George Lucas Educational Foundation
Schools That Work
Professional Development

Teacher Labs: Making Professional Development Collaborative

Watch the magic that happens when educators observe each other teaching and then reflect together.
This is part of our Schools That Work series, which features key practices from Birmingham Covington School.
View a transcript of this video

Teacher: But then it's just more labs.

Mark: If we're learning at our highest potential as teachers, it's only going to serve our students. When we learn, they learn. We're a community of learners.

Pauline: Because we do teacher lab, we are constantly being driven by a desire to grow together, to collaborate, to communicate, and to be self-reflective.

Amy: They're actually teaching me things sometimes. Let's me know you're really engaged.

Valerie: I want you to call me over. I'll take a look at your work.

Mark: When teachers enhance their craft and improve their skills, then students will improve their level of learning and academic achievement. So teacher labs are a way we formally get teachers together to collaborate.

Thank you all for being here.

Teachers come together, cross discipline. It's about a three hour session around one focus area.

This morning, we're focusing on student engagement, specifically student talk.

Pauline: These kids have got to be engaged in meaningful discourse with each other.

Mark: It's facilitated by our instructional specialist. She walks them through a protocol that's very defined, with the ultimate purpose of teacher growth.

Pauline: Somebody volunteers to be a host teacher.

Valerie: Let's think about how we get there.

Pauline: Valerie's an eighth grade math teacher, and she wants to get some feedback to improve how students communicate when problem solving.

Valerie: My biggest goal for the year is trying to get that collaborative work, that collaborative problem solving--

We start off by identifying what student engagement looks like, both from the student side and from the teacher side.

Mark: Hopefully, we hear kids asking each other questions.

Teacher: That asking for help, without having negative feelings towards themselves or that they think their peers are looking at them differently, because they didn't know.

Pauline: After the discussion, the host teacher speaks to the group about what the lesson is going to be about.

Valerie: So I've given you handouts that the kids will get.

I talked about the goals of the lesson, what I wanted teachers to look for and observe.

Focus in on how they interact with the task, how engaged they are. Hopefully they'll be able to justify why the correct ways are correct.

Amy: By setting the stage, it kind of gets us thinking. Teacher lab is not just for the host. It is really for every teacher that attends.

Valerie: Estimates for the population of Brazil.

Pauline: We go to the host teacher's room. They teach the lesson, and as observers, we will be making notes.

Valerie: Today, we're going to look at population change. I want to start off with a video.

We talked about population growth. It's intriguing to students and something that has some real implications.

How could governments estimate year to year population changes, without making a complete census?

It led into the math very nicely.

Student: One nine eight point seven eight.

Amy: I was looking for key words like, "Let me show you," or "How can I help you?" or "Can you explain this better?"

Student: What do you add? What do you add? Oh, you rounded out to two point oh seven.

Student: Yeah.

Valerie: After the teachers observe the lesson, we come back and Pauline facilitates in the post discussion, asking the host teacher to just quietly listen.

Pauline: The process is, we all go around and share with Valerie what we noticed.

It's very celebratory. The first thing that teachers report back on are the wonderful, amazing things that they saw.

Teacher: I noticed a lot of math vocabulary when I heard them speaking.

Amy: There were mistakes, but they talked about them, and I don't think they ever said, "You were wrong."

Pauline: So let's move on to questions.

Then they ask wonderings.

Mark: I wondered, how do we get kids to that level to say, "Oh, Eli, we haven't heard from you in a little bit. What are you thinking?"

Amy: The red light strategy, I was just curious what that was.

Pauline: The host teacher makes notes on all the questions that everybody had, and then they can respond.

Valerie: We have a lot of great questions. The red light strategy is a strategy I got from a training over the summer.

Pauline: Everybody walks away with some new knowledge, some new gained perspective.

He made a student engagement teacher lab page. Just identify a strategy or an action that you want to take back to your classroom and employ.

Valerie: My big takeaway was that students need support learning how to justify their answers, explain their solutions.

Student: It doesn't show you how it works.

Valerie: And they need some examples for that.

Read the solution. Think about if you have any questions before you get started.

Pauline: We're really asking teachers to step outside of their comfort zone. We are creatures that live behind closed doors.

Valerie: Record those estimates.

Pauline: Normally, nobody ever comes in and sees it.

Student: What did you get for the change of birth?

Pauline: To experience being in somebody else's classroom, it's really powerful.

What I love about teacher labs is, we've all got something from it.

I think that speaks volumes to the work that you do in your classrooms, so thank you so much.

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DRescigno's picture
President, Insight ADVANCE, EdTech enthusiast, Husband, Father, Musician, Sports fan, Youth sports coach, Community Volunteer

Really enjoyed this. Can't help but imagine how mixing in video observation could make this work even better. I'm sure scheduling observations and finding time to provide meaningful feedback can be a challenge. Video can help. Additionally, it would be great to build a resource library of exemplary work.

NoemiAtSwivl's picture
Community Manager at Swivl, maker of Recap

Agreed. Time is a major constraint for PD. Video observations are a great way for teachers to take control of their own development. They can capture lessons to reflect on their own practice and share their videos to receive feedback remotely without being limited by work hours.

Ipshita Sengupta's picture

Great post. There are a lot many ways of learning from each other and gain more insightful teaching techniques. Use of technology for the same can also done to enhance collaborative learning process. Social media platforms, blogs. etc too can be used as tools to collaborative learning. Videos will help a lot as they can used for classroom teaching and can also be shared as sample lessons with other teachers.

Claudia C's picture

Great video! The idea of Teachers Lab not only benefits teachers; but, also, the students. Students are able to see many teachers and administrators collaborating together professionally. I like how the meeting after the lab is a "celebratory" meeting in which the positives are mentioned first. We need to try to uplift teachers and aspiring teachers.

My question is whether new teachers should take it into their own responsibility to find a mentor in addition to these professional development workshops or will these workshops suffice?

Rob Begin's picture

I loved the video. This is such an essential concept to improving teaching. My school often talks about going into each others classrooms to learn and collaborate with each other but time often gets in the way. Videos would give those teachers the opportunity to learn from each other on their own schedule. Thanks for sharing!

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