Guide Feature: Terra Lynch and Her New Book

Cait Taylor, Advancement Coordinator
River Campus Academic Specialist Terra Lynch introduces her new book!
Over the past two years, we have been fortunate to have Terra Lynch be a part of the Headwaters Community. Her work as an Academic Learning Specialist continues to help students and teachers, both in the classroom and out. She even stepped up to be a Middle School Spanish Guide last year!

Terra started her work in education as a New York City public school teacher, a career that spanned fifteen years. During that time, she found meaning in student equity while teaching high school Humanities, Spanish, and Music Appreciation. In order to further her experience, she received her Master’s in Social Studies Education from New York University and became an affiliate of the School Reform Initiative. While she and her family moved to Austin a few years ago, Terra travels back to NYU each summer to teach a Facilitative Leadership Seminar for school administrators and leaders.

As the River Campus Academic Learning Specialist, Terra spends her time working not just with students, but with guides to collaborate in order to best meet the needs of students. With a history in project management, she sees lesson planning, data, processes, and outcomes as measurable and quantifiable steps to make learning effective and efficient.

But it’s not just at Headwaters and NYU she’s sharing her knowledge. Terra’s research and writing has been part of four publications, the latest of which will be debuting on August 3. Terra’s latest work, “Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think, & Collaborate” came out of working with teachers and administrators to give and get collaborative feedback on work, to look closely at data, and to problem solve issues that come up during  the year. All four of the authors, David Allan, Tina Blythe, Alan Dichter, and Terra, were working with teachers, teacher education programs, and even as a superintendent to get real life stories. With a deeper look, they realized that protocols are totally applicable to the classroom, but there wasn’t much out there about adapting protocols for the classroom. The teachers they worked with would be learning a protocol and ask, “What are some ways I can use this with my kids?” and while the processes have to be tweaked slightly for different grade levels, they work for pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade. And they work really well.

The book uses real teacher’s stories to show rather than just tell steps of a protocol. The goal was to have a variety of teachers’ stories with varying geographical locations, ages of students, experience levels, and a combination of public, charter, and private schools represented, to show the utilty and flexibilty of protocols in classrooms. Terra’s part in the book actually started with her being one of the teaching vignettes while she was teaching in New York, but once the team got the green light to publish, her role grew to a contributing author. By finding teachers who were using protocols in their classrooms, Terra and the other authors were able to learn, understand, and show real life application of protocols.

One of Terra’s favorite vignettes is called “Peeling the Onion,” and it’s based on a co-teaching environment at a full-time residential high school in Colorado. These two teachers, one Art Teacher and one Language Arts Teacher, are working together to teach a science course about the environment. This type of teaching combines both an unusual set up for a school and often tricky factors with co-teaching, but the teachers work together with one of the more challenging protocols for their classroom that involved lots of practice before getting it. It’s that type of work that is exciting and joyful for Terra – both the educational content and the teachers working together. Her favorite part? The giant sushi mural the class made out of plastic from the ocean.

Stories like this are included to showcase protocols in the classroom. But Terra and the other authors wanted to make this book help educators determine the best protocols for any educator, with no extra class or seminar needed. From teachers who were just learning about protocols to teachers who use them often, the book is formatted into the why, how to choose, and how to incorporate them into the classroom. Furthermore, the format of this book doesn’t require you to read from the beginning to the end. The steps to the protocols are clearly shown in shaded boxes with step-by-step guidelines that are both easy photocopied and projected. This book is made for every teacher, especially those without extra time, with sections that one can skim and quickly determine, “Yes, this is a good fit for my classroom,” or “No, this won’t work this time.” This book is tool for all teachers of any level of experience or grade.

In Chapter 18, the book even goes into how protocols fit with other practices that teachers may use- like restorative justice, fishbowl, and jigsaw. By looking at how protocols are different and the same as these type of methods, there is more context. Another piece that Terra really liked about the set up is a section about building buy-in, because “not everything is a protocol.” This section recognizes that there are some biases and negativity around protocols that stem from protocol use in a more “straight-jacket” style. Rather, Terra sees protocols as a way to give rise to more voice. It’s all about building trust within a group, and as a result, there will be more successful protocols to allow for more reflection, discussion, conversation, and learning.

Despite just finishing this book, Terra says that she cannot wait to start writing and doing more in-depth work on protocols. “Something that came up very clearly to me this summer, while working with an incredible group of educators in New York City, was how to be more explicit about the link of the use of protocols themselves […] and how protocols can be used as tools of equity in schools.” There is some explicit talk of how protocols can be used for equity of voice, race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, but Terra sees the challenge to be sure that protocols don’t become straight-jackets that keeps systems of oppression in tact. This year, Terra plans to work on tying the theoretical to the real work.

At Headwaters, Terra sees this book helping her work in a couple of ways. When working one-on-one with teachers, she sees protocols as a way to help the guide focus, via framing questions, on their students,  on student work, or on their own curriculum work and lesson plans. In the past, she used protocols to bring a student’s guides together to reflect on a student’s work to make a plan to better serve the student She has worked with the math department using protocols as a way to gain insight into data. And really, Terra hopes to work with groups more because “it’s in the collaborative groups where the thinking, connecting and growing happens.” She hopes to increase the protocol work with Headwaters staff and within her classroom this year.

“Protocols in the Classroom: Tools to Help Students Read, Write, Think, & Collaborate” by David Allen, Tina Blythe, Alan Dichter, and Terra Lynch is being published by Teachers College Press and will be available for purchase on August 3. You can pre-order your copy on Amazon or Book People today! We will also share any events coming up, so stay tuned!

If you want to follow Terra’s work in education, check out her website (http://www.terralynch.com/), her Instagram (@terra.l), or write her an email at t.lynch@headwaters.org.
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