Open. Not closed down. Raised up. Cease to be secretive. Manifest.

Teaching. Show. Guide. Give. To lead forth from.

A confession. The year I started teaching (18 of them ago), I started a simultaneous infatuation with Inside the Actor’s Studio, a series where host, James Lipton, invites actors, writers and directors to an interview for students attending the Actors Studio Drama School. Uniquely, he wouldn’t interview these stars about their celebrity, he wouldn’t give them a platform to promote their next work; rather, through his copious interview style, he reveals their craft. Guest after guest would show up and I would be fascinated by the intricacies of their work, the deliberateness of their preparation, the plethora of ways different actors would come to understand character. In short, these interviews precluded what we see on the screen in order to reveal the craft that got them there.

This is the confession: I learned as much about being a teacher in my first few years from watching Inside the Actor’s Studio as I did from anything other than my students. Here’s why.

Most of great teaching is invisible. It’s true. What we usually see and talk about are the artifacts of great teaching. It’s the lesson, the strategy, the student performance, the piece of work, the look on the child’s face when he “gets it.” There’s no doubt, these are the outward expressions of teaching and learning. It’s what we see.

Yet, what we most need to understand are the invisible moves of instruction that teachers work from all the time, the ones that often go unrecognized. It’s the way a teacher has learned to ask a question before she gives an answer. It’s the way a teacher has decided it’s this precise example that will meet his learner where he is. It’s the way a teacher knows how to leave the front of the room and work beside her students. It’s, as James Lipton taught me, the difference between craft and following scripts.

Seeing the invisible allows us to repeat it. Just yesterday I was doing learning walks in a nearby elementary with some of their teacher leaders. As we left one of the classrooms and talked about the moments of student learning we saw and the teacher moves that created those moments, I asked, “Do you think the teacher really knows how precise her instruction is? I wonder if she realizes how her questions make the difference in the way her students are learning.” We all looked at each other and Melissa, the instructional coach said, “Probably not, but that’s what I can do, help her see.” Exactly. We can help each other see the invisible when we get underneath our scripts.

To open is to empower. When we learn what those invisible moves are we can repeat them. When we repeat them we become strategic, not just teachers with a lot of strategies. When we become strategic, we become deliberate and deliberateness is what opens. It’s the lever that takes the invisible and makes it visible, takes the implicit and makes it explicit. It’s the pathway to empowerment.


As you come to Open Teaching, I hope you see yourself coming to a place and to people who are ready to see differently in order to share widely. I hope you recognize yourself in the work of an emerging community who understands we’ll do this better when we do it together.

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