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A Vision for Supporting Model Classroom Teachers in the State of Iowa
Written by Diane Sweeney, author of Student-Centered Coaching (Corwin, 2010) and Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level (Corwin, 2013)
School districts throughout Iowa are implementing grant programs through the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System (TLC) that focus on building teacher capacity in K-12 schools. As they do so, many questions have arisen regarding how to best tap into model classroom teachers. Model classroom teachers open their classroom to observations by other teachers. In this way, they serve as teacher leaders in their own school. These recommendations are based on over fifteen years of experience developing model classrooms across the U.S. It also builds upon the underlying philosophy of student-centered coaching…that the primary objective of all professional development is increased student learning.
As districts identify model classroom teachers, there is often a gap in understanding about how to tap into this valuable resource. The result is teacher leaders who are unsure of how they can enact this role. Furthermore, many teachers are uncomfortable with the idea of being perceived as an expert among their peers. Lastly, there may be a lack of established protocols for model classrooms. This creates uncertainty about how to utilize the classrooms for the benefit of other teachers.
We use the term learning labs to describe classroom-based observations. Over the years, we have developed three types of learning labs, each with its own purpose and protocol. They are defined as follows:
Model classroom labs provide the opportunity for a group of teachers to observe exemplary instruction as it happens. The goal is for the observer is to take what they see and implement it in their own classrooms. Model classrooms are a good fit if you…
Peer learning labs provide the opportunity for a group of teachers to come together to unpack questions and challenges about their practice. Peer learning labs are a good fit if you…
Student-centered learning labs provide the opportunity for a group of teachers to observe the teaching and learning that occurs throughout the lesson. While participants observe a lesson, they are more intently focused on the learning that occurs. This provides the opportunity for rich conversations about how to move learning along for all students. Student-centered learning labs are a good fit if you…
Each type of learning lab involves a three-step protocol that includes a prebrief, observation, and debrief. Since the focus and purpose of learning labs vary, the protocols vary as well. For examples of protocols, please refer to Student-Centered Coaching or (Corwin, 2010) Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level (Corwin, 2013)
Solutions and Strategies
Strategy #1: Clearly Define the Role of Model Classroom Teachers
Thinking first about the purpose for learning labs is an important step towards articulating the role of model classroom teachers. For example, the purpose for a student-centered learning lab is quite different than that of observing in a model classroom. Working as a leadership team to define how and why model classrooms will be used leads to a well-defined system of professional development.
Strategy #2: Support Model Classroom Teachers
For many teachers, this is a new endeavor and any new endeavor requires support. Model classroom teachers need to understand not only how to teach well, but also how to reflect with others on their practice. A course titled Teaching Transparently has been developed by AEA 267 and Green Hills AEA. This course is taught by Sarah Brown-Wessling, National Teacher of the Year (2010). The goal is to support model classroom teachers to discuss deliberate pedagogy so that they are ready to share their teaching with others.
Strategy #3: Develop Administrative Support
Learning labs are more effective with leadership support. We advocate for school administrators to participate in every step of the process, from design to implementation. Joining these conversations provides a principal with invaluable data about how teachers are approaching curriculum and instruction in their schools. It also provides principals with the opportunity to engage as a learner so that they can contribute to the development of a collaborative school culture.
Strategy #4: Use Skilled Facilitators and Protocols
Every learning lab should involve a skilled facilitator and well crafted protocol. This provides the necessary structure so that the lab process is safe and rigorous. Casual visits to other classrooms rarely add up to much learning. Yet a structured and well-facilitated observation can provide enormous insights among both the observers and lab host.
Strategy #5: Connect Learning Labs with PD and Coaching
We think of learning labs as an extension of professional development and coaching. Ideally, lab hosts engage in coaching cycles and are viewed as learners, rather than experts. When coaching, professional development, and learning labs are aligned, the school has created a multi-faceted system of support for teachers.
There is no question that teachers benefit from learning alongside one another, and that learning labs are a great way to create rich opportunities for teachers to spend time in the classrooms of others. We believe that each type of learning lab provides the opportunity to celebrate adults as learners and thoughtful collaborators. The key is working carefully to design a system that takes these factors into consideration.