A Coach’s Toolkit: Three Ways to Take Observational Notes

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a brainstorming session with other coaches where we talked about our successes and challenges around observational coaching. I find coaching can be even more isolating than teaching — I’ve gotten together with other coaches maybe four times during my three years of coaching — so it was a huge treat to have an hour to share ideas and struggles.

During our meeting, each coach talked about how she takes observational notes and discusses those notes with teachers. We noticed that during observations we all script what teachers and students are saying, but each of us had different approaches to organizing and sharing these notes.

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Harnessing the Power of Arts Integration

Arts Integration: Videos and Resources

Learning through the arts is a dynamic way to engage students. But arts integration is more than just an engagement strategy — it’s a powerful way for students to gain and express understanding. Teaching Channel is really excited to present a new series of 19 videos on arts integration, in partnership with The Getty Museum. In this series, we see teachers engage their students in learning through the arts in a variety of grade levels, subject areas, and contexts. It’s inspiring to watch teachers use arts integration with English Language Learners, students in Special Education, and in conjunction with the Common Core.

Learning About Greek Mythology Through the Arts

In David Cooper’s sixth grade social studies class, we see students learning about Greek mythology through the arts. After studying Greek gods and goddesses, David has his students apply their knowledge when looking at artwork in the classroom and then later at a field trip to the Getty Villa. As a final performance of understanding, David’s students work together to plan and perform a Greek or Roman talk show. This performance of understanding shows students applying their knowledge of Greek mythology in a new and creative context.

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Greek Mythology in the Classroom and Museum (Arts Integration)

Arts Integration: Videos and Resources

When learning about ancient history, students can sometimes feel a disconnect. Ancient events happened so long ago that it can be hard to relate. But when the sixth graders in David Cooper’s social studies class learn about Greek mythology, they’re engaged and excited because he makes it come alive with the arts.

Teach Students How to Analyze Art

Students begin by applying their knowledge of social studies to pictures of ancient art. David uses a See-Wonder-Think routine to help them analyze what they’re seeing. In this lesson, students begin by making concrete observations about pictures of ancient art that David projects in the classroom. They then come up with questions about the art and share the questions with each other. This thinking routine requires students to look closely at art and connect it to their content knowledge. It’s a great routine to use across subject areas!

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I Am Thankful For…

“There are things known and unknown and in between are the doors.”
— Jim Morrison

I stand on the outside of my classroom door, weighed down by too many bags, as I dig for the keys that have, yet again, found their way to the most unreachable corner of my purse. As I pause, I touch the poems along the entrance, glance at the light bulb covering the wall with the words: Think. Question? Learn! Grabbing the handle, I can’t help but look into the mirrors I’ve covered the door with, reminding everyone who walks through it to “See yourself ______ today!” Yesterday’s word is still there: spirited. As I turn the handle, I recognize the daily ritual of crossing the threshold.

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Four Reasons Teachers are Thankful

When I begin professional development work with teachers, I often ask what inspires or enables them to do the hard work they do. Their responses almost always fall within one of the same four categories: commitment to their students, connections with their colleagues, coaching from leaders that encourage their growth, and caring support from their own families. In my experience, those four things are what we as teachers are most thankful for.


The number one thing that teachers are thankful for is their students. The old adage is that the only other job, besides teaching, where one has to make so many complex and important decisions each day, is that of an air traffic controller. People outside of the field of education may be surprised at how often teachers go above and beyond to give their students every opportunity to be successful, from paying for books and supplies out of their own pockets, to spending long hours on nights and weekends grading papers and getting plans just right. The great teachers I know don’t do this extra work because there is someone external who is holding them accountable; they do it because they feel accountable to their students. They love working with young people and helping them achieve their goals. Teachers get to witness their extra effort pay off in life-changing ways, as students learn new things and grow before their eyes. In return, teachers draw an endless source of energy and enthusiasm from interacting with their students.

[Download your “I Am Thankful For…” sign here.]

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Observation Challenge: Can You See The Shift?

Observation Challenge: See the Shift

Remember our last Observation Challenge, where we had you Hear, See, and Find the Invisible? Well, we’re continuing this series and inviting you to join our next Observation Challenge. This time, you will look for the instructional moves that help teachers release the responsibility of learning to our students. We’re using a special interactive video player for this Observation Challenge, which should be really fun.GetStartedButton

We hope this exercise helps you to hone your observation skills, and helps you translate and adapt what you’re learning on Teaching Channel to your own teaching practice.

More Observation Challenges

Scaffolding for Student Success

What Do You Hear?

What Do You See?

Seeing the Invisible


Tackling the Misconceptions of Text-Dependent Questions

I’ve worked with many school leaders over the past year who list text-dependent questions (TDQs) as their major strategy for improving literacy achievement. (Reading Anchor Standard 1 of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) emphasizes reading text closely, drawing inferences from it, and supporting conclusions from text.) Any time an idea becomes a “buzzword,” I fear that we will lose sight of what that word or idea really means. I started asking leaders to define text dependent questions, and asking them to show me examples of effective TDQs. I found their responses often fell into one of the following two misconceptions.

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“Skinnying” the Standards

I’ve been working with the Common Core Standards for several years now, and have noticed a trend in my work: I’ve been engaging in exercises that actually make them bigger. I’ve unpacked, re-worded, aligned, and explained. While each experience was worthy, collectively they’ve left me feeling a little like Sisyphus, at the bottom of another mountain with a big boulder to push.

In addition, I “bundled” the standards (which means that I would rarely teach a standard in isolation), because I know teaching several standards at once supports the naturally overlapping complexities of literacy. This gave me some momentum, but not enough to help put this experience in students’ hands — to give them agency over their own learning — which is my ultimate goal.

So, I set out to see if there was another way. Could I “skinny” the standards and make them truly accessible on a day-to-day basis, for both my students and me? With a big table, copies of the Core, a collection of different highlighters, and an open mind, I began.

What resulted from this process were six buckets (I literally have six buckets hanging in my classroom) that I could use to hold the literacy standards and have them easily accessible so that I could call on them every day. I want to invite you into my classroom to see this strategy in action. If you’re a process-driven learner like me, you’ll want to understand the steps I took to “skinny” the standards. (And check back in about a month! I’ll let you know how this worked with my students.)

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Coaching Q&A Week with Elena and Jim: November 7 to 14!

School’s been in session for a couple of months, and teachers and coaches have been working hard to create strong working relationships. You’ve told us that you want more resources that support the teacher-coach relationship, and we’re super excited to tell you about a special Q&A Week focused on just that.

From November 7th to 14th, come and share your coaching dilemmas and difficulties — and help each other with advice and tips, too. Be sure to tag all your questions with “Coaching” so our special experts can find your questions fast. We hope teachers and coaches will share valuable tools and resources, and this event will help you gather more information on how this collaborative relationship can help teachers improve their practice.

Meet Our Special Experts: Elena Aguilar and Jim Knight!

Elena and Jim are answering questions all week, so come in and talk to them:

authors of teacher books

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