Austin’s Butterfly is a six-minute video in which school children provide feedback for a boy named Austin. Facilitated by an educator skilled in asking questions, the children view drafts of Austin’s drawing of a butterfly and provide him feedback on how to draw it better. The kids talk about the right kind of feedback to give him and how to go about doing it.
The first time I witnessed this video was while sitting in a department meeting at our school. The comments of the children and the ideas behind the video left me unsettled. Reflecting at the end of the day, I had trouble determining what led to this reaction. I thought of the ways the students described giving specific feedback in a non-threatening manner. I remembered how they focused on small ways to improve Austin from one step to the next.
Looking back, I reflected on educators I had worked with and how I treated them. In contrast, I remembered the simple advice for growth the children in this video provided. Then I considered times I failed to help teachers develop because of my impatience, my lack of relational capacity, my vague ideas of effectiveness, my focus on the wrong thing. I considered the educators who failed to become stronger because of my approach. In turn, I thought of all the children who failed to get the best teacher possible because I couldn’t help their teacher improve in meaningful ways.
Austin’s Butterfly is a constant reminder to tread definitively, directly, yet thoughtfully in this important and challenging work of instructional leadership. The example is a charge to connect and dialogue in order to improve instructional effectiveness and student learning. Although I sometimes find myself lacking in these aspects of instructional leadership, any of us can pick one area and improve to better serve teachers and ultimately our students.