To Lead Student Learning, First Ask Are Your Students OK? (Tepper and Flynn)

  • Authors Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn share why they believe it’s possible to maximize the power of feedback and cultivate teacher growth.

  • Tepper and Flynn describe how the student-teacher relationship is so important to successfully lead learning.

  • The authors compare the similarities between the learning styles of students to those of teachers to illustrate some of the ways that instructional coaches can be thinking about coaching during the pandemic.

  • Tepper and Flynn explain their new “4 stages of a shift” from traditional to distance teaching and learning.

Amy Tepper and Patrick Flynn met in 2012 when they were both contracted to work for Newark Public Schools to support observation and feedback practices. They then expanded upon that work by co-writing Feedback to Feed Forward: 31 Strategies to Lead Learning, and also created the organization Tepper and Flynn.

Amy and Patrick help teachers, instructional coaches, school leaders, and administrators through the feedback process. Whether through live classroom visits or videos, they help educators collect and analyze teaching artifacts with the ultimate focus on improving feedback and impacting student growth.

Amy and Patrick were recently interviewed by Edthena’s Adam Geller for the teacher professional development blog PLtogether. During their conversation, they emphasized how important it is for teachers to understand their student’s emotional well-being in order to effectively lead learning.

The authors are adamant about the notion that targeted feedback can only happen when an individual understands the person they are working with. Whether that be a teacher working with a student, or an instructional coach working with a teacher, you must recognize what is happening in the individual’s life in order to create a personalized learning plan for them. Once a personalized learning plan is created, you can then provide individualized feedback and support.

The video segment above is part one of their four-part conversation. You can watch this segment above, and we’ve shared some of the highlights of this part of the interview below.

Amy, can you share an example of an educator that you’ve heard that has adapted part of their process as a result of the pandemic?

One thing that grabbed me is how we’re seeing teachers pulling out all the stops creatively and trying new ideas. They are using whatever materials they have at their homes to create effective lessons. I’ve seen educators adapt to their learners’ needs very quickly.

I saw a picture of a teacher using her phone as a document camera. She stacked it up on some pots and pans so the camera would be at the right height to ensure she could keep doing her think-alouds.

The ingenuity we are seeing is really striking. Teachers are using any means necessary to ensure that their virtual classrooms are still feeling similar to the live classroom experience.

Amy, as a former teacher, can you describe what it means to lead learning as a teacher during the pandemic?

Leading learning is really about understanding your students, recognizing what is happening in their lives and knowing that they are okay. Only after this relationship is developed can teachers really start to think creatively with their lesson planning and teaching.

As an educator, you have to be able to think about your student’s existence. How many siblings do they have? Do they have a computing device at home? Do they have to share that device with multiple siblings? So to effectively lead learning, teachers have to start with knowing their kids. They have to understand the student’s family dynamics to be able to individually support them.

Beyond the notion of focusing on a relationship first, teachers must also be able to discern what works for each kid individually. Why is a student struggling? Is it a tech issue, a time issue, or does the teacher need to create an individualized tutorial to support their student?

There are a lot of layers to being an effective teacher right now. I think that leading learning in the fall will be an adapted version of what we’re doing right now.

Patrick, how should coaches and school leaders be thinking about shifting their work in this new context?

What is good for students as learners can be just as effective for teachers as learners. It is also important to understand where a teacher is and what they need. Then, just as you would with a student, a coach must be able to individualize and support their teacher in a very specific way.

Teachers need leadership. They need coaching that will meet them exactly where they are. Just as students may have access issues, so too may teachers. Just as students may be experiencing trauma, so too may teachers be having home issues.

As a coach is working with those teachers, he or she has to be able to help the teacher analyze the impact of the learning taking place. A teacher needs to be able to answer these questions; are kids learning as a result of what I’m doing in my classroom? Can this be replicated so that we can ensure that learning is happening for all students?

When we talk about what coaches and leaders are doing to lead learning, the same principle that Amy brought up applies. Form a real relationship with your teacher, support them, and provide them with feedback that focuses on their individual needs and allows them to grow as a teacher.

As a coach or school leader right now, how can you uphold high standards and not let up on what the vision is for strong student outcomes?

tepper and flynn distanced teaching stages of shiftIt’s that thinking that led us to the development of a series that we created as a free resource. We recognized our leaders and coaches needed help in how to lead learning. One of the most important tools inside that series is the creation of  4 stages of shifting to distance teaching. And so, it’s to help leaders, coaches, and even peers identify what stage those students and teachers are existing in so that we can support them based on these four stages.

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 stage is to focus on an understanding of what it takes to teach and learn online. The second stage is to adapt the type of learning based on the context of what is happening in your environment.  And then part three is to help leaders, coaches, and peers learn how to get into what’s happening with the learning. Lastly, the final stage is the analyze the impact of the learning.

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Like what yo’re reading? Watch more videos at or read our related lounge interview with  Deborah Ball about the urgent need to transition to new types of teaching during COVID-19.

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