Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

08.10.23Erica Woolway: Studying the Art of Facilitating Professional Development

The General Idea: Minds Aglow

Teachers deserve to love studying their work and improving their craft. They deserve great professional development characterized by smart, practical content and by facilitation that models what great teaching looks like. One of the shocking things about our field is how rarely that happens. On Team TLAC, we take delivering PD seriously. We think teachers should walk out with their minds blazing. TLAC CAO and President Erica Woolway shared this blog post describing some of the ways we study and develop our own capacity to train teachers.

Studying the Art of Facilitating Professional Development

Getting to celebrate the work of great teachers is my favorite part of our work. It’s not everyday though, that one of those great teachers is on our team and that we get to be her students. In this post, I’m sharing a clip of our very own Hannah Solomon presenting at a workshop last spring on Building Strong Classroom Cultures.

The workshop coincided with our TLAC staff retreat in which we geeked out on leading effective Adult PD. We watched facilitation clips and discussed the moves that build engagement, belonging, attention, and learning in adults.

As we hope is clear to anyone who has come to one of our workshops, ensuring a great training environment for adults is really important to us. We think adults deserve to love getting better, together. And we think that when they do it’s often because they are experiencing the same techniques that make classrooms better for students. Feeling how different the things you’re studying are as a participant can be a great motivator for change.

The day after our staff retreat, Hannah put our learning to work during our workshop and, per usual, she crushed it.

As many of you are either on the verge of or in the midst of leading hours of PD yourselves, we wanted to share some of the things that we learned from watching Hannah in action. And perhaps seeing her incredible facilitation will also have you checking out our workshop schedule so that you can come learn with us!

In this first clip, Hannah tees up two back-to-back clips with clarity and finesse. Take a look:


Here are some of the things that jumped out at us when we watched this video with our team a few weeks ago:

  • We love the way Hannah directs participants’ attention to exactly what she wants them to see in the clip, even acknowledging the rigorous instruction that they won’t see. “We cut the video to see the moves that Kirby makes with her body so that she is able to see and support all of her students.”
  • Hannah manages participants’ working memory by asking them to jot notes on the first video before watching the second, allowing participants to save their first observation points for later and preventing the recency effect (a cognitive bias in which ideas that came last are remembered more than those that came earlier).
  • Hannah’s formative and low stakes language is an invitation for them to think in writing. The phrase “take a beat and jot” gives participants the chance to write before chatting with a partner and her lovely and inviting tone supports participants’ attention.
  • Participants in the room feel “seen” because of how Hannah subtly scans the room as she’s talking. When participants are writing she reads over participants’ shoulders in a supportive but noninvasive way to set up the ensuing discussion for success (you’ll see this in the next clip!).
  • An overall driver of Hannah’s expert facilitation vibe is her deep knowledge of the clips along with her cues for watching help participants feel attended to. On the second clip for example, Hannah notes, “This is a short clip, so we’ll watch it twice.” She knows exactly what participants need because she has so carefully prepared for each moment of her facilitation.


Let’s now hop back into the PD and see Hannah surfacing participants’ observations in a whole group discussion.


  • Once participants have viewed the short Denarius Frazier clip twice, they have a chance to jot brief notes before entering a Turn and Talk. As a result, the room crackles to life in the Turn and Talk because everyone is prepared to engage with their partner.
  • After the Turn and Talk, it’s subtle and brief, but her call to attention (which was explicitly rolled out earlier in the day), was accompanied by a bright smile and a scan. When she doesn’t get everyone’s attention immediately because they’re engrossed in their Turn and Talks, she uses a brief but warm self-interrupt to bring everyone back together – honoring both their time and attention.
  • She expertly uses a “Warm Call (Doug calls it a Glow Call), “If you don’t mind, Evvie, I love the point I just heard you made about how Denarius waited….could you say a little bit more about it.” She then gently pushes for volunteers by suggesting a topic: “I heard a lot of folks talk about Kirby’s body language, does anyone want to share out what you discussed with your partner?” This type of targeted questioning helps keep the discussion focused on the takeaways that Hannah wants participants to get from the clips while not overly relying on Cold Calling which can start to disincentivize hand raising after too much use in adult PD facilitation.
  • Hannah’s strong Economy of Language between participants’ responses ensures that the discussion is lively and efficient. Too often we as facilitators (and often teachers!) spend valuable time repeating a participants’ answer rather than using it as a chance to build habits and advance the discussion. Hannah is able to create a game of volleyball amongst participants rather than ping ponging back and forth with her as the facilitator.
  • Most overwhelmingly, our team noted how Hannah’s careful preparation enabled such a seamless and productive discussion to flow among participants. After we showered her with praise, Hannah humbly declared the discussion she led to be a “happy accident,” but it’s clear that her preparation and seamless Active Observation made it possible for her to be flexible, personable, and genuine with participants in surfacing their analysis.
  • And finally, Hannah makes participants feel seen and heard through the use of their names and noting the specific insights they provided. She uses her questions to narrow the focus on what she wants participants to be paying attention to and share when she calls on them. Notably, her final Cold Call of Jamie provided the transition for her next teaching point – illustrating the idea we share with teachers – that Cold Calling allows you to be the architect of the conversation.

Takeaways for your Video Facilitation: So, if you’re looking for a few concrete takeaways from watching Hannah facilitate that you can add to your own PD tool box, consider the below:

  1. Clearly and briefly provide context for the video. Shape participants’ attention by telling them what to look for.
  2. Use writing and Turn and Talk to manage working memory and boost adult engagement.
  3. Consider watching short clips (<30 seconds) twice to allow for a bit of processing time.
  4. Circulate to inform who you will call on for whole group conversation and help people feel seen and valued (just the way you want their students to feel).

Incidentally, leading PD in this way is an excellent way to also model these engagement and discussion techniques for teachers because feeling the impact of the techniques can be just as important as seeing them in action.

Thank you to Hannah for letting us learn from us! Reach out to us if you’d like Hannah come to your school to lead PD!


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