Part 2 of our conversation with Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn, field practitioners turned education authors

Here is the transcript.

– Welcome to PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena. Today we’re talking with Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn. They are the authors of multiple books, and we’re talking to them about one in particular, which is “Feedback to Feed Forward”, a topic of great importance, how to provide feedback to teachers who aren’t physically in schools anymore. Amy, Patrick, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thanks for having us.

– Thanks for having us.

– So, let’s continue the conversation. We’re kind of working through some of the big questions that you ask in your book. And one that I’m particularly interested in diving in with you guys on is collecting evidence in the classroom. You know, I have some personal opinions on this, because I work in the realm of using video for feedback, well before COVID ever was something we had in our vocabulary. So, I’m curious to hear your ideas. You know, how can you collect evidence, now that we, basically, don’t have the traditional way of thinking about what teaching looks like? Patrick.

– Yeah, well, in our book, “Feedback to Feed Forward”, we provide specific strategies based on real experience inside classrooms. We did our best, as we were doing the research and applied research for the book, to really engage in them and then think aloud, constantly just feeding off of one another, like, “What did you just do?” “How did you do that?” “What was the actual way you broke apart “that particular aspect?” And there were really about eight strategies that we give in the book that are focused on that. And then we have a second book, “Learner-Focused Feedback”, that digs a little bit further into those. But there are three that I’ll highlight, and then Amy can jump in with some additional, if she wants. But, really, there are three that we call the trifecta, look, listen and interact. And the idea, really, behind all of that is that, you know, everything we’re trying to collect should really be about the learning, what and how is learning occurring, and understanding that learning in the context of the environment that you’re in, the purpose of the lesson itself that’s supposed to be in place, the situation of that, in other words, the tasks, the strategies, the questions. And then the understanding of whether or not that’s leading to learning. So that idea of look, listen and interact really gives you a platform to develop some of those core strategies, those core look-fors, as to what you what you collect inside the classroom.

– So, maybe, Amy, we’ll toss it to you, but, you know, takes us, sort of, feel free to add more, but I want you to take us from the kind of, like, the trifecta level to the “My hair is on fire, “and what does that mean for COVID-land” level.

– Okay. So, when this all first came about, you know, I panicked. You know, “What are my skills?” “We need to be, “We have to help everyone!” And I realized, “Oh wait, I taught virtual school for four years, “for Florida Virtual. “Oh yeah!” I did my grad work online. So I really tapped into all of that experience. Patrick and I brainstormed continually about how do we make these adjustments. So I was inspired immediately to get to work when a science department chair, who is amazing, who’s been in my trainings for two years, emailed me and said, “How do I do this? “How do I support my teachers? “They’re completely asynchronous.” So we got to work thinking. And I said, “Basically, you’re doing the same things. “You’re looking for the same things.” Patrick said, “We’re looking for the learning.” We’re looking for how we’re impacting learning. But what we need to just think about is what’s available to us. So, for your schools, who are already using video-based observation, this is not a big jump. I can go and watch a teacher’s screen cast of a quick mini-lesson. I can, I mean, we, that’s a comfortable step right from what we were already doing. We can join Zoom conversations. We can just jump right in and be invited. It’s live. What we have that department chair doing was just going in and being invited into Google Classrooms and checking out what the tasks, what the prompts were, how students were engaging in a discussion board question. And then the interaction of that trifecta. So I can listen in a Zoom conference, I can read and look at student work. The interaction becomes more challenging, but it’s still really rich, and so we want to continue to think about how are we using surveys? How can I jump into a small group in Zoom as a leader, a peer or a coach, and engage with those learners while the teacher is in another group? It’s still possible. Teachers in synchronous settings are engaging with learners, so can we, as a second set of eyes.

– Yeah, I think that you’re, you know, if I’m to re-phrase that, right, which is, you know, if we combine what both of you just said, it’s like, okay, if your goal is to go in and to find the evidence of the learning, right, to see the impact, if that was already kind of a motivating mindset for you as an observer, of how you wee approaching the process, then apply that mindset to what’s happening right now. So, if what you wanted to use as evidence put forwards student discussion, go find how student discussion is happening in this new way. So that could be students leaving each other Google Doc comments on a shared project, or it could be at the other end, you know, live video conference, Zoom, kind of breakout room. And I think, you know, I’ll add in here, ‘coz I know, hopefully, people are, I don’t wanna have ’em get locked into the, like, “Well, I’m not doing Zoom, “so this is irrelevant to me.” So, okay, like, maybe you have students doing telephone conferences with each other, and talking about the work. You know, even if you’re at that end of the spectrum of how students are interacting you can still gather evidence about the contributing factors to that impact that you’re kind of looking for anyway.

– I think, too, as you’re talking, it makes me think about the other challenge, as Patrick is supporting some teams, especially at the high school level, in terms of supporting teachers in assessment. So, if we, as a second set of eyes, can continually refine our ability to understand, “Well, how do I collect information “about how kids are thinking,” we only serve to support teachers further in assessment, because we know teachers are struggling in that day-to-day in these structures.

– Yeah. I think one of the places that, you know, right now there’s a lot of, we talked before about the role of the coach, right, and the coach is a supportive person in that relationship, you’re saying the second set of eyes. You know, I really think, if we’re kind of working from a place of the teacher’s not alone, which, hopefully, they’re not alone and there is that second set of eyes, that colleague to collaborate with, I think there’s, really, it sounds like a huge opportunity for someone in that collaboration role to be using, in some ways, there are extra, kind of, cycles to help problem-solve for the teacher around these thorny questions of, “How do I assess,” or, you know, “How do I gather the evidence?” Not that people weren’t doing that already, but I think it’s, like, calling out that, maybe as a coach spending 20 minutes just, like, brainstorming, to try and help that teacher, is actually like a high-productivity exercise right now, because the teacher’s 20 minutes is spent thinking, like, “Oh, man, we still have to do, like, factoring, “and explaining math via video asynchronously “is really challenging. “How am I gonna do that? “How am I gonna pick my specific words,” you know, like, or whatever they might be.

– I think the important part there, too, Adam, is that, you know, as a coach or as an instructional leader of any type, right, being in multiple classrooms watching that occur, you become the great synthesizer, right, you become the person who is able to bring back to people during those brainstorm sessions, “Hey, I just saw this happening over here this way, “and maybe you could try that out, “because I believe this type of approach “may really bring you the same results “that you’re looking for, “the results you’re looking for right now.”

– I wonder as well, I mean, in terms of just, like, tactical and practical guidance. I mean, we use the example of, like, the idea of student collaboration. Do you think it’s valuable in this hectic time to maybe, you know, narrow the scope of the things that you’re trying to go look for? Like, maybe it’s better to kinda step back, absent the particular lesson, absent the particular content, and, as a coach or a school leader, say, “You know, the thing “that we’re just gonna root ourselves against is X, “and that’s what we’re gonna talk about with the teacher. “We’re gonna talk about X over and over again, “so that we can get better at X in this context.” Do you think that’s an okay way of progressing?

– Absolutely.

– Yeah.

– So, it’s interesting because–

– You’re touching a main point for us there.

– Aah! You guessed it. We’ve never said it. We were getting that question before all of this happened.

– Yeah, right.

– So, we promote a broad sweep at first. So, first time I step into a Google Classroom, or I jump in and watch a video, it’s a fact-finding, let me gather information so I understand. Because the questions that we’re trying to answer: Are kids engaged? To what level? And are they learning? That’s our Chapter Four in “Feedback to Feed Forward”. And then we spun an entire book, “Learner-Focused Feedback”, around that idea. So when I first am watching and getting to understand what’s happening for teachers, I start with: Are they engaged in learning? Why or why not? And then, collaboratively with the teacher, once we do that initial sweep, we can start to identify one of the stages. You know, we’ve created these four stages of implementation in these challenging times. And start to identify a stage. And then growth points, or next steps, will be dependent on where that teacher really is. If tech is still a huge obstacle for a teacher, that’s gonna be a different starting point. Or when we look at what’s causing a lack of engagement and learning, we then maybe need to narrow the focus down to, “Okay, next time I come, “I’m just going to see the quality of your prompts. “Because maybe your prompts are promoting “a lack of collaboration or rich discourse.”

– Mm. It’s almost like put on the hat, imagining you’re visiting a school for a first time. Even if you’re the school leader and have been at that school for 10 years, this is a new school for a new time. Take that survey, then dial in and kind of keep a limited scope, so that we can kind of focus on one or two things to be working on, so that we’re not scattered all around. You mentioned those four stages. For those that didn’t hear in our last conversation, or are interested to learn more, you can go to That’s We’re going to continue the conversation. If you’re interested to listen to the continuation of this, or other conversations, you can find those at Patrick and Amy, thanks so much for joining us.

– Thanks, Adam.

– Thanks again.