How can the After-Action-Review process used by the military service assist instructional coaches and administrators in guiding teachers individually and in PLCs to reflect and improve? Experienced special education teacher, school administrator, and health care specialist in the military, DeShanna Reed, shares her experiences. The key AAR questions and tips for applying them are shared.
Contact DeShanna https://dreedcca.squarespace.com/
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPTSteve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening.
Steve: 00:28 Guiding an after action review process for team growth. I am joined today by DeShanna Reed, a current special education educator, working with students 18 and above and she has also enrolled in a educational leadership doctoral program. She has experience with special education students at all ages and as a past school administrator. DeShanna also served in the US services military, serving as a healthcare specialist. I contacted her after reading an article that she had written titled, “How a Military Feedback Model Could Foster Instructional Change.” So DeShanna
thanks so much for joining us.
DeShanna: 01:15 Sure. I’m glad I can do so.
Steve: 01:17 For starters, the process you outlined as called an “after action review.” Would you talk a little bit about how that was applied in your military experience?
DeShanna: 01:28 Well, in my experience, as you mentioned, I was a healthcare specialist, which is a really nice way of saying combat medic . And so that’s that’s the much shinier way of selling that job field and it was a fabulous dog field to be in. But nonetheless, the after action review was something that had been used from the time I reported to my initial entrance training, IET, also known as bootcamp for most people and throughout my career for every movement that we made. And not just movement in terms of normal walking and drilling ceremonies. I mean, every movement that was tied to a mission. So for example, for me as a medic, one of those movements would be what’s called SRP, soldier readiness program or processing. And so, in that we would have a variety of different stations.
DeShanna: 02:23 We would be responsible for hundreds of soldiers coming in to be assessed, to determine their deployability. And one of my functions was to of course, do blood draws and vital signs monitoring their records. But also sometimes I had the responsibility of organizing that SRP and making sure each station was set up appropriately, make sure that we were properly manned for that mission. And it would take us over the course of a weekend to execute this. And so we’ve got units coming from all over the state of Texas, which you could imagine is huge. And lots and lots of moving parts involved in that. And everyone had a particular responsibility, but the overall mission was that we all functioned cohesively. And so, the AAR functioned as our way to really debrief about what had happened, what was supposed to happen and also really consider why things happened the way that they did, whether they were successful or unsuccessful and what our plans were to do next time. And so, it’s really very straightforward. It is very centralized on what the unit as a whole did, not just the individual parts. It was definitely something that could be more granular in terms of reflecting on my own individual contribution to the movement, but it also really was more focused on how my individual contribution to the movement really impacted others and their ability to function in accomplishing that mission. So that’s really the long and short of what the a AAR does.
Steve: 03:59 So when you and I spoke earlier, you described making the connection between the AAR and working in school when you were working with a student teacher. Would you share that experience with the listeners?
DeShanna: 04:14 Yes. So very early on in my teaching career, I was appointed as a mentor teacher and I was given my first student teacher. Usually in your career as an educator, you don’t usually get that until somewhere around year five, six, maybe even upwards into year 10. Well, I was in my third year of being an educator at that point. And so when I was working with the teacher I had, she was very intently watching me as I delivered lessons and worked with students and organized groups. And after each of my lessons, I would ask her, okay, so here’s what was supposed to happen, here’s what I saw actually happened. What did you see? And it kind of took her back a minute, mainly because of the fact that she’s a student teacher and she’s, you know, thinking, well, you’re the authority figure in this situation.
DeShanna: 05:08 like, I feel like you probably should know the answers to these questions.
Steve: 05:12 But I did tell her, I haven’t gotten to this point to become a mentor teacher by not asking questions about my performance and I don’t leave and waiting until you get a formal observation to find out how well you’ve been “doing.” This is something that has to happen after every movement. This is something that has to happen after each lesson, in order for you to be able to improve on the next lesson. Otherwise you’re flying blind and you’re continuing to do the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. And then you’re disappointing when you finally receive that 45 minute formal observation from your administrator and all this time you’ve been delivering your lessons and your content in a specific way, only for them to tell you that that’s not the way that it should be done.
DeShanna: 05:55 So in fairness to myself and to you, I want you to be very reflective on your practices and it should be something that happens on a consistent basis after every movement. And then I explained to her what that meant, and sshe did ask, well, doesn’t that take a lot of time? And I said, you know what? It takes time to develop your lessons. She says, well, and it takes time to deliver those lessons, right? Well, yes. Okay. Well then you should take time and make time to get the feedback on those things so that you can save yourself time moving forward.
Steve: 06:27 I have to say she was one lucky student teacher. What a great way to start her career. I started my career in a high coaching model. And the questions that you share in the in the AAR really fit into a coaching model and having started my career that way, I know that it impacted me throughout my throughout my career. And it’s part of why I’ve had a focus on coaching and trying to build coaching into the culture of a school.
DeShanna: 07:03 Sure, sure. And for me, really my experience as a military service member is something that’s inextricably linked to everything that I do. And there’s a saying that says, you might leave that military service, but that doesn’t leave you because those are things that are gonna be constantly ingrained. It completely shifts the way that you see the world. It’s just the way that you function in different capacities and it doesn’t always work out for the best because let’s just be realistic, anything that touches human hands is flawed, but nonetheless, it is very much focused on efficiency. What works well when and how, and executing those with a team mindset. How is what I am doing, going to affect the first and to the left, to the right, to the front and to the rear of me. And there’s a deep sense of responsibility and accountability for whatever it is that you choose to do or not do.
DeShanna: 08:02 And even with the AAR, you can take that feedback and ignore it, or you can take that feedback, use it and be accountable for it because the beautiful piece about the AAR that I’ve noticed is very different than any of the other coaching models that I’ve experienced over my career is that it is not solely centered on just the person that is sitting directly in front of you receiving feedback on their lessons. It is about how that person’s movement affects everybody else’s movement, including their students. And so you said it really well in terms of coaching models and embedding that into school cultures, because ultimately that is what is going to happen based on this article, I have a coaching model and an entire program that I am building centralized on this. And I’m really looking forward to launching that coming into the summer so that I can offer professional developments and guide leaders and coaches through the process of implementing this on their campuses.
Steve: 09:00 In the in the article, you listed the four questions that are in the AAR. And I thought they fit perfectly into the PLC process. So let me share those four questions and then I’m wondering if you’ve had any experience working with the PLC with the four questions. So the four questions are, what was supposed to happen, what actually happened, why did it happen and what are we going to do next time?
DeShanna: 09:33 Yes. And so I do have experience using it in PLCs. Initially, I was doing it before I was a campus administrator. And I know
that it kind of turned the concept of PLC on its head because unfortunately, and I’m going to be very honest about this, in PLCs as an educato, and I’m sure others who are listening can attest to it, it sometimes becomes more of a complaint session and focuses on what’s not working and who is not doing what as opposed to reflective practices and solutions. And not solutions such as let’s just keep throwing these different ideas at this particular problem that we have incorrectly identified, hoping that one of them works, instead solutions in terms of what was supposed to happen across the board when we were working on developing for this district wide assessment. What actually happened, how did the students perform?
DeShanna: 10:38 How did we deliver the content? How did we prepare teachers to deliver this content? And then why did that happen? So why were there discrepancies between what was supposed to happen and what actually happened? And not just looking at the data, not just looking at what the paperwork says. What did the people do and how did their actual performance impact what actually happened? And then the next time, how are we going to improve and address why it happened so that we don’t keep having the same things happen expecting a different result. And so in asking those questions, especially in the PLCs that I was in, especially since I wasn’t the department chair and have never been a department chair. In asking those questions, it caused other teachers to kind of look at me a little sideways at first, but then they started to become more reflexive and really continuing to think back on.
DeShanna: 11:32 Okay. So I remember when I delivered this lesson, I had like five or six kids that kept asking me the same question but in different ways, which signals to me that they didn’t understand it, the way that I presented it. So what I need to do next time is present it perhaps, maybe with a visual and maybe something tangible so that it brings that learning home for them and then I can address any questions that they have based on those two pieces together, as opposed to me just telling it to them and performing these things on the board. Maybe that’s something that I should do next time. And then taking that and asking other educators, so how are you going to do that same thing? Oh, well, yes. I noticed the same thing in my class, so I’m going to try doing that same thing, except in my classroom.
DeShanna: 12:18 There’s not a lot of focus on the drawing model or the visuals, if you will. And so what I think I’m going to do is have the students create something that matches with the lesson. And so, it’s a whole team taking the in concepts, but still being able to put their personal stamp on it but everyone is collectively working for the same mission and they’re utilizing everybody else’s information, not just theirs, but they’re utilizing everybody else’s information to drive how they’re gonna change things in their classroom. And ultimately that changes the way things function on a campus. And when I became an administrator and was sitting in on PLCs and asking teachers to do these things, luckily, I had already established a really strong culture with the teachers that I work with so they trusted me and they believed me, and they also knew my track records before I became their administrator.
DeShanna: 13:09 So they were more willing to do this particular in terms of taking the time to be reflective on what happened and what was supposed to happen and how we’re going to fix it next time and having more conversations. And that was the key. And ultimately, we were able to make some big strides in a lot of different contents, such as ELAR and math, mainly because of the fact that we focus on how we together as a cohesive unit, were going to improve instruction and improve outcomes versus how are you individually in the classroom going to change your lessons so that it fits within whatever teacher appraisal model it is, because that’s the reason that you’re performing in that way, because someone’s coming to watch you if that makes sense.
Steve: 13:54 Yeah. As I’m listening to you, my mind keeps jumping to a high school music teacher that I just recorded a podcast with yesterday.
And she shared she’s in a districtwide PLC, which is made up of music teachers across the the whole district by the large district. But the story she shared was a fifth grade teacher going through this thinking process and describing for the group, what she was going to do to get a different outcome next time than she had gotten this time. And this teacher shared with me, it took me too little tweaks to move it from a fifth grade strategy to a high school strategy and it’s had this big payoff for me. So that ability to listen in as other people are going through that process has this great learning opportunity for everyone.
DeShanna: 14:56 Sure. And that’s ultimately what is supposed to happen. And even as administrators or instructional coaches, simply because we have reached that level in our career, does not mean that we have all of the answers. We should constantly be learning alongside the people that we are coaching, because that’s how you become a good coach, is you continue to be a really good learner, a really good participant. And you understand that your role as coach is not to be the person that is dictating out what everyone should be doing in order to make their lessons “better,” your job is to work with them alongside them because you’re serving with them. And like I said, it’s inextricably linked for me because service is just the absolute connection to everything. And considering how my actions impact other people’s actions is always at the front of my mind.
DeShanna: 15:50 And so when I was guiding teacher through the process of using this, and as I’m speaking with leaders who are also intrigued by the article and are interested in what’s coming next for me, I’m explaining to them this absolutely has to be centralized on what everyone is doing collectively, not just individually. So for example, SMART goals are great. And it’s not to say that they don’t have their place, but SMART goals are very much individualized because each person is going to have a different goal for themselves and of course, yes, they’ll check the box and have the shared smart goal for the campus. And it’s not to say that they don’t believe that I don’t want to take away from that at all. But realistically speaking, it becomes a disconnect mainly because of the fact that there hasn’t been a direct link established between the overall SMART goals for the campus and the individual smart goals of, how do I connect directly with that? How does my SMART goal actually fit in with the overall SMART goal? And so taking the AAR brings that piece into it. It actually connects those two puzzle pieces, so that they’re cohesive as opposed to two separate parts of a puzzle that never actually touch.
Steve: 17:09 I’m gonna be recommending your article here and I’ll post the link in the lead-in to the podcast and you listed in the article, some tips for working with AAR, and I just pulled two of them out of your list that I was gonna ask you to respond to. So the first one was remove emotions. Tell a little bit more about that.
DeShanna: 17:37 What I mean by that is not to become robotic about it. Not to make the experience a sterile one. What I mean by that is when you’re giving feedback, it must be focused solely on what was presented to you, not how you felt about what was presented to you, because that of course is subjective. It is not objective. And you have an objective, which is helping that person realize the things that they may or may not be doing, that is contributing to the success or lack thereof or the instruction that they delivered in terms of their classroom culture. It could be that. And by remove the emotion, what I mean is not using emotive words that take away from what the evidence actually is.
Steve: 18:30 Dealing with the evidence.
DeShanna: 18:31 That’s right. What is presented to me right now? Not how do I feel about it, not what do I think about it, what did I actually see? I remember once hearing one of my commanders say something that kind of was a little off putting to me at first. But he said, you know what, if we are focused on our emotions out here, people die. So we have to be focused on our mission over our emotions, because it doesn’t matter how we feel about what it is that we’re doing, what matters is how it’s going to impact others and we have to focus on what that mission is. We can deal with the emotional parts later, but right now we don’t have time for that. We need to be focusing on what’s in front of us, what’s the evidence, and then making strides toward those things.
Steve: 19:17 The other one that I pulled to ask you to respond to, you said, ask questions that elicit higher order thinking.
DeShanna: 19:27 Yes. Questions such as, how do you think it went? Those are the worst questions you can ask.
Steve: 19:35 Top of my list is a bad one.
DeShanna: 19:38 ? How do you think? Great. I think it was terrible, right? Honestly, I was speaking with a friend of mine who is an instructional coach and an amazing educator just the other day about this, because she was really excited about what the next steps are for this article and for the process in and of itself. And she said, you know, like that is the funniest question that I have ever heard someone ask, how do you think it went? And usually it’s gonna go one of two ways. You’re either going completely downplay what they’ve done is if they’ve just done the worst thing imaginable, and I was a witness to it or they’re going to exalt themselves so highly that they don’t even actually need me. And so, that’s not a higher order thinking questions.
DeShanna: 20:29 So in terms of asking higher order think questions, things that cannot be answered with a yes or a no, good or bad. It has to be something that goes deeper. And so if I’m gonna be talking about your lesson, the questions as they’re laid out in the AAR, what happened? You can’t just say nothing because obviously something happened. But that is a question that is designed to elicit higher order thinking. What actually happened? What are the steps? What are the movements that I recall? What were my movements? What did I see in terms of responsiveness to what my movements were? And so in doing that, it really challenges the person who’s receiving the feedback to really think beyond what was surface level, because eventually, you’re gonna get to the deep stuff and that’s later on when the emotive part comes in, but you really want them to not be able to answer your questions, especially as a coach, you do not want them to be able to answer your questions with a yes or a no, it’s the same with our students. If our students can answer our question with a yes or a no, we have not taught them to think more critically.
Steve: 21:50 Well, I really appreciate you spending the time with us here. As I mentioned, I’ll put the the link to your article in the lead-in so folks can go find it. I’m wondering, are you okay if we share how people might connect with you if they have questions they wanna bring back to you? What would be best?
DeShanna: 22:11 Yeah. I would love that. You could use my email address or they can ask questions on my website. I do have a blog that’s there. I post as often as I can because as you mentioned, I am a doctoral candidate so I’ve got a few other things going on.
Steve: 22:25 Well, tell us, what’s your what’s your website?
DeShanna: 22:30 My website is dreedcca.squarespace.com.
Steve: 22:41 We’ll post that in the lead-in too for folks that don’t catch it here, listening. In closing, there was a sentence I pulled from your article that I wanted you to expand on a little bit as we close out. And I’m quoting, “when we shift our focus from individual actions to the overall mission of improvement, we can facilitate lasting change.”
DeShanna: 23:11 Mm-hmm. What I’ve noticed over the years in comparison between my two lives, if you will, when I was serving in a military capacity, I was aware of the fact that whatever it was that I chose to do or not do could lead to the success or failure of a mission. And so, I always considered what would be best for the group overall, before I considered what would be best for me. Because what might be best for me, what might be comfortable for me would be detrimental to a group. And those people were trusting me to keep them at the front of my mind when I made decisions. And so the overall mission of improvement, isn’t just lying in the second grade teacher’s classroom who is teaching in central Texas, separate from the sixth grade math teacher who’s teaching in south Texas. Separate from the high school teacher who AP history in west Texas or in any other part of the country, fill in the blank.
DeShanna: 24:35 The overall mission of improvement really has to do with guiding our students and our educators alike, to really maximize their fullest potential and be able to make the systemic changes that are needed outside the classroom. Whole communities and societies are sitting in our classrooms and in our schools. And so it’s each of our individual responsibilities to focus on what our contributions to the overall mission of improvement is by allowing ourselves be vulnerable, to be teachable, always to respect others’ point of view. And I always told my students, like is not a prerequisite for respect. You don’t have to like someone in order to respect their point of view and respect the fact that they are part of a greater organization that you also are part of and really understanding those links to each other. Yes, puzzles have individual pieces, but if those pieces don’t fit together, you don’t have an overall picture.
Steve: 25:43 Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Appreciate the time.
DeShanna: 25:46 Sure.
Steve: 25:47 Have a great day.
DeShanna: 25:48 You too.
Steve [Outro]: 25:51 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley, or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.