Well maybe a good place to start for folks that are unfamiliar with your work is telling them a little bit about Tepper and Flynn. And good news, the brand name is the last names.

– So tell us about you, but also tell us about what is your organization Tepper and Flynn about?

– Amy, wanna start?

– Heh, Patrick. We always, who wants to start? Well, we’ve been working together for about eight years. And that was after several years of working as teachers, administrators, curriculum directors. And when we met each other we were working primarily in Newark, New Jersey with Newark Public Schools. And we had a contract there to support observation and feedback practices. And we completed about 400 per year through our organization. And we were in classrooms, observing and then providing one to one feedback to teachers. And we were utilizing that to try to look at the way in which administrators and leaders were providing feedback to teachers and supporting their professional growth. So when Amy and I were involved in that project we continued to kind of expand on that and built Tepper and Flynn and built “Feedback to Feed Forward” really from the origins of that work over the course of the last couple years.

– Well I think–

– And really–

– Oh, go ahead.

– Oh, sorry. And just to jump in, so over those seven years since Newark we’ve been out supporting teachers, coaches, and leaders in this work. And though Newark was sort of the kickstart, we have just been out in the field every day building an understanding of what teachers need and then also building an understanding of what the observers need to support those teachers.

– Yeah, what I was gonna add there is that–

– Sorry.

– No, you’re fine, you’re fine! I was just gonna say, I think oftentimes, the educators, sometimes they want the research kind of approach to thinking about things and sometimes they want the like, adapted interpreted version of how the research plays out in the real world. And it sounds like you’re really bringing that to bear with kind of the motivating force behind your work is having been there and been doing that work over and over again and seeing and learning those patterns. Let’s start with some good news, ’cause there’s a lot of things happening that are making us uncomfortable, feeling like changes are happening. So let’s start with some good news. Maybe Amy, can you share an example of an educator that you’ve heard that’s changed something or adapted something and that that story kinda gave you some extra energy to apply to your work? When I say educator, it doesn’t have to be a teacher, it can be a coach or a school leader.

– You know, it’s interesting because so many incredible things are happening. And so, to identify one is really difficult. Something that grabbed me, you know, if we’re thinking just on the fly because there are so many unbelievable things happening, creatively I think is where we’re seeing teachers just pulling out the stops. Any ideas, and things they have just in their homes, making things work for kids and adapting to learners’ needs really quickly. But I saw a picture of, and then quickly out and did it myself, of how they were using their phones as dot cams. But like, stacked up on pots and pans and whatever they could to get it the right height to ensure they could keep doing their think-alouds and show their stickies. So just the ingenuity has struck me tenfold.

– Mm, I like that, the dot cam on top of some pots and pans. Haven’t heard that one yet.

– Pinto beans on ’em.

– Yeah, actually putting the bag of beans on top would be really good ’cause then you can like, level it out.

– Balance it, yeah.

– Well let’s, we’re gonna focus on a couple different topics. I think we’re gonna draw from the book itself. For those that haven’t seen the book, they have really structured things around some big kind of overarching questions. And one of the first questions that you ask in the book is, what does it mean to lead learning? And I think that’s such an important question for right now because, what does it mean to lead students, what does it mean to lead teachers, what does it mean to lead schools? Wow, we’re like, totally rewriting all those definitions. So let’s take ’em one by one. Let’s start first with teachers, what does it mean to lead learning as a teacher right now? We’ll go to Patrick. And I’ll do a better job of tossing between you two.

– Trying to keep it between us.

– That’s okay, that’s okay. See, I’m realizing, we’re all learners here, right? We’re all starting all over again. I’m okay on the one to one interviews, and this is my first two person interview, so I’m learning as we go.

– Well, and actually I would yield the teacher side to Amy. And I think when we talk more systems, I’ll tend to chime in more often. But Amy, you wanna start with that one? Because I really do believe you’ll go after leading learning for teachers differently.

– You know, it’s interesting to think about when this occurred in a school year. If this had occurred early in the fall for the first time and we had barely had a chance to know our kids, I think we’d be in such an incredibly different place, our teachers. But because they’ve formed relationships and bonded and gotten to really know their kids as learners, now leading the learning as a teacher from March until the end of the year looks different. So very quickly, it’s sort of tied into my ideas of what I’m seeing them doing in ingenuity and creative ideas. Leading the learning is really first understanding and making sure your kids are okay and knowing what’s happening in their homes. We continue to be enlightened, you know, we live in our existences, but how many siblings have to share a single device? In our towns in Connecticut we support, we still don’t have devices in kids’ hands. So to lead the learning has to start with knowing those kids even more than we knew them when they walked out the doors in March and understanding family dynamics and supporting and working around those as best we can. And then going beyond that, really diving into what’s working for our kids. How are we impacting them? Why are they struggling? Is it a tech issue, a time issue, or do I just need to create a tutorial quick screencast to support them? So I think there are a lot of different layers right now and that leading learning in the fall will be an adapted version of even what we’re doing right now as teachers.

– Mm, I like that this is, I’ve been talking to some other folks around this, the issues of equity right now. I feel like you kind of brought that forward as the first and most important thing, which is, and said another way, what do the students need? ‘Cause you can’t just bulldoze in with, the students still have to be learning. You have to first leverage those relationships you’ve been building all year long to be able to access and understand, like, well what do those students really need right now so that they can get back to the learning? ‘Cause I don’t think, we’re not wanting to sacrifice the learning. We’re not throwing our hands up and saying, well, all right, see you in a year. Well Patrick, let’s maybe zoom out a little bit then. We were talking about the one classroom view. Now let’s think about it from the view of the people around the teachers. So maybe that’s the coach, the team leaders, but also the school leaders. They’re leading those teachers and inspiring and invigorating those teachers through this challenging time. So how’ve they been shifting, or how should they be thinking about shifting their work in this new context?

– And to answer that question, I think I’ll go back to something that we always talk about. And that is that, what is and what we see is really good for kids and students as learners is the same we see for teachers and adults as learners. And that’s understanding where they are, what they need, and then being able to individualize and support them in a very specific way. It actually led to a recent rewrite of some of our work and the creation of what we call four stages of development with inside an online environment. I think teachers need the leadership, they need the coaching that is going to meet them where they are right now. And they may have access issues, they may have trauma issues. And right off the bat, I think we saw a lot of that. And we continue to see, I think, that grow in certain ways when we see teachers who are struggling over time because they just don’t have access to their kids ’cause they don’t get to see their kids. And that’s a really important thing for a coach, for a leader to be able to understand. And then it’s, as you’re working with those teachers, you have to be able to move into that next phase of really being able to analyze the impact of the learning. But once again, we have to be ready for that. And so, taking all of those dynamic things that they’re doing and then really connecting them back to, are kids learning as a result of what you’re doing inside your classroom? In your virtual classroom. And can we replicate that to be able to continue to ensure that that learning is occurring? So when we talk about what coaches and leaders are doing to lead learning, it’s really about the same principle. Get in with those teachers, support them, provide them with that feedback that really allows them to grow as teachers.

– You know, I think there’s, often we talk about personalized professional learning and all these things. But I think, you know, you kind of pulled it right to the forefront. We have to meet the teachers right where they are as well. There’s an image that, maybe I saw it in the New York Times. I’m not sure. It just really stuck with me, it was a teacher sitting in a, I don’t remember if it was a male or female teacher, so I’ll say his or her car in the parking lot of the school. It brings into stark relief the need to remember all the things happening in everyone’s life right now. You know, it’s kind of like, yes, as the school leader or the coach, you have to be kind of helping uphold those high standards for where you wanna end up, and not let up on what that vision is for strong student outcomes. But at the same time, taking into account the people that are part of the process.

– You know, it’s that thinking that led us to the development of this series that we created as a free resource. We recognized our leaders and coaches needed help in how to lead the learning. And so, one of the most important tools inside that series is a creation of stages. And so, it’s to help leaders, coaches, and even peers identify at what stage those students or learners and teachers are existing in that moment so that we can support them based on these four stages. And interestingly, we have some who are already in stage III and ready to go. We’re hearing they were already comfortable with technology, they’ve got a stable dynamic at home. And so, by getting a tangible tool and some potential look-fors and some guiding standards, we now have a resource to help leaders provide that individualized feedback and support that you’re talking about.

– Is that four steps, are those on your website? Would that be something people could see kinda listed out?

– Yes, on our resources page we have a special link out to school closure resources. And we’ve pushed all of that out for free so that it’s available. We just finished part four. The first part is really just to focus on an understanding of what does it take to teach and learn online. And then the second part is where those stages live. And then part three is to help leaders, coaches, and peers learn how to get into what’s happening with the learning to better identify the stage.

– Mm, mm. Well, why don’t you give us the web address so that we know where to look? I know how to spell your names, but you can tell us and then spell it for us so everybody that’s watching this or listening to this can know where to go, before we wrap up here.

– Well it’s as easy as tepperandflynn.com.

– All right, tepperandflynn.com. Well Patrick, Amy, thank you so much. We will continue the conversation. This has been another PLTogether Lounge Talk. You can find the continuation of this conversation as well as other conversations at pltogether.org. Thanks so much for joining us.

– Thanks Adam.

– Thank you.

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