Ryan Fellow Blog: My Mini-Movement

Ryan Fellow Blog: My Mini-Movement

Gretchen Larsen
Class of 2018 Ryan Fellow


A recent defining moment in my field study was the day my mini-movement kicked off. A group of teachers were huddled around the whiteboard, studying the day’s math lesson, and working frantically to finish before they parted ways to deliver said lesson to their students. It was the most meaningful (and spirited!) discussion I’d seen with this team all year! It was also much needed, since two of the three teachers were brand new to fifth grade math and were struggling to teach it effectively. In fact, I had recently watched one teacher struggle to complete a single problem correctly in front of her students. My mini-movement addressed this problem and prompted the day’s spirited discussion.

So, what is a mini-movement, exactly? Accelerate Institute views change management and school leadership as starting a movement. As school leaders, it is our job to create a plan, set expectations and goals, and persuade people to join our movement by working at, enrolling in, or supporting our school. Our field study year includes a “mini-movement”, so named because it is a small-scale version of what we will do when we lead our own school.

As the student finished the problem, the teacher yelled, “I got it! I mean, you got it!” And really, both were true.

My mini-movement is off to a (slow) start. I have lovingly christened it: Know it, Teach it, Assess it, Achieve it! It’s quite a mouthful, but it really encompasses the heart of my plan to improve 5th grade math achievement. Here’s how it breaks down:

Know it refers to a lesson study protocol that teachers complete weekly, discussing an upcoming lesson and sharing strategies for teaching the content of that lesson.
Teach it refers to delivering excellent instruction supported by instructional coaching.
Assess it refers to assessing student mastery using weekly data studies, and using all this information to create customized lessons that target skill gaps.
The teachers are ready for this intense level of planning and reflection, and we’ve already seen how much it affects student success, but I’ve really struggled to get my mini-movement off the ground. The hardest part is finding the time to do it in a school that is already bursting with initiatives and directives, with teachers who are already struggling to keep their heads above water (thus the frantic huddle around the whiteboard). This is why it takes a movement – we have to rally together amidst the chaos. This is what gap-closing schools do: we have to inspire a sense of purpose that will drive our teachers to embrace the struggle; lean into it, even.

I am fortunate that my team of teachers was already willing to do the necessary work, they only needed to be shown how. As we move forward, I know that we will encounter plenty of obstacles, but I also know that our students will be better because of our work.

On the day my mini-movement launched, about twenty minutes after the lesson study, I walked in to watch one of the teachers deliver the lesson. I found her standing at the board coaching a student to complete a problem in front of the class. As the student finished the problem, the teacher yelled, “I got it! I mean, you got it!” And really, both were true.

Gretchen Larsen relocated from the Phoenix, AZ area to join our 2018 Las Vegas cohort. After working as a teacher’s aide and obtaining her BA in Secondary Education/English, Gretchen taught for Tempe Elementary School District for three years, then Mesa Public Schools for three years. She stepped into a leadership role as a Lead Teacher with Maricopa County Regional School District, where she managed day-to-day operations as well as observed and coached teachers. Since 2014 she has served as the Founding Dean of Scholars with EAGLE College Preparatory Schools: Mesa. In this role, Gretchen led a staff of 20, using data to drive coaching and targeted professional development. Gretchen took a culture focus in this role as well, teaching social and emotional management skills, fostering relationships with parents and students, and building community partnerships.