Let Me Show You


This has been the best professional week I’ve had in a long time. I had the privilege of hosting three different observations around our district of teachers and students engaged in writing. We’ve been facilitating observations for teachers all year, but this week we extended invitations to principals, district administrators and our union president.

It turns out that some lessons in writing are true in coaching as well. For decades I’ve taught children to “show, not tell” in their writing. This year I’ve found myself doing quite a bit of telling about our new writing resource. Maybe your district is like ours and embarking on something new in literacy. Maybe it calls on teachers to study, prioritize and teach kids to be very independent; it’s challenging. Maybe the people who warm to change slowly or who aren’t perfect at it yet (and think that’s a bad thing) are the loudest voices saying things like, “This isn’t teacher-friendly. This isn’t appropriate for our kids. This is too hard.” Maybe the ones who are finding success are quietly toiling away in their classrooms. Maybe people in leadership hear more of what’s wrong instead of what’s right.

Because I am in these classrooms every single day seeing what’s right, I tell the success stories through pictures, student work, video and narratives. But it’s not enough to tell; we have to show through observations. Educators with concerns and doubts must see the successes live and in person to make an impact.

In this past post I wrote about the importance of norms and look-fors in observations: Better Observations

Keeping in line with what I learned from Diane Sweeney, there is the same intentionality applied to the debrief. We make meaning together of what we’ve seen and heard. In the space of about 30 minutes, we go through four rounds of sharing out. In the first round we share out our notes from our look-fors (pacing, questioning, independent behaviors, transcripts etc.) followed by the second round where what we share evidence of how the learning target was met. The third round is for collecting lingering questions and the fourth round–the one I make sure we don’t skip–is where we make a commitment to what we’ll do with our observational learning in the coming days and weeks.

We are lucky to have at least one teacher in every grade who is willing to host frequent observations. Most of the time the teachers teach, but sometimes when we invite administrators, the teachers ask the coaches to teach. In the fourth round, one observing administrator said, “I will take what I’ve observed and share it with my teachers. I really feel like now that I’ve seen it, I can be a cheerleader for this work.”

As a coach, what are you showing?

Note: The opening image is a picture from Disney’s Animation Studio. We got to take classes where we learned how to draw characters. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip and I surprised myself. Here’s my Genie:


4 thoughts on “Let Me Show You

  1. Ok, so now you are an amazing artist!? How do you do it, Heather Rader! 🙂 On a more serious note, your words about the steps of a debrief session are very helpful. So pragmatic, yet personal to the situation. Nice! Question for you – during the debrief, is it just you and the teachers you’ve been coaching? If so, I can see where approximately 30 minutes would suffice. If there are more people there, how do you hold that time to only about 30 minutes? I find time to be such a challenging thing to manage when debriefing about an observation.

    • Hi Gail,
      It’s nice to hear from you. During the debrief it often is just the teachers and me. It’s not always possible for us to get a substitute for the host teacher as well. It seems like we spend the most time on round one (our watch-fors) and round four (how we will use the experience in our own practice), rounds two and three tend to be the quicker ones. When we have more than four educators observing, it is hard to get to everything in 30 minutes. I usually try to make sure my own comments are succinct at times like these.

  2. As an administrator I totally get what you’re saying here! We do tend to get mired in what’s not working as opposed to what IS. We’ve got to get into classrooms where the real and important work is happening! Btw -we work with Diane Sweeney and love her debrief rounds!

  3. Loved the post! I really wish I could be there as your energy and vision most certainly make these observations a valuable experience for all. Very cool that you have so many different groups represented as well. Cheers!

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