Ryan Fellow Blog: Yogi-Bear-Level Confidence

Gretchen Larsen
Class of 2018 Ryan Fellow


In fifth grade I experienced my first public speaking assignment. Mrs. Poocha told us to choose a celebrity, prepare a monologue, then present as that celebrity. Because I am a reasonable person, I chose to present as Yogi Bear. I spoke about my life, answered questions from my classmates, and signed autographs. Mrs. Poocha gave me top marks for my work and raved about how I had really made Yogi Bear come alive. That presentation was the first and last time I felt completely confident speaking in front of a crowd. Until Playbook Defense for The Ryan Fellowship, that is.

Last July at Accelerate Summer Institute I remember telling another member of my cohort that I was not used to failing, and not because I’m so good at everything (I’m not; at all) but because I did not attempt new things unless I felt I could complete them successfully. The Ryan Fellowship was the first thing I wasn’t sure I could complete successfully, and I was incredibly nervous about the feedback I would get. I knew I couldn’t Yogi-Bear my way through this situation, but over the course of the year something clicked.

I have worked in many educational environments, but I have never had so many coworkers who understood that the more we help each other, the more we all succeed. 

How did I find that Yogi-Bear-level confidence again? Was it the months I spent writing and internalizing my Leadership Playbook—my plan for my first year as principal? The hours I spent writing my presentation? The feedback I got from my Ryan Fellowship Advisor? It was probably a combination of all those things, and one other magical thing—the support of my cohort. I have worked in many educational environments, but I have never had so many coworkers who understood that the more we help each other, the more we all succeed. I knew walking in the room that every person in the audience really wanted me to succeed, and who could be scared in a situation like that?

Playbook Defense is a proof of each Fellow’s ability to create clarity in rolling out new systems to staff members. It is not necessarily the final activity of the Fellowship, but it is the culminating event. I presented my process for observing and coaching teachers, which was one of my weakest areas just one year ago. The fact that it’s now one of my strengths is a testament to the Fellowship and its ability to equip school leaders with essential skills. That growth is exactly where the Yogi Bear feeling comes in—I approached Playbook Defense knowing that I had learned a lot. I was eager to share it with my coworkers and I learned just as much from their presentations as I learned from my own work.

As I return to my Field Study site, I take the feedback from my peers with me to tie up final Fellowship requirements and job interviews. I know that if there is anything I need, I have 10 experts on the line who are ready to support in any way they can. As I complete the last few requirements of my Fellowship, I realize that there are two ways to Yogi Bear your life, and only one of them involves emulating a cartoon character. The other is to get out there, take risks, and grow as a human by confronting your weaknesses – with a strong network of supporters behind you. I know that Mrs. Poocha would be proud, either way.

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.