Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Twenty-Minute Rule
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Slice of Life: Twenty-Minute Rule


You cannot give feedback for twenty minutes.

This was the instruction we were given as we set off for an 8-hour kayak trip. We were all in two-person kayaks. The person in the back was in charge of steering. The person in the front would set the pace. The rule was – no feedback for twenty minutes.

At first we laughed about this rule, but the more we thought about – and experienced it – we realized just how important it is. The twenty minutes gave each person time to get comfortable with her roles and to self-correct the mistakes we were making. It was difficult to remain quiet when the kayak was veering away from the group or when we were not keeping up pace. It is easy to just say what is going wrong. Staying quiet pushed our focus to our own job and allowed our partner to focus on her job.

We quickly realized feedback is both positive and negative. This left us with really nothing to say and resulted in silence. Twenty minutes of silence, practice, self-correction and focus. Don’t all learners need this? How often to we provide it? Do we jump in too quickly with positive praise or corrective feedback? If someone is always commenting and coaching how do we develop meta-cognition and independent application?

We plan to think more about this rule in our lives – as teachers, coaches and parents:

  • As teachers we want to be aware of how often we are commenting as we confer and work with small groups. We want to be deliberate in taking time to just observe, collect data and resist intervening. We often pull multiple groups at a time and move between them and we want to use this structure to give our students time to practice. We are not sure if 20 minutes is the right amount of time for the classroom, but we can apply the spirit of the rule! We think it will be important to let students know the rule as well so they are not looking for feedback, support or coaching. They need to know this is the time for them to focus, practice, self-correct and look within for support.
  • As coaches we want to think about how we can apply this rule. Do we plan for this type of coaching? How can we organize our coaching schedules to give teachers time to practice, self-correct and focus on trying something new? How do we provide support and give time for teachers to give it a go on their own? We are thinking of sharing this rule and asking teachers how we might go about using it in our coaching. If teachers choose a goal to work on we can plan how to give them time to practice and reflect between coaching sessions.
  • As parents we know we are too quick to jump in and give feedback. Our worry and love of our children push us to intervene too quickly. If we step back and give them time and space it will help them know when to ask for support. They need to experience failure, mistakes, and victories on their own. It is so difficult to do this as a parent, but when the going gets rough in our homes we plan to chant “20-minute rule” quietly in our heads! We are wondering if our kids might try to apply this rule to us as well!! We can dream!

Even after twenty-one years of working together we needed the 20-minute rule!  We finished, stayed in our boat and were still smiling at the end!  How might you try to apply the twenty-minute rule? We would love to hear your thoughts!



  • Avatar
    Posted at 18:47h, 29 September Reply

    Great post! This has been my goal of the year – to be intentional about waiting before diving in. To give my students more time to work through their own thoughts.

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 21:22h, 29 September Reply

      It is a great rule! Hard to do when you are collaboratively doing something — but we managed!!! Being intentional is a good plan — I think I will need that as a parent!

  • Avatar
    Dana Murphy
    Posted at 21:04h, 29 September Reply

    This is a great rule to keep in mind as I work with teachers and students this year. It’s really interesting and reminds me how we often tell teachers to just sit back and watch their writers at work during the first days of writing workshop.

    By the way, your picture makes me think that was one cold kayaking trip!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 21:23h, 29 September Reply

      It was cold – beautiful, but cold. I think I need the rule most at home! I like Tara’s idea of being intentional about the decision.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 21:59h, 29 September Reply

    That is really a great rule. I have never been 2 person kayaking but I have been canoeing and I think that would be a really great lesson.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 23:11h, 29 September Reply

    This is a rule that I want to follow because of this statement ” We want to be deliberate in taking time to just observe, collect data and resist intervening.” The words “deliberate, observe, collect, resist intervening” are all calling to me. There’s power in silence and we need to harness it in both our work with students and teachers!

    I’m so glad that you had this great kayaking adventure!

    • Clare and Tammy
      Clare and Tammy
      Posted at 10:21h, 30 September Reply

      Thanks Fran — we love your idea about “a power in silence that can be harnessed.” We want to think more about that idea!!! So much to think about.

      Clare and Tammy

  • Avatar
    Vicki Vinton
    Posted at 21:50h, 30 September Reply

    Wish I’d learned this before David & I went kayaking in France! But so important to make sure we carve out time to stay in research mode. How much more could we learn after 20 minutes rather than jumping in to teach after two!

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