Part 4 of our conversation with Tepper and Flynn, authors and experts on how to support professional growth through high-quality feedback

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Here is a transcript.

– Welcome to #PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena Professional Learning Platform. We are talking with Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn of Tepper and Flynn. They’re an organization that works with schools and districts across the country. They’re also authors of multiple books and we’ve been talking about feedback and professional learning, and thanks so much for joining us again to wrap up the conversation, and talk, really end this question of professional learning and what that looks like right now.

– Thanks.

– Thanks, Adam.

– So, I think, you know, there’s a challenge that’s under way. Well, there’s many challenges, but as a school leader or a system leader, there’s a real tension, I think, which is the sense of overwhelm that everyone is experiencing for adapting to the moment, and then simultaneously, the need to kind of prepare and be skilled for whatever comes next. And so, for me, I think of that as professional learning but let’s just talk to the superintendents out there for one second. If you were to make the kind of big picture go, no go kind of advice, like, should I be sitting, I mean this is a leading question, of course, should I be sitting in place, should I tell everybody it’s okay, like, get back to being comfortable or should I be pushing and saying, yeah, it’s uncomfortable but we have to keep learning?

– You know, our greatest growth happens when we’re uncomfortable so I think that’s the start point to really answering that question but, you know, when we answer that in a very practical way, we’re six weeks into, for most, in most cases, about six weeks into this change and this shift, and people are moving along the stages and we have varying levels of application. So you know, now is the time to begin to ask the question of, you know, what is working inside these virtual environments, specifically setting up the opportunities for that collaboration to occur around that topic, and then asking the question, how do you know it’s working and then can it be replicated, and then, if so, how can it be replicated? Because that’s where we can then build and scaffold the professional learning for our entire school system and/or organization.

– But, you know, what do you say to someone who kind of pushes back? I mean, that sounds great, that sounds, you know, thanks so much, Patrick, that sounds like language of someone who is not standing in the building while it’s on fire and, you know, I only can spend my time on so many things. Why is professional learning, why do I need to carve out time and call it professional learning? Aren’t we all learning all the time? So, you know, Patrick or Amy, you can respond to that but kinda talk me off the edge of the cliff here.

– We always have to acknowledge that, you know, people can at any point in time shift backwards, so to speak into a moment of crisis or a feeling of crisis and the feeling of trauma and so there’s no disrespect given to that particular aspect. But at the same time, you know, ultimately our goal is to ensure that learning is occurring and if these environments are going to continue to be a part of our lives, which it’s leaning more and more towards that idea, then we do have to be in that evidence collection stage, that information gathering, that data gathering stage, and that should provide us with a little bit of a safety net, so to speak, to answering the question of, you know, I’m not asking you to do anything more than let’s just get on paper what’s working, because those are the things that we’re gonna be able to utilize in the future that’s going to be able to support our kids in a different way.

– I mean, let me ask it from a practical sense, Amy, I don’t know the extent to which school leaders are really feeling worried about the compliance hammer this year but should I be counting time that people document what is working as quote unquote professional learning?

– Oh, that’s a good question. You know, at the end of the day, it’s about the culture. Patrick’s line, what was it, Patrick? “The culture you had is the culture is you have now,” that, you know, you said something. We love Brene Brown and where she’s promoting the idea that discomfort is normalized. So, before this ever happened, had we promoted an idea that and Patrick said, “We grow when we’re uncomfortable,” you know, where that happy place is. So for some, they’re already in that place but for the others, we want to get to a place where we create a space where we are always growing. It’s not about the number of hours and it’s not the number of videos that you watch, it’s how are we continually improving and growing and this is such a rare opportunity in crisis. You know, our first blog that we wrote coming into this. Who was it who discovered, oh, the apple falling? Newton, it was during the Bubonic Plague, right? So, we need to go all the way back and say, yes, but Newton discovered the laws of gravity during the Plague, if we need to go to that and say why does learning have to stop when we know in great times of challenge and crisis, we come out on the other side just exponentially new people?

– I like the kind of, in some ways, controversial push you just gave, which is, no, no, no, it’s good, I like it ’cause you kind of pointed out, I mean, look, I was trying to get either of you to give me some black and white answer, okay, I didn’t get it. But what I heard here is let’s put on the school leader hat. If I was a school leader listening to that, yes, professional learning is still important. What I quote unquote count as professional learning right now is still important. But I have to simultaneously consider like what was the way that I empowered people to drive that learning before? Maybe they weren’t empowered. And in some respects, I think the other thing that you said, which is take this moment as the opportunity where we don’t have to do, we have to do a lot of hard work, but we don’t have to do the like careful work that you usually have to do of quote unquote change management because there’s nothing to manage here from the stance that everybody’s here, right? Like nobody’s sticking behind on the before. Everybody is in this moment together and there’s no getting around it and so as a result, like how are you kind of constructing that set of guidelines for what professional learning means, why we do it, why it’s important, how we think about what we define as valuable professional learning. And in some ways, it sounds like we have an opportunity to really connect, maybe more so than ever for teachers, the line between quote unquote what we’re asking them to learn about and the relevance to their day-to-day. So I don’t know, that’s what I took from that. Hopefully that’s what you wanted me to take from that.

– You’re excellent at paraphrasing.

– I would add an extra layer to all of that to really kind of highlight the idea that while we’re all in the same place, what I’ve seen in the waiving of some of the compliance requirements, has been an increase in risk taking and I think that increase in risk taking as well has been because we’re all in the same place, we’re just trying things and trying to accomplish whatever we can. So I think as risk taking starts to kind of become more normalized I think for a lot of people, it can allow us the opportunity to kind of create a safe environment and say, “Okay, well, based on that risk “that you should took, did it work? “Why did it work?” Because now we’re at a point where in a new system like this, we now need to really think about institutional learning and what does this mean to us as an institution so that we can continue to move forward for our kids? And if we can frame from that lens of a collaborative, kind of moral obligation to each other, that’s why we need to be doing professional learning. That’s why we need to be having these conversations because we have an obligation to continue to make sure learning is going to occur. And we can create the structures for that through our discussions and throughout the year.

– And we talked in our last conversation about the idea of urgency and Patrick mentioned replicating, so it feels, we are recording this particular conversation toward the end of the academic year, so in some senses, there is some urgency to start acting now and talking about what is it that’s working? What risks are paying off? All those types of things so that no matter where we end up next fall, we can replicate those things.

– No time like the moment. When you’re in it, you’re gonna know it. If I wait ’til the summer, and what’s gonna happen is the moment that those folks stop or school ends, and I don’t blame them, mentally they need to disappear. They need to disconnect in order for them to be successful. So I think right now is the time to be collecting and gathering that information.

– And if I can just add just one really important point Patrick did mention earlier. I think that clearly we are growth minded and promote that in a culture of learning in every building but it comes back to what we talked about very early in our conversations about understanding your teachers and where they are. We’re know they’re exhausted. I’m hearing how many hours a day in front of a computer they’re spending that they had never done, just the number of hours in a chair in front of a computer and then on a lunch break checking on their three children in homeschool at home. So I think it’s gonna be really important to still maintain high expectations to keep some momentum going so that we are really informed and making good decisions in the summer for the fall. But have a balance of understanding of where everybody is and what everyone can really handle.

– Yeah, I think you hit on something really important there which is many teachers are also parents, which means they’re also struggling with a wait, a second, my kids are home all day and are supposed to be learning? I have a whole job that I’m supposed to be doing.

– One of our coaches tweeted a picture of her two children who had a fire drill and they were outside yesterday. So things that keep you really grounded for what people are experiencing.

– A fire drill.

– A very creative moment. Normalcy.

– Well, you know. That’s right, practice those routines. Well, we’re about to wrap up and before we go, I wanna ask you an extra credit question. We’re gonna go to Amy first. So what’s something new that you’ve changed or adopted or started valuing since we started sheltering in place and being at home a little bit more?

– So I think with everybody, it’s been shocking, this shocking experience. We’ve all gone through so many waves of everything. I think for me the most shocking but then which has turned in to be the most important is this, I’ve been calling it like a stillness because we wrote two books in a very short amount of time. We’re out just hitting the pavement, it’s so important for us to be in buildings, so we filled every minute of every day just doing, doing, doing, and I think one of the most important things that’s happened for me is to get back to a stillness. It’s energized me, which I didn’t expect, and creatively and intellectually and emotionally, and all those things. I’ve dug someone else’s ask that have come up more recently and I’ve been thinking about that’s been the biggest one. Aside from learning how to green screen without the green screen. So two big wins.

– I agree, I have never been more well rested in the last decade than I am right now.

– I have the luxury of I don’t have, I feel a level of guilt that I’m not experiencing what everyone else is in a lot of regard.

– Patrick, how about you, same question.

– Out of all of this, my son is a senior in high school, so his experience, of course, very unique and this is a very difficult time I think for any kid who’s graduating and just based on what they know to be a real loss. But for him, he’s also projecting forward and looking forward to college and kind of has seen the next layer of his life and hopefully that will come to fruition without any glitches as well. But I would say what I value most out of this has been my time with him. If has just dramatically changed the way in which we interacted and the time that we committed to one another and just being with one another and talking with one another and processing what it is to be a senior getting ready to leave, to being a future college soccer player, and academic and just what it really all means. It’s just a completely different opportunity that I think we’ve been graced with based on this.

– Well, great to hear there are some personal bright spots for both of you. Amy, Patrick, thanks again for joining us as part of this series. If you’re interested to learn more about their work, head to TepperandFlynn.com. They’ve got multiple books out. One that we talked about a bunch in this conversation is “Feedback to Feed Forward.” They also have a new book out. Remind me again of the tile of the most recent book.

– Yeah, “Learner-Focused Feedback.”

– “Learner-Focused Feedback.” Okay, so Amy, Patrick, thanks so much for being part of #PLtogether and if you’re listening to this, or are watching this and you wanna see more conversations, head to pltogether.org. Thanks again for joining us.

– [Both] Thank you.

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