Professional Learning Created BY and FOR teachers in Oakland County Michigan VOLUME I: LAB LEARNING
THIS GUIDEBOOK INCLUDES: Introductions First Conversations Pre-Observation Observation Post-Observation Resources
Introduction CONTENTS Introductions
• Job-embedded Professional Learning in Oakland County.......................................2 • Great Teachers are Made by the Teacher Next Door................................................8 • Welcoming the Next Generation of Teachers to the Table..............................10
• What is the purpose of a teacher lab?....12 • Are there different ways to engage in classroom observation? .........................14 • Should Principals be involved in Teacher Labs? In what ways? .............................18 • Should Teacher Lab participation be voluntary or required?............................24 • How might we go about planning a lab day? • What tools, activities, and processes might help us get started? • Learning from LISA: Teacher Leader as Facilitator of Professional Learning
1. What is the purpose of Pre-Observation?...................................26 2. Who participates? Are there specific roles? 3. Are there specific tasks to tend to? 4. What are the outcomes?
1. What is the purpose of Observation? ....32 2. Who participates? .................................34 Are there specific roles?.........................36 3. Are there specific tasks to tend to? 4. What are the outcomes?
1. What is the purpose of Post-Observation?..................................42 2. Who participates? Are there specific roles? 3. Are there specific tasks to tend to? 4. What are the outcomes?........................44
• • •
How we built this Guidebook.................54 List of Collaborating Authors.................58 Preliminary Impact Evaluation in one district ........................................60
Job-Embedded Professional Learning in Oakland County Michigan Educators in our county are turning up the volume on their conversations about how best to engage teachers—and administrators for that matter—in continuous professional learning that is grounded, meaningful, and effective in impacting the teaching and learning in their schools. For many of us, there is first-time energy around professional learning experiences that hold promise for improving instruction and advancing the learning of all our students. For years, we have called for “Inservice” education and then, “PD” that proved valuable to teachers, and indeed bridged the gap between our current practices and new understandings from educational research and tool development. And for years, we have argued one-size-fits-all, large roll-out trainings or deliveries of information are a waste of resources, limited in impact, and frustratingly disconnected from teachers’ actual learning needs.
There are at least THREE INDICATORS the conversation is moving in a different direction...
We are framing our conversations with research and standards that can guide the design, facilitation, and evaluation of teachers’ professional learning for impact on student learning.
Why? As a profession we are taking on standards to guide our work in numerous areas, including: common core state standards, model core teaching standards, teacher leader model standards, school leader standards, state and school system standards, and professional learning standards. Professional Learning Standards make explicit the purpose of professional learning is for educators to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to help students perform at high levels. Standards guide the design, implementation, and evaluation of professional learning. In January, 2012, Michigan’s State Board of Education adopted a Policy Statement and Standards to clarify the purpose and guide the enactment of educators’ professional learning. These seven standards: Learning Communities, Leadership, Resources, Data, Learning Designs, Implementation, and Outcomes are tools for turning up the conversation and exploring lines of thinking about why and how we engage our continuous improvement as educators.
Learning Forward, with the contribution of 40 professional associations and education organizations, developed the Standards for Professional Learning. (See the Standards
Revision Task Force and the Standards Advisory Team.) The standards are not a prescription for
how education leaders and public officials should address all the challenges relate to improving the performance of educators and their students. Instead, the standards focus on one critical issue – professional learning. … “The professional learning that occurs when these standards are fully implemented enrolls educators as active partners in determining the content of their learning, how their learning occurs, and how they evaluate its effectiveness. The standards give educators the information they need to take leadership roles as advocates for and facilitators of effective professional learning and the conditions required for its success. Widespread attention to the standards increases equity of access to a high-quality education for every student, not just for those lucky enough to attend schools in more advantaged communities.” (Learning Forward, 2011).
Standards for Professional Learning is the
third iteration of standards outlining the characteristics of professional learning that lead to effective teaching practices, supportive leadership, and improved student results.
We are shifting our language from professional development to professional learning.
For years, “PD” has carried our discourse forward, assuming quality professional development was best directed by those who knew newer, better, and more, providing background information, specific how-to and tips, and encouragement to those who might not, in order to transfer knowledge and skill from theory to practice. Increasingly, leaders aiming to craft new ways to engage and support continuous improvement of educators that impacts student learning, use professional learning to enunciate the shift from passive reception to active engagement.
“Job-embedded Professional Development” is a shared, ongoing process that is locally rooted and makes a direct connection between learning and application in daily practice, thereby requiring the active teacher involvement in cooperative, inquiry-based work (Hawley and Valli, 1999). High-quality JEPD also is aligned with state standards for student academic achievement and any related local educational agenda and school improvement goals (Hirsh, 2009). Issue Brief, 2010
better to BEST
… “Professional Learning” signals the importance of educators taking an active role in their continuous improvement. By making learning the focus, those who are responsible for professional learning will concentrate their efforts on ensuring that learning for educators leads to learning for students. Learning Forward, 2011
We are taking real strides to create professional learning opportunities that take place in the classroom or the school, grounded in educators’ day-to-day teaching practice and designed to advance teachers’ instructional practices in direct alignment with student learning needs.
That is, job-embedded professional learning. More than two decades ago, educators were starting conversations about how to tap into the wisdom of practice locked behind the classroom door and leverage that wisdom in ways that made the complexity of teaching and learning accessible to collective examination, shared understanding, and intentional, collaborative mastery. In Oakland County, as least two sources served as conversation starters: the powerful research and implementation of Reading Recovery and the movement to rich literacy experience inside classrooms. Indeed, reflective of this movement, Diane Sweeney’s Learning Along the Way offered an image of what is possible when teachers use their own observations of live classroom instruction to describe, analyze, and inform their individual and collective practices.
Educators across Oakland County are taking up new roles and taking on new projects to ensure better alignment between what data tell them students need to learn and what teachers need to learn in order for students to achieve. Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), Mentoring, Lesson Study, Data Teams, Coaching, Action Research, and Lab Learning are examples of job-embedded professional learning guided by educational research and professional learning standards. This guidebook is one opportunity to share what teachers have learned by being active partners in their own professional learning. There is much to explore in how all the forms of JEPL are live in Oakland County. The focus of this first volume is on Lab Learning. What began as a conversation in one district, with a bit of a telephone game… has become an energized exchange of talent, leadership, and professional learning for many.
Recently, Harvard educators have developed a model of instructional rounds designed to understand a school’s or school system’s instructional practice through the eyes of a team of observers (City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel, 2009). But instructional rounds are fundamentally different from the more collaborative and highly contextualized – indeed, more personal and intimate – Teacher Round model. Instructional Rounds are conducted by a team of educators, drawn from networks with a common interest in improving instruction at a systemic scale, who visit classrooms within a particular school at a point in time in order to gather and share classroom-based observations relevant to a problem of practice that the school or a district is trying to address. A Teacher Round, in contrast, is led by a teacher in her or his classroom; it is conducted mainly by, for, and with teachers as a reflective, inquiring, and collaborative learning process.Whereas instructional rounds glean broad characteristics of practice in a school, a Teacher Round strives to understand teaching and learning in detail and depth, in context, so that participants might better understand and develop their own practice. At the same time, the
two models of rounds have an important similarity and complementarity.They overlap in particular to the extent that they are practices dedicated to understanding teaching and learning by making the practice inside classrooms more open, visible, and understandable. (Del Prete, 2013)
We invite you to...
• learn about a job-embedded action-study approach to professional learning that happens on-site and is focused on practicing teachers showing how and explaining why. • understand three foundational roles in creating a teacher lab project: a host teacher, a facilitating teacher, and an observing teacher. • reflect on the authors’ lessons learned about what to do before, during and after “lab day” to ensure a productive learning experience for teachers and students. • consider how Lab Learning might assist teachers in deepening their knowledge, honing their skills, and nurturing their disposition – and do so in ways that sustain new teaching practices that make a difference for students. And we ask you keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive guidebook of all there is to understand, value, and advocate for in advancing this form of job-embedded professional learning. It is a wonderful collection of voices, insights, and lessons learned – thus far from a group of proactive and determined teacher leaders seeking to not only turn up the conversation on professional learning, but to grow the conversation so everyone keeps learning. Our vision is to grow this e-book format to include even more authors, more storied examples, audio and video links that illuminate the emerging impact of JEPL for student learning. Please join us!
Great teachers are made by the teacher next door Teachers are embracing the power of making practice public.
That is, they are opening their classroom doors, demonstrating instructional wisdom and skill, and creating conversations that support deep professional learning–in context. Lab Learning is helping teachers examine instruction, study design, and acquire new strategies – and it is changing instructional practices. 8
Unlike the traditional sit and get workshops, lab learning enables colleagues to meet in small groups over time to observe, inquire, and reflect on specific practices. Host teachers not only open their classrooms for colleagues to observe and document, they also open their inner practices of instructional design and pedagogical decisionmaking; they lead dialogues about problems of practice, theories, and evidence. The mission of teacher lab work is to create collaborative action/ study cycles that improve classroom learning. This job-embedded professional learning impacts both student achievement through improved instructional practices, and the development of productive school culture through collaborative study.
A bit of history…
A definition of serendipity is the gift of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it; a happy accident. A definition of opportunity is the favorable juncture of circumstances; a chance for advancement or progress. The experiences and insights shared in this guidebook have roots in the summer of 2008 when serendipity crossed with opportunity
and met up with great courage. I happened to be present to a small group of teachers from Auburn Elementary of Avondale Schools as they recounted an insight, second grade teacher, Linda Maniago, received quite unexpectedly, while having dinner in a local restaurant. Just weeks earlier, Linda listened in on a conversation at her table among teachers from Rochester, a neighboring school district, valuing their experiences of observing one another’s classroom teaching. She brought the eavesdropped account home to her colleague, then a first grade teacher, Marcia Hudson, with a tremendous sense of possibility. The Auburn teachers looked at one another with confident wondering, “Well, we could do that; let’s try that!” And, so they did. And so it goes. From a story told at dinner to a series of conversations in another school, in another district, a new group of teachers pursued the prospect of observing one another’s classroom teaching with high expectations of what it might offer them in advancing their work with children. The Auburn teachers sought advice from Sheila Scovic, a teacher leader in Rochester and their first mentor for teacher lab learning. They learned Sheila had been reading, Diane Sweeney’s Learning Along the Way (2003).
Sheila was prompted to create lab opportunities for teachers in Rochester, so they might observe live classroom teaching, right within the district, as a means to developing new practices in literacy instruction. And so it goes… teachers learning from teachers, just next door… and sometimes at the same table. Six years later, leaders in numerous school districts across Oakland County, Michigan are striving to create and sustain teacher lab learning initiatives. Some projects are highly structured and require scheduled, district-wide participation. Others are organic and pursue the power of multiple invitations to engage teachers in the energizing culture-shift toward self-directed, job-embedded professional learning. The variations of teacher lab learning, in purpose, format, and tools, continue to surprise and encourage both the early adopters and the newest of the network.
Variations in Teacher Lab Formats • • • • •
Single grade level Single focus area Combined grade levels Multiple hosts Facilitator and Host take turns • Grade level focus • Individual buildings • Professional Development Teams • TBD • TBD • TBD
Lauren Childs, Oakland Schools
What is Teacher Lab?
• An opportunity for teachers to observe an exemplary teacher and learn from his/her research-based practices • A time for observers to debrief, reflect, and set personal goals for their own practices • A system for collaborative inquiry that supports student achievement goals
Model • • • • •
One Facilitating Teacher One Host Teacher Four to Eight Observing Teachers Meet once each quarter Responsibilities of each role
8:30 - 8:45 AM - Facilitating and observing teachers meet in conference room while host teacher begins school day in classroom 8:45 - 11:45 AM - Observation in host teacher’s classroom 11:45 AM - 1:00 PM - Lunch with dialogue 1:00 - 3:00 PM - Debriefing, studying, reflecting, goal-setting
“Teachers and educators around the country are beginning to see that the goal of improving teachingimproving students’ opportunities to learn-can only be reached by a path that the United States has never taken before. This new path moves educators away from a view of teaching as a solitary activity, owned personally by each teacher. It moves them toward a view of teaching as a professional activity open to collective observations, study, and improvement. It invites ordinary teachers to recognize and accept the responsibility for improving not only their own practice, but the shared practice of the profession. For this new path to be traveled, however, teachers will need to open their classroom doors and, rather than evaluating each other, begin studying their practices as a professional responsibility common to all.” Education Week: The New Heroes of Teaching, Hiebert, Gallimore, and Stigler (2003)
Three Roles HOST TEACHER The host teacher is an educator who opens his or her practice to observation and reflection by colleagues. While our experience in Oakland county has been primarily with host teachers of Pre-K -12 instructional practices inside classrooms, the grand conversation for JEPL is beginning to explore possibilities of hosts for lab learning around specials services practices (counseling, social work, specialized intervention), other professional learning practices for educators (design, coaching, mentoring) as well as, administrative practices (principal labs on instruction, evaluation practices).
FACILITATING TEACHER The facilitating teacher is an educator who takes a lead in creating the lab experience—both in process and spirit. The facilitating teacher plays the important role of (processes) contacting participants, establishing norms for observation and ensuring that the debriefing stays on topic. A facilitating teacher will direct and move along the discussion with strong questioning skills and will remember to tie in the professional reading to the discussion and, very importantly, the facilitating teacher is (spirit) encouraging to all observing teachers while pushing them to take ownership of their learning and commit to specific action steps.
OBSERVING TEACHER The observing teacher is an educator who commits to active participation in a sequence of planned professional learning opportunities. Generally, these are a half or full day experience comprised of pre-observation, observation, and post-observation activities. The lab experience contributes to both individual and collective goals for advancing instructional practices with K-12 students.
Welcoming the next generation of professionals to the table After school one day, I was sitting alone at my desk, reflecting upon the day’s events. I looked up to see Amanda, a university student that was working in our building as a student teacher. I had met her briefly at a staff meeting, had smiled and said “Hello” as we passed each other in the hallway; but had yet to have any opportunity to talk with her at length. “I was wondering if I might ask you a question?” she said, a bit hesitantly. Her expression reflected a mixture of excitement, fear, and anxiety. Smiling, I welcomed her to sit down. Inhaling deeply, she rushed to speak. “Caroline just shared with me that she will be hosting a teacher lab. I was wondering if it would be appropriate for me to participate?” She relaxed in her chair, pleased that she had not lost her nerve, her eyes intent on me, waiting for a reply. I couldn’t help but smile. I welcomed her to attend the lab, gave her a copy of the invitation, and shared a few details about the structure of
the day. I noticed that as she left, she had a notable spring to her step. The next day, we met again in our conference room, excited to begin the day’s learning together at Teacher Lab. The group was using the book Making Thinking Visible, (Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison, 2011) as the anchor to their professional learning and focus for their Teacher Lab work. Each of us were excited to observe thinking routines in action, as we were in different places of understanding this powerful work. As the school bell rang, participants came in to the room, greeting each other, notebooks and favorite pens in hand. Amanda walked in hesitantly…searching the room for an empty chair…uncertain. You could read the worry on her face – “Am I supposed to sit in the chair in the corner?” I met her gaze, and motioned for her to come and sit at the table with the group. Amanda settled in to the chair next to me, and as the facilitator welcomed us to the Lab, we each introduced
ourselves to Amanda and welcomed her into the circle. The facilitator opened the preobservation discussion, helped us establish norms for the day. As we continued, and began framing the focus of our study, I looked over at Amanda. I noted that she seemed to still be a bit uncomfortable… sitting very straight in her seat, eyes intent on the speaker, quiet, listening… never speaking. I noted that she had her iPad opened, and her fingers flew across her wireless keyboard. During the forty-five minutes before the observation, she never spoke. As we readied ourselves for the observation, Amanda sat back, still hesitant… and followed us down the hallway and into the host teacher’s classroom.
filled with tangible energy. We each had questions, connections, and thoughts we each were anxious to share about the observation.
The Teacher Lab observation for the day was memorable for each of us. Using a Connect-Extend-Challenge Thinking Routine, the host teacher facilitated a fascinating lesson about economics with her first graders. As we left her classroom, and settled in to our post-observation conversation, the room was
Again, I found myself smiling… and wondering: How might our professional opportunities change if each pre-service or new teacher had the same experience as Amanda? How might our schools, districts, systems, teacher education programming change if each teacher had the same
As the facilitator skillfully orchestrated this conversation, I suddenly became aware again of Amanda… this time for a different reason. Amanda was sharing her questions, thoughts, and wonderings with the same level of engagement and excitement as the other participants. What was incredibly noteworthy to me was her demeanorher body language- her engagement. She was “one of us”– a professional at the table, displaying the same level of confidence, sitting with the same level of professional carriage.
opportunity to take part in this same kind of job-embedded professional learning? What if Teacher Lab learning (or a similar job-embedded professional learning model) became the norm-Amanda’s expectation of her professionrather than a pleasant opportunity? The longer I am involved in this amazing profession, the more I realize that regardless of where we stand – or the depth/breadth of experiences we carry in our pockets – there is so much more to be learned and shared, and we each have meaningful contributions to offer. I remain hopeful that “Amanda” comes knocking at your door …as well as the door next door! Marcia Hudson, Avondale
First Conversations Provides teachers a venue to see theory in action Immediately applicable to teachersâ€™ practice
Best professional development Iâ€™ve had in over 20 years! Ultimately improves student learning
Provides time for observation and reflection
Continuous professional learning
What is the purpose of a teacher lab?
In Oakland County, the purpose for lab learning experiences vary widely and creatively to meet the professional learning needs of the participants.We are learning to think about the variety of labs as situated on a spectrum of purposes. At one end, labs are created and sustained for the purpose of demonstration and modeling of exemplary practice. At the other end, are lab experiences designed to support first steps strategy development, collaborative inquiry, and guided changes in practice. Being a spectrum, there are infinite points of creative variation inbetween.
A teacher leader who has studied, participated in extended professional learning, and mastered an instructional practice, offers or agrees to open the classroom for other teachers to observe a wellgrounded, mature demonstration of research-based practice. (e.g., an elementary teacher conducting a writers conference as researched, described, and modeled by Lucy Caulkins (The Reading & Writing Project, Teachers College) or
engaging student discourse as researched, described, and modeled by Deborah Ball (Teaching Works, University of Michigan). The host teacher may or may not participate in pre- and post-observation activities; the emphasized purpose for the observation is an exemplary enactment of an instructional practice.
A teacher who is engaged in extended professional learning around an instructional practice, offers or agrees to model for others specified features of the practice for the observing teachers’ analyses of the skill, knowledge, and disposition required and/or the impact on student learning. The host teacher serves as a resource to the observing teachers, providing preobservation background knowledge and description of strategies
and anticipated moves; and then, providing post-observation reflection on his/her reflection-inaction, decision-points, moves, insights, and concerns. The host teacher also models his/her capacity to learn from practice and articulate that learning for others.
A teacher who is focused on an aspect of his/her instructional practice opens the doors for colleagues (from across the hall, across the district, or across the county) to observe a live enactment of a slice of classroom life (a whole lesson, a specific activity, or a small group dialogue). The purpose of an open practice lab may be to provide: 1) an observation of a work-in-progress within the teacher’s practice for others’ learning from someone just a step ahead; 2) an observation of a workin-progress within the teacher’s practice so the teacher can receive feedback and support in moving his/ her practice to the next level; 3) an observation of a work-in-progress that offers a balanced benefit to both the hosting teacher and the observing teachers. The details of the lab design – pre and post observation work – are driven by the group’s clarity of purpose/s for the observation. The key question is: “Who needs what out of the observation opportunity and what tools and processes will help us make the most of a live classroom observation to meet those needs?
The purpose of this lab experience is for a group of teachers to pursue a collectively identified question or set of questions that each member of the lab is committed to exploring through, in part, close observation of live classroom life. The group draws on the lab as a source of data for their collaborative investigation and shared understanding of the insights gained through their sustained study of an aspect of instruction, a phenomenon of learning and development, or a problem of practice.
All teacher lab designs must include live classroom observation.
Other considerations when setting purpose: WHO are the observing teachers?
• Pre-service teacher • Beginning Teacher • Experienced Teacher, new to content area • Experienced Teacher new to learning level • Experienced teacher, new to researched practice • Experienced teacher new to shared question in the group WHAT are the long term professional growth goals of the observing teachers?
• Understanding research findings and new instructional strategies • Preparation and support for changing practice– take back, try out, bring back • Refining practice– addressing problems of practice Unlike the traditional “sit and get” workshop, teacher labs enable colleagues to meet in consistent small groups over a period of time to view, discuss and reflect on best practices. Teachers love sharing their ideas and telling their stories in the hopes that
another educator can use their handmade pilgrim hat template or creative bulletin board idea, but let’s be clear – teacher lab is not about sharing. It is about having a focus to increase student achievement. This focus will ground the lab and root it to your curriculum or school improvement goals. It can be instructional strategies that the teacher is using or learning strategies that the students are using. When our district was on the brink of launching writing workshop, teacher labs were formed to observe teachers trying this model in their classrooms. Discussions were centered around conferring, mini-lesson structure, and independent writing. We have learned that if the group has a shared focus, the observations, the data gathered, and the reflections shared go much deeper. Oakland County JEPL Network
Are there different ways to engage in classroom observation? There are many ways to engage in classroom observation – depending on your purpose. In a lab learning context there is a focus, generally shared by the observing group.This focus is the driver for pre-observation activities. It also is the framing for the post-observation analyses and reflection. Further, it is the focus of the lab experience that determines the way visiting teachers will engage with their observations.
Here are a few variations: BEHIND THE GLASS
A long-standing approach (see www.readingrecovery.org) to teacher training with observation, teaching behind the glass, sets up opportunities for teachers to observe up-close the strategies, language, and in-the-moment decision-making between a teacher and a student. Observing teachers can observe, document, and talk about what they are seeing without influencing the teacher and student interaction. This design for observation supports teachers’ study of exemplary demonstration on the spectrum of purposes. It is also used to create formative assessments of teachers’ development of specific skills for direct instruction. FLY ON THE WALL
This is perhaps the most common approach to classroom observation in many teacher labs around the county. Observing teachers agree to enter the classroom like a fly on the wall. Staying silent, they move about the room, dipping in close to teacher-student or studentstudent interactions; they do not interact with the teacher, students, or other observing teachers until outside the observation; it is an intensely solo engagement.
The facilitating teacher leads the observing teachers’ preparation for observation, and documentation. He or she also models fly-on-thewall behaviors inside the classroom. There is a bit of follow-the-leader as the facilitator continually reads the situation and silently leads the observing group as they step in/ out the host classroom. To create sustained focus, the facilitating teacher remains silent until the observing group is back inside the conference room for postobservation. GUIDED TOUR
In some labs, the facilitating teacher will take an interactive role during the classroom observation. He or she will notice and name for observing teachers (whisper) some of the host teachers’ instructional moves, language, decision points, as well as, student learning moments that directly support the lab’s learning focus. In this way, the facilitating teacher’s contribution is more akin to direct instruction with the observing teachers. The facilitating teacher takes great care to minimize his/her impact on the classroom life and to maximize the learning opportunity for the observing teachers. A norm for such a guided tour is for the facilitating teacher to be the only “sidespeaker” in the observation to avoid
conversation breaking out – until the group reconvenes outside of the classroom. GUIDED PRACTICE
In other labs, the facilitating teacher will design the lab experience so observing teachers can watch a host teacher model a specific strategy or move or decision point in the classroom and then immediately practice what they have observed with students. This guided practice might include the host teacher stepping outside the lesson to reflect in-action and aloud (Schon, 1987) for the observing teachers and setting them up to engage the same strategy with other students in the classroom at that time. Or, guided practice might involve the observing teachers stepping out of the classroom to debrief what they have seen and then stepping into a new opportunity to try it, in the same classroom or in another location with another group of students. In guided practice, the facilitating teacher and the host teacher team up to guide the observing teachers’ experiences. STUDIO
A studio approach to lab learning supports the inquiry end of the spectrum of purposes where observing teachers, along with their facilitating teacher, join a
host teacher in the classroom to enact an instructional episode with small groups of students. The host teacher opens the studio by modeling an instructional practice and then the observing teachers immediately try their hand and observe-in-action their own efforts with the same instructional practice. The host teacher might move among the observing/practicing teachers to step in or “elbow coach.” The facilitating teacher assists the group in debriefing and gleaning insights for next steps. “LAB ON LAB”
“Lab on Lab” learning experiences are designed for teacher leaders already facilitating or learning to facilitate teacher lab experiences. These opportunities are identified by teacher leaders who agree to host a facilitators’ lab in the background of their own teacher lab experience. The facilitating teacher meets with the observing facilitators at the end of the day to reflect on successes and challenges of their facilitation. For example, the teacher lab may be focused on literacy instruction while the facilitators’ lab is focused on process tools and talk in all stages of a teacher lab experience (pre-, observation, and post-).
Novi Imagine a district where teacher collaboration is “the norm” – teachers are encouraged to open their doors and get into each other’s classrooms to see teaching and learning in practice. Picture a district that spends PL dollars on in-district professional support instead of wave after wave of new initiatives. Five years ago, Novi Community Schools had that vision, and we are proud to share that hypothetical situation is becoming a reality. For years, research has suggested that when teachers have job-embedded support for new initiatives, they are more likely to change their classroom practice for the better (Joyce and Showers 2002). So four years ago, Novi Community School District created an Instructional Coaching office. This school year (2013-2014) marks the third year the Novi Instructional Coaches have been running teacher observation Learning Lab Teams. The process of forming observation labs varies. At the K-6 level, teachers have participated in Learning Lab Teams within and across grade levels. Elementary teacher participation is purely voluntary, and numbers of participants are growing every year. Participation at this level doubled from the initial year to the second year and is on track to double again this year. The secondary literacy coaches worked first with 7-12 English and science teachers, adding a social studies cohort last year. Participation at the secondary level was expected for all teachers, although hosting was voluntary. Ninety percent of our secondary teacher group agreed that seeing a colleague teach helped them reflect about their own teaching. Sixty-five percent reported that they tried something new in their classroom after seeing it modeled in a colleague’s classroom. This year, Novi’s math coaches K-12 are also offering observation labs for teachers who wish to explore math instructional practices. We are very pleased that Novi teachers see the benefits of this opportunity for collaboration, but what has made it so successful?
We owe a large part of our success to our protocols: PRE-OBSERVATION HOST MEETING – A coach helps the host think through the lesson. PRE-OBSERVATION GROUP MEETING – On the day of the observation, the host sets a context for the lesson; observers agree on norms, make connections to the host’s lesson, and set personal goals for the observation time in the classroom (half-day release for participants, coach facilitates). CLASSROOM OBSERVATION – Teachers observe a lesson and record what they see teachers and students saying and doing; teachers do not interact with the class during the lesson. POST-OBSERVATION DEBRIEF – Teachers list what they saw and try to identify instructional moves they could use in their own classrooms; before leaving, participants declare a ‘take away.’ These protocols allow teachers to step out of their traditional roles and become more reflective practitioners; responses to our observation “labs” have been overwhelmingly positive. A participant shared, “The learning
lab teams are of tremendous value both professionally and personally. The [other] participants I have spoken with feel the same. We have been able to have candid and frank conversations about the content as well as our own teaching practices.” Some teachers may find the formal structure of the protocols stiff at first, but most have come to appreciate the opportunity to think critically about their teaching. Another teacher shared that she “found the debriefing very helpful – I forget about some of the structures I’ve set up – to hear other people talk about it, it reminded me of these structures. It was a nice experience that was helpful and made me reflect – I appreciated it.”
“The learning lab teams are of tremendous value both professionally and personally. The [other] participants I have spoken with feel the same. We have been able to have candid and frank conversations about the content as well as our own teaching practices.”
Novi Instructional Coaches and teachers look forward to continuing our teacher observation lab model. As lab learning becomes commonplace in Novi, we are moving toward narrowing our observational foci to best fit the teaching and learning needs of our teachers and their students.
Should Principals be involved in Teacher Labs? In what ways? We observe schools and districts approaching this question in different ways. What seems clear is that school principals and teacher leaders are grappling – learning their way into practices that honor teacher-driven motivations to create lab experiences that benefit from principal involvement. Research on the powerful impact of principals’ promoting and participating in teacher learning and development encourages these school leaders to keep figuring it out. See Viviane Robinson’s analysis of principal involvement in teacher learning as an example of studies that examine the link between school leadership and teacher learning. 18
At its core, teacher lab learning, as a form of job-embedded learning, is best led by practicing teachers. They may partner with other educators (curriculum coordinators, formally identified teacher leaders, outside consultants and facilitators, subject matter experts, etc.), but the initiative, advocacy, and footwork of creating teacher lab experiences is energized by the compulsion and voice of practitioners. Many have teased, “of the teachers, by the teachers, for the teachers.” Others describe the leadership of lab learning as “organic” or “grass roots.” Teacher leaders’ deep reflections on teacher-led lab opportunities describe a space that opens up when teachers can talk about their practices with structure and guidance that comes from sources other than their supervisor.
Support from principals is vital to the success of teacher labs. Principals play an important role in encouraging teachers to participate in any capacity. Once they understand how their teachers benefit from observing and meeting with colleagues, they become informed advocates for this type of professional learning. They are able to explain the importance of lab participation when questioned by parents and administrators who may wonder why teachers are not in the classroom. They also assist with hospitality when labs are taking place in their own buildings. Principals can welcome visitors and answer questions about the schoolwide learning community.
Achallenge for principals, is navigating what seems a contradiction in wanting to advance teachers as self-directed learners, as observers, as hosts, as facilitators, and leaders of professional learning, and wanting to lead, contribute, and guide the teachers’ learning as the instructional leader of the building. Principals have much to contribute to the experiences and many see it as their responsibility to influence teachers’ thinking and practices. And, indeed, they are responsible for the learning and evaluation of teachers’ growth in the school. This contradiction is being worked out school by school, principal by principal.
We observe that teacher lab learning thrives in contexts where the principal is more of a background partner advocating, serving, enabling, and reinforcing the efforts of classroom practitioners to initiate, design, communicate, conduct, revise, and build experiences for themselves and their colleagues. Principals finding ways to lead from the periphery are describing leadership practices that carriy messages of support, without directly organizing the experiences. For example, they: BRING TOGETHER AN INITIAL TEAM OF TEACHER LEADERS to design and launch teacher lab opportunities. This team might be an existing team of instructional leaders or teacher coaches that have already been identified (with or without formalized release time).
LEAD, IN PARTNERSHIP WITH A TEACHER LEADER OR TWO, only the initial development of this team’s learning, planning, implementing teacher lab experiences within the school. This may involve: • Early design and planning meetings • Consultation with a Teacher Lab leader from another school already engaged with teacher lab learning • Site visit to a teacher lab in another school to observe the process and consultant with teacher lab hosts and facilitators • Being the “party planner” who attends to the logistics of creating a lab day: • • •
For additional insight into the ways teacher leaders partner with principals to develop and sustain lab learning, read Dirk Zuchlag’s blog entry, Principals Matter –
Scheduling release time for teachers to participate Securing a meeting space in the school for the lab group’s pre- and post-study activities (conference room, meeting rooms, flexible classroom space) Providing the touches of detail that message to the group this is supported by the school and district (coffee, water, books, process tools and supplies)
To better understand the dilemmas related to principal involvement in teacher lab learning, we checked in with several principals with Rochester Schools. They shared their experience and insight on the dance principals and teacher leaders must engage to advance the power of lab learning.
Here is what they had to say: My initial opinion is, no, they should not but if they were, it should be to a limited extent. The reason for this is that principal absence, in my opinion, permits teachers to be more candid and frank with each other and have deeper, more reflective conversation. I fear, with the current state of MI evaluation stipulations, that teachers may be less open to take risks or have the open and productive dialogue that Teacher Lab is about - due to an administrator being in the room. However, Principal Lab, is extremely beneficial and helpful for principals. I also believe that Principal Lab participation can further nurture the Teacher Lab without the principal being directly involved as he/she can be a proponent of the program due to his/her own positive experience and knowledge gain from Principal Lab. Gary Van Staveren – Hamlin
I think the principal’s role is one of support for the Teacher Labs, but don’t feel our presence is necessary in the lab classroom with the teachers. When they have been in my building, I have made it a point to talk with the teachers when they have been collaborating after, but intentionally avoided the in classroom part. If we are developing teacher leaders- that can be done without our influence (intentional or not) as part of the classroom visit. I enjoyed the Principal Lab effort this year- and would welcome the opportunity to participate more. Teresa DiMaria – Brewster
I love teacher labs! The labs provide a purposeful and meaningful learning opportunity for our teachers. I would love to know more about the process and protocols followed for lab. Some of these were modeled during our recent principal’s lab – thank you so very much for enriching our learning! University Hills is beginning a mini-teacher lab in our building due to teacher request and the learning that takes place during the lab experiences. The teachers are hungry to continue to learn from each other. All of us grow through reflection, observing best practices and collaboration. Amy Grande – University Hills
As a new administrator in Rochester, who has never experienced the teacher lab format, I am enormously impressed with the process. My teachers regard it is as the single most valuable and purposeful professional development activity available to them. I really appreciate that we have added Principal’s Lab because that has allowed me to observe best practices that I can recommend to my teachers through the formal and informal evaluation process. The lab experience is unmatched and invaluable to all of the professionals at my building.” Patrick Bevier – Hugger
My teachers always appreciate the support that administrators supply by valuing the time involved in the teacher lab learning process. Whether it’s encouraging teachers to share their specialty area(s), arranging the conference room or a classroom to meet, or nudging and/or supporting them joining a teacher lab in a a variety of roles (host, facilitator, member). Teachers return from lab passionate about what they’ve seen and discussed. They share some ideas with their grade level colleagues in conversation, at PLC meetings, staff meetings and/or PD sessions. The repeated opportunities throughout the year keeps their learning alive. Victoria Righter – Musson
Cathy Kochanski (Baldwin) and I are participating in the
Balanced Leadership program through McRel. Interestingly enough when principals are engaging in change they need to have knowledge and be involved in the implementation of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. So in short yes principals need to be part of the lab. Our writers workshop lab was very purposeful and I picked up on some key points that are essential for a successful student learning in writing.
Dave Pontzious – North Hill
I think what has made the teacher labs so successful is that teachers are learning together without a principal’s direct involvement. Together teachers test their skills and reflect on their practice outside the “evaluative” process which is often associated with their administrator. There is an saying “teachers learn best from the teacher next door.” I believe principals want to be involved for the purpose of knowing what their teachers are learning. In that way a principal can best support the teacher’s learning through time, resources and/or to incorporate enhanced learning at the building level. However, directly involving principals in the teacher lab process may change the culture and momentum of teacher learning. My opinion is we can best support teacher learning by: 1. Supporting and encouraging participation in the teacher lab model. 2. Principals study and learn best practice being studied in teacher lab so as to support the teacher.
3. Teachers involved in the teacher lab tend to seek more professional development. 4. Teachers involved in teacher lab build stronger collaborative grade level teams. Teresa Simonetti – Brooklands
I absolutely believe that principals should be involved. However, I think that it has to be in “support” ways. The beauty about teacher labs is that it is teacher-driven and facilitated. Teachers are leaders during teacher lab and they are developing their capacity. The administrator is a supporter - providing spaces for dialogue, freeing up teachers to be involved, encouraging participation, championing the teachers who participate, etc. It is probably the most valuable professional development that our teachers participate in. Principals can support, champion, and encourage by allowing teachers time to share what they’ve seen in lab at staff meetings, PD sessions, collaboration meetings, etc. Principals can also model participation in lab by participating in the “principals lab” that you have created and facilitated. We can also model by observing each other in our daily jobs as principals. Michael Behrmann – Executive Director of Elementary Education, former principal at Van Hoosen/North Hill/Brewster
As far as how teacher lab has impacted teachers in my building: 1. The greatest professional growth among my teachers occurs when they have been actively involved with teacher lab opportunities. 2. A renewed, sustaining enthusiasm and confidence is palpable in teachers involved in teacher lab.
We decided district level PLC, “Once principals began to not include disappointment noticing the powerful positive the principals in the turned into positive impact of the district level initial years of energy. Building participating level Labs began to PLC, the disappointment in Teacher appear to support turned into positive energy.” building goals. Lab in Troy. Last year, our superintendent As facilitator of Troy ‘voluntary’ aspect). This statement was declared that “All Teacher Literacy Labs, The first meeting the will of group and fourth grade teachers I hope to eventually was dedicated to was voluntarily agreed will participate in create learning lab establishing group upon. Teacher (Literacy) opportunities that norms and creating Lab.” This was the might include the a supportive learning At first, the elementary first time the Teacher larger educational environment. Other principals expressed Lab opportunity was community members. than NCA professional their disappointment supported district learning communities, in exclusion from wide and included In 2013-14, cohorts of this was a first district Teacher Lab. Troy in the district literacy all fifth grade teachers wide PLC. During elementary principals goals. The voluntary began Teacher Literacy the Day 1 labs, the are instructional aspect of Teacher Labs and all fourth teachers unanimously leaders and empower Lab seemed to be grade teachers began agreed to keep the great things to happen removed; I believed year two. Teacher focus of Teacher in each of their the voluntary aspect of leaders are growing Literacy Lab on buildings. The sincere lab to be essential for from this experience sharing and improving disappointment success from ongoing and the students literacy instruction. was really based on successful labs in other are benefiting! After It was decided that wanting to be part districts. However, we all, teachers teach we would honor and of the job embedded were thrilled with the students, programs do promote professional learning because they opportunity and we not. personal growth by believe in the concept. were determined to stating: Only the But as the teachers make it work. Lori Ulewicz, Troy specified lab members returned from each In 2011-2012, all fourth grade teachers were placed in five cohort groups of eight members based on area of interest (attempt at the
may attend your lab. No student teachers, visitors, or substitutes from your grade level team. This alters the group dynamics and content of the day.
lab raving about the experience, many of the principals began to rethink participation. Once principals began noticing the powerful positive impact of the
Should Teacher Lab participation be voluntary or required? Teacher Lab participation should be voluntary. Research has shown that when a learner is presented the opportunity to select their own learning path, there is an increased probability that they will engage more readily, be motivated to reach understanding, and follow-through with the task. Additionally, since the learner comes to the table willingly, he/she feels less threatened and is able to participate more authentically. Although I acknowledge my bias, my lived experience has proven this learning dynamic to be true. For the past six years, as a teacher leader, I have had the honor of having a frontrow seat to the growth and development of Teacher Lab in the Avondale School District. Our Teacher Lab experiences have grown organically across our system. Its origins imagined and nurtured first by a group of six K-2 teachers, Teacher Lab was energized into action because of a coconstructed, shared vision and unwavering support of the district’s superintendent. Our slow, steady growth in participation has always been encouraged through multiple invitations to join this good work – first, across grade levels, spreading down the hall and throughout a school building, across the street and around the block to our neighboring elementary buildings – and then vertically –to our middle
school and high school. The result of this collaboration has proven to increase both student engagement and achievement and has also supported teacher satisfaction and morale. Our participation has grown exponentially in the past five years, from 8% of the K-12 staff participating in the 2007-08 school year to over 88% of the staff participating in the 2012-13 school year. Due to the teacher-led nature of our lab structure, each learning opportunity has been initiated through a personal contact – an invitation to join the conversation. As each connection was established, and each teacher engaged in these learning experiences, a tangible environment of trust and respect was created. Like a tapestry, this ongoing collaboration – across hallways and buildings – was created through multiple shared experiences, meaningful conversations, feedback from our critical friends, and patience. Each Teacher Lab experience across our
system supplied critical threads to our collective understandings of learning and teaching. As this tapestry of understanding and reflection continued to grow, it transformed the way we view our profession and our actions and interactions within it. Teacher Lab is now an expectation of professional learning identity. Elbow to elbow, side by side, the teachers across the Avondale School district enjoy a rich culture of professional learning. I often wonder, if we had taken a different road, and framed Teacher Lab as a requirement – as a “have to” type of professional development activity – would this same type of collaboration been created? Marcia Hudson, Avondale
Clarkston I was a “New Kid on the Block.” Not a vocalist or lead guitarist, but certainly a key member of the ensemble. The band director was the assistant superintendent of my district. The theme he had chosen for the concert was clear: “Reading Workshop.” The “playlist” for the “gig” went something like this: “Every Single K-5 teacher;” “Get ‘em on board!” “Train them well,” “Let’s raise the bar” and the finale: “Sooner rather than later.” The musical interlude had begun. I was entering my second year in the role of Clarkston’s elementary literacy teacher leader. I was no longer in the classroom and was now responsible for the “Professional Literacy Learning” for the 130+ teachers in all seven of Clarkston Community Schools’ elementary buildings. The delivery of effective teacher learning that would make a difference for the teachers and kids of Clarkston
rested on my shoulders. I understood Reading Workshop and I felt passionate about workshop as a highly effective method for delivering literacy instruction that would meet the demands of the Common Core. But how could I convince teachers that this was the way that they should teach? I was the “new kid.” No matter how enthusiastic or passionate I could be, many of the staff didn’t know me and I had limited relationships with many of the teachers. What type of professional learning could I offer that would lift the level of classroom instruction and increase reading and writing learning for our children? How could I convince my peers to fall in love with the song I was singing? Fortunately for me, my “initiation” the year before had included incredible opportunities to learn from deep thinking educators who understood the power of Job-Embedded
Professional Learning. Throughout that school year, I was able to watch and learn from three of my colleagues who thoughtfully planned non-content specific “lab learning” for a small group of ten K-7 teachers in Clarkston. This core group of educators spent three days together throughout the school year. They read, thought and talked about professional literature. They watched each other teach; they observed children interact; they asked questions of each other and thought about all that they had seen and heard throughout each “lab” day. With the leadership of a master teacher leader, they engaged in powerful dialogue about effective practice. When they reflected on the lab experience, they indicated that it had changed their own teaching practice in powerful and positive ways. I realized that this same approach could make professional literacy learning come alive for
all elementary teachers in Clarkston. And so, the following year, the literacy lab “road show” began. Every Young Fives through Fifth Grade teacher in Clarkston experienced a full-day Literacy Learning Lab. In the company of their grade level, PLC teammates, every teacher was able to notice, name and wonder as they observed Reading Workshop in a colleague’s classroom. They learned to look without judgment and with a focused lens on the classroom setting, the engagement of the learners and the instructional moves of the teacher. They participated in facilitated dialogue and dug deeper into the aspects of the instruction that they wondered about. Their collaboration and conversation with one another propelled their understanding of effective literacy teaching and learning. For most, it was a new type of professional learning. Their words tell the story:
“The lab experience – observation with guided conservation alongside professional learning, was an incredibly powerful experience. I say this from the view of being a host teacher and a participant. Both roles pushed me in my thinking.” And, “This is the PD we need. Let it continue.” Or, “Lab learning – very effective.” So great that we all saw the same thing and then had wonderful, powerful dialogue. The music is still playing. Two more Literacy Learning Labs are planned for every teacher this year. I’m hoping for another standing ovation. Phyllis Ness
How might we go about designing and planning for a lab day? Thoughtful preparation is a key to successful teacher lab experiences. Focus areas and formats must be considered and developed. Gaining administrative support will be crucial for implementation. Budgets will need to be proposed and approved. Participants will need to be identified, invited, contacted, briefed and supported. Schedules will have to be designed keeping district schedules in mind. Making a “To Do” list will be important as you think through what needs to be done when beginning to implement teacher labs.
FIRST, jot down initial thoughts about why you would like to initiate a teacher lab. What will the focus be? Is your school or district bringing forth a new initiative that in-depth study would help implement? Is there an area of concern that teachers would like to address in this format? Do current research findings advocate for changes in practice that happen best with long-term study? Whatever the rationale might be, make certain that it will find a receptive audience. NEXT, think about how a lab might look – full days or portions of days, number of sessions per year, how many participants and what their roles would be, and how each session would be structured. You might devise multiple scenarios and narrow them down during your planning.
Put together a proposal including all the information you have gathered so far. Include reasons for why implementation would be a positive thing including citations of best practice standards from Learning Forward, district needs that could be addressed, possible formats, and cost projections. Do some research to determine how much each lab would cost to implement. Expenses would include substitute teacher costs along with materials and supplies. Part of the educationally enriching nature of a lab could include reading and studying a book that has been selected to match the group’s focus area. All lab members would need to be provided with a copy of the book that was chosen.
Another item that could be provided would be some type of materials for notetaking. A padfolio with a tablet and pockets has been helpful in current labs. Participants use these to keep any materials that are shared during the lab along with having paper for notetaking. Once you have an idea of the function, structure and budget, it would be time to schedule a meeting with administrators to present your proposal. Their support will be necessary in order to move forward. Provide copies of the proposal to all who attend the meeting. Be prepared to discuss all aspects and answer questions with enthusiasm and a positive attitude demonstrating how beneficial teacher labs would be for teachers and ultimately students.
A “recipe” for getting started: 1. Find a partner who is also interested in developing his/ her practice in whatever focus topic is selected. 2. Decide who will take on the roles of Facilitator and Host. 3. Talk to your administrator and get support, both philosophical and monetary. 4. Advertise. Send out a flyer or email asking for volunteers to be Guests. Explain the benefits and how they will be accountable for their participation. 5. Select the guests. Up to four works well. 6. Schedule subs – four full days for Facilitators and Guests, four afternoons for the Host. 7. Select a professional resource book related to the focus and purchase one for each member. Padfolios are also helpful for note-taking. 8. The Facilitator should send a welcome letter to all Guests including the meeting dates. The Host should reserve a room for afternoon debriefing and prepare a lesson demonstrating best-practice of the focus area. Students should be prepared for visitors and know they will not be interacting with guests. 9. Gather first thing in the morning to talk about what you will be seeing. The Host should provide copies of the morning’s schedule. Guests think about what they’d like to especially notice. 10. Go to the Host’s classroom. Stay all morning. Take notes on a T-chart with what you notice on the left and what questions you have on the right. Use the notes during debriefing. It may be difficult, but try hard not to converse with each other.
11. Go out for lunch. Talk about your personal lives which will help the group bond and form relationships. Begin debriefing by having guests ask questions about what they observed. 12. Continue debriefing back in a conference room. Discuss the visit and ask any remaining questions. Watch videos and talk about the professional book. Decide on reading assignments for the next lab. 13. Reflect! Save at least 15 minutes to fill out a reflection sheet and set goals to be accomplished before the next lab. Share goals while the Facilitator records them.
What kind of tools, activities and processes will help get us started? Over the past two years, I have had the opportunity to design and implement multiple teacher labs at the middle school level. By trial and error, I have developed a collection of tools and protocols to facilitate the preobservation portion of the lab experience. A considerable amount of time, thought, and energy lays the foundation for an engaging and rewarding lab. A climate of trust and acceptance forms the foundation of all the work that follows. First, function establishes the purpose of the teacher lab experience. Above all, the lab experience should serve to provide job-embedded professional development that is meaningful and fosters both the staff’s and students’ growth. Once you establish a climate of collegiality and determine the function of your lab experience, you may venture on to the next step. Zoom in on a focus shared by staff members; much of the details flow from this focus. In our building, the focus has centered on book studies, building goal work, and best practices. The focus of your lab will direct your design and implementation. Thoughtful selection and connection to your staffs’ and students’ learning needs makes the focus meaningful to all participants.
Your teacher lab agenda is a road map directing facilitators, hosts, and participants. The agenda format serves as a template to facilitate the components of the lab. Each agenda may include the following sections: welcome; purpose; research; descriptions of observable strategies, activities, or routines; facilitator, hosts, and participants; detailed schedule; and expectations. Once I had developed an agenda that included all the key components, I was able to modify the agenda to match the purpose and design of each new teacher lab. The agenda provides the structure and organization of the teacher lab experience directing your participants down the road to learning.
Function: find a common thread to link hosts to participant to student growth
Looking back, one of the key contributing factors to our future teacher labs’ success was forming a study group. Our study group began its focus studying differentiated instruction and Marzano’s best practices. We selected books that shared current research and best practices, provided guidelines to implement in our classrooms, and offered opportunities to practice and discuss both our successes and failures. Most importantly, our study group became a nurturing, accepting, and supportive network of colleagues. We built trust and could depend on each other for honest feedback and support.
Our book studies include: • • • • •
Summarization in Any Subject, Rick Wormeli The Differentiated Classroom, Carol Ann Tomlinson Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov Making Thinking Visible, Ron Ritchhart Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement, Lucy Calkins
Focus: multiple lenses focused on an area of learning will magnify the power of your lab experience
As a building, we have focused on improving student learning by building engagement in our learners through differentiated instruction, improving content area literacy instruction, and fostering critical literacy skills through
visible thinking routines. Through our book studies and discussion groups we explored new ways to build literacy and learning. Often it feels overwhelming to begin a new study; however, a focus provides direction and purpose.
Format: find a format that meets the needs of your staff, schedule, and learners
An agenda pulls together all of the key components of the teacher lab. Every building has unique schedules, student populations, teacher needs, and opportunities to provide release. In our building, the participants visit 4-5 classrooms to observe host teachers implementing a strategy, routine, or activity. On average, 5-7 participants are part of the teacher lab. The facilitator guides all learners throughout the morning observations and afternoon discussions. Each agenda previews the day, provides direction, and educates everyone on current research. Previewing the sample agendas as tools to guide your preobservation activities may help learners new to the process.
Sample teacher lab agendas
Content Area Literacy Teacher Lab: Get It DownTaking Notes Content Area Literacy Teacher Lab: Reading Is Thinking-Facilitating Learning through Reading Strategies & Visible Thinking Routines
As I designed our first teacher lab focusing on our study of differentiated instruction and Marzano’s Best Practices, one of my concerns was providing participants with as many observations as possible during the lab. In addition, I wanted the hosts to feel comfortable with this new and somewhat unnerving experience. We all felt as hosts that we could survive a 15-20 minute observation. Our middle school teacher lab ended up looking and functioning differently than the previous elementary model. Would it be successful? Our first teacher lab was received well by all involved. It paved the way for future teacher labs. Each lab experience takes on its own personality and flavor. All of our labs involve volunteer hosts and
participants. We seek to invite a well-rounded group according to curriculum, teaching experience, and lab experience. Someone may initially join the lab experience as a participant and then a serve as a host the next time. In our district, a lab may revolve around one classroom, multiple classrooms, and even multiple buildings. Being involved in teacher lab has dramatically changed my practice. It has stretched my comfort zone and shaped my role in our building. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow along with my colleagues. Designing a lab experience pushed me to search for the latest research, read new books, explore best practices, and engage in learning activities and thinking routines. My students unknowingly became my test subjects. Their feedback fueled my desire to continue to participate in the most effective and enjoyable job-embedded professional development of my career. Once you experience teacher lab, no other professional development event can compare. Shevy Jacobson
Learning from LISA: Teacher Leader as Facilitator of Professional Learning I want to tell you about a teacher I know. More importantly, I want to share with you what she has taught me about Pre-K–12 teachers, as leaders, living into the role of facilitator for professional learning. Lisa* is first and foremost a teacher. Her day job and primary responsibility is for the classroom of children who show up every day and call her teacher. This set of relationships – teacher and student – is at the core of Lisa’s professional life. Yet there is more to Lisa’s work life and relationships. Often she finds herself leading teachers with whom she shares the same building, principal, workroom, and refrigerator. Sometimes these colleagues share her district address and contract agreements, but their building surroundings and norms differ. At other times, these colleagues may travel a great distance to be in her company at a conference. Lisa, as teacher leader, stands on the shoulders of her daily teaching practice to facilitate the learning of her colleagues, near and far.
This role of teacher leader as facilitator of professional learning has been evolving for decades. As a Teacher Leadership Consultant at Oakland Schools, I have had a front seat to its development. Teachers who take up the call to facilitate the learning of other professionals – and do so effectively – bring to the role particular insights, skills, and attitudes that ensure they not only contribute to the learning of others, but they also enhance, and in many cases, accelerate their own learning. Teacher Leaders facilitate effective professional learning of their colleagues by drawing on insights that include the following: Wisdom for teaching resides within lived experience.
Teacher leaders, like Lisa, serve as facilitators with a deeply-grounded belief that the colleagues in front of them are the greatest asset for the group’s continuous professional learning. They act on this belief by creating
opportunities for teachers to make visible what they know and do in the classroom. They leverage teachers’ theories of action as tools for the collective good. These teacher leaders design professional learning experiences that draw upon external resources, such as guest speakers, academic texts, and program materials. However, they intentionally, and often creatively, link these external resources, as support – or provocation – to a core asset that practicing teachers already possess: their lived experience with the complexity of teaching and learning in schools. Good questions come directly from one’s classroom practice.
Facilitators know the power of questions that arise within ongoing classroom practices. They guide opportunities for colleagues to develop and deepen an inquiry-stance toward teaching and learning. Trusting in the power of self-directed learning to sustain improvement,
both individual and collective, teacher leader facilitators proactively shape experiences to surface practitioners’ own questions. This insight – that good questions are waiting to be unearthed – is key in distinguishing a facilitator from a presenter. Good answers are derived in the context of practice.
Empowered by research, teacher leaders offer their colleagues well-developed tools and processes for pursuing questions that arise in practice. The world of teacher research, however, has grown beyond the status of work completed for a graduate degree, or a one-time special project. Through the practices of action research and self-study, teachers are regularly delving into the dilemmas and complexities of schooling, scaffolding one another’s data collection processes and analyzing achievement scores for evidence of growth over time, so as to better understand context and culture, and to take
informed action. In addition to what they know, it is also what they do that enables teacher leaders to influence colleagues’ learning. These facilitators continually practice and hone the very same skills they aim to develop in other teachers. These skills include: Describing teaching and
learning, with particular attention to word choice and meaning. Summarizing
understandings about teaching and learning (i.e., one’s beliefs, principles, theories of action). Asking questions of practice
and of each other. Encouraging dispositions for
inquiry, experimentation, and reflection. Analyzing student learning
Engaging in collective
discourse, (i.e., new insights, new questions, new articulations). Designing for instruction
that reflects new understanding of the complexities of school learning. Acting on new designs from
collective investigations. Reflecting on the impact of instructional moves on student growth and achievement.
The new Teacher Leader Model Standards, as well as the Learning Forward
Standards for Professional Learning provide evidence
of how far we have come in understanding what it takes for teachers to lead their colleagues’ in jobembedded, meaningful learning. These documents also offer powerful guidance in preparing teacher leaders to facilitate professional learning with and for their colleagues. Teacher leadership styles may be diverse, the jargon may vary, the creative enactments and the representations may be many, but as profession, we have made tremendous
gains in articulating what teacher leaders as facilitators know and do. A third way teacher leaders facilitate the professional learning of colleagues is by modeling attitudes that honor, challenge, and support the continuous growth of individuals and collective groups. These include attitudes of: Trust and Integrity
Teacher leaders often find themselves navigating a middle ground that is part teacher and part administrator. As facilitators for professional learning, aiming to impact lasting school improvement, teacher leaders know they must enact their role in ways that result in increased trust between and among all educators in a setting. Doing so requires heightened awareness and care-filled attention to professional relationships, effective communication, and follow-through on commitments. Flexibility
Like the guide on a road trip, a school-based professional learning facilitator will start the journey well prepared,
yet always ready to follow detours when they appear to support teachable moments. As leader, she points to the group’s shared professional learning destination. She is keenly aware there will be stops along the way, and is confident she can read the map, navigate alternate routes as needed, and recognize bumps in the road. She checks for cognitive, emotional and physical fuel levels. She asks for directions and enthusiastically offers tips on points of interest. She is prepped with details, from nourishment (chips and chocolate), to necessities like videos, process tools, books, and materials for reading and writing. She is at the ready to welcome hitchhikers who might be standing at the edge looking to join the journey. She recognizes when to stop at the rest stops, taking time for everyone’s renewal. She also knows when it is time to switch drivers – to share the leadership and in turn, grow the capacity of other guides. Advocacy
Perhaps one of the most powerful characteristics I have witnessed in peer
facilitators is a disposition for advocacy. The approach these facilitators’ take to proposing new learning, securing resources, and organizing participation is grounded in knowing their colleagues as both learners and leaders. They honor where teachers are as individuals and, at the same time, hold up a vision of growth for the group to live into. They express awareness that facilitating from the field often requires “going against the grain” and cutting new paths. They walk shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues, but live intentionally, with a commitment to speak up, to question, to imagine, and to act on behalf of the collective’s aspirations for continuous growth and improvement. *LISA: Leading with Insight, Skill, and Attitude
For me, “LISA” serves as both an acronym for my reflections and a composite of the many teacher leaders I have had the privilege to lead and to learn from over the years. But this name has even greater significance and meaning for me. Twenty years ago, I met Mrs. Lisa Pasek as a 6th
grade teacher at Mayfield Elementary in Lapeer, Michigan. At the time, she was also a member of the Investigating Mathematics Teaching project, a study group of elementary and middle school teachers at Michigan State University. I watched, listened, and learned as Lisa navigated her own journey of teacher leadership… from deep conversations about what it means to teach for understanding, to figuring out how to influence the conversations and actions of her colleagues. During recent years, Lisa traveled away from her classroom/school-based practice to serve as a Teacher in Residence to the TeachingWorks project at the University of Michigan. She has now returned to her local district to take up a new role as Instructional Specialist and Coach where she will continue to share her insights, skills, and attitudes. Lauren Childs
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