Part One: Encouraging Educators to Open the Door on Their Practice

I’ve just returned from the IB Global Conference in Vienna and am buzzing with ideas—two of the sessions I attended were sharing some of the updates to the PYP and one of the big shifts is about promoting teacher agency. Exactly what we have been working on so far this school year. How exciting!

I have been recently revisiting the book, Teacher Self Supervision by Bill and Ochan Powell. In their book, they lay out eight premises to encourage self-supervision, or agency, we could call it. One of the premises I want to explore is “de-privatized practice”.

Teaching has historically been an individual endeavor—in many schools teachers have been “silos” working independently and generally without much input from others. One of the things that shifted my thinking while reading this section of the book was the statement that many, if not all, of the excuses one might use for not de-privatizing practice assumes that teaching is the end goal. For example, some arguments might be: it’s easier to plan at my kitchen table then try to find time to meet with another person, I don’t want to have to worry about “stepping on another adults toes” or whether or not the chemistry is right. It’s easier if I just plan it myself because I understand my shorthand and what I mean and I don’t want to have to explain it. Let me just do it myself and get on with my job—planning the lessons and teaching.

Is teaching the end goal?

This is where my shift happened—what if we reframed the above arguments for “privatized practice” and talked about teaching as the strategy or tool that brings about student learning. When I read this statement, I realized that we all know this to be true. But, have we ever explicitly talked about teaching as a tool to achieve student learning? That phrasing is a powerful way to rethink teaching in the context of student learning. How could that change in language/thinking impact the culture of our schools? How might it shift thinking around de-privatizing practice?

Bill and Ochan Powell write that “evidence is increasingly pointing to professional learning in the workplace rather than external conferences and workshops as the place where the most powerful professional learning takes place.” (Powell and Kusuma-Powell, 59)

The stumbling block seems to be that in many schools there is little continuous and sustained peer observation and feedback happening, even if the structures are in place. If this is such a powerful professional learning opportunity, how do we get teachers going into each other’s classrooms meaningfully and often?

All observations are not the same

The Powells write that the lesson study model is a particularly effective way of “de-privatizing practice”. John Hattie called it “micro-teaching” in Visible Learning. He found that laboratory practice, which included the micro-teaching model, had a moderate to strongly positive result on teacher effect, knowledge, and instructional behavior. (Hattie, 112)

As a young teacher, I was fortunate enough to work at a small school in Menlo Park, California, where we began using the lesson study model. To this day, that is still the most useful and effective feedback I have ever gotten as a teacher because I identified what I wanted the lesson study team to focus on, I had three peers in different roles and with varying levels of experience giving me objective feedback, and I had the opportunity to ask clarifying questions about what they observed, reflect and draw my own conclusions as to the next steps. What made this so powerful is that I was directing the course of the conversation and was responsible for interpreting the data myself. Not only that, but I was able to choose a focus that was immediately applicable to my practice and students.

Based off my own experiences with the lesson study model, I have wanted to implement it into my schools over the years. Not yet with success, but I have done quite a bit of reflecting and am hoping that will change this year!

Currently, we have laid the groundwork for a shared vision of what teacher self-supervision looks like (something I don’t know that I’ve done well in the past), we have built a timetable that allows for the lesson study model to work, now “all” we have to do is implement it right? I believe that where I fell down in the past was in not giving teachers the professional opportunity to develop their capacity to give meaningful and objective feedback. This time around, I believe one of the key pieces will be to provide teachers with targeted professional development in this area.

As this is an actual work in progress at the moment, I will go into more detail about what that effective feedback piece looks like in part 2 of this post. Stay tuned and please feel free to share any insights or ideas in the comments!


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