Lab Classrooms: Going Beyond Drive-By Professional Development

Just like scientists, educators need to rely on hypotheses, experiments and data results to make informed instructional decisions. All too often this work is conducted far from the every day teacher’s classroom.

Sustainable professional development must go beyond the fantastic workshops that excite teachers yet when they return to their classrooms, the learning seems to invariably end up staying on the shelf. Sustainable professional development needs to focus on building leadership capacity at the site level and provide a structure that enables teachers to reflect on and share their new knowledge. To be most effective, professional development must be job-embedded—specific to teacher needs—and presented in supportive, nonthreatening ways. Teachers need learning structures that are empowering and allow them to collaborate with colleagues.

A lab classroom model where teachers can see how things work in an authentic setting will support teachers to put new learning into action.  So how does a lab classroom work? A host teacher works with a facilitator to implement an agreed upon instructional model or new framework, for instance, the new Common Core State Standards. Formative assessment and classroom practices are closely monitored and documented. Data is shared with school site teams and guest teachers are invited to observe the class to see practice in action over time.

In a lab classroom model, an experienced facilitator supports teachers and students through collaborative teaching, lesson modeling, assessment administration, and intervention services. Principals also get support to be instructional leaders, observing teachers, conducting walk-throughs, conferencing with students, and working with groups of teachers during collaborative planning sessions.

The practices developed and honed in the lab classroom are then adapted in other classrooms on site developing the sites capacity to implement new learning sustainably. Schools can team up with other lab classrooms in the district to compare data and problem-solve response to intervention practices.

It’s time for research to live in the classroom and not in books and workshops. When teachers see first hand how a strategy works in their class, with their kids, they are much more likely to internalize instructional changes. Teachers pine for authentic learning just like their students do. Lab classrooms can go a long way to ensuring more authentic learning for teachers and their students.

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