Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Student Centered Learning Labs

Model teacher Miranda Adams prepares to demonstrate
an instructional strategy for peer teachers.
The week before spring break we reached a significant milestone with our teacher leadership system. Our vision and goals for teacher leadership in our school district took a giant leap forward. I have written often about how our core purpose in Hudson is to Create Effective Learning Environments That Result in Success For All Students, and how we believe leveraging the power of teacher leadership will help us realize this purpose and vision. There must be no mistake that a big part of creating effective learning environments requires teachers to differentiate instruction and instructional strategies for a broad range of learners in their classrooms. Without a multi-faceted approach, we can't very well help every student be successful. Our teacher leaders are tasked with providing teachers a vast array of strategies, creating mechanisms for delivery, and providing a network of support to ensure they are implemented with fidelity. This is accomplished through the districts professional development plan.

Classroom teachers observe as an instructional strategy is
employed during a student centered learning lab.
The Iowa Professional Development Model provides a framework with which to carry out the work of improving practice in Iowa classrooms. I would argue that prior to the development of teacher leadership systems in 2014, and in spite of herculean efforts of many education stakeholders and leaders, the realization of the Iowa Professional Development Model in many Iowa schools has fallen short. This is simply because the support didn't exist to implement quality professional development the way we know it must be in order to ensure it becomes a part of routine practice in our classrooms.

To do so, professional development needs to be embedded within the context of regular instruction, with real students. An opportunity for practitioners to observe the strategy must exist, and feedback and coaching are a critical component of the process to ensure the strategy is improved the next time it is utilized. 

That is where student centered coaching labs have provided that vehicle for us at Hudson. The idea behind these labs come directly from our teacher leaders and the work they have done with educational consultant Diane Sweeney. The utilization of these coaching labs are designed and employed in a way that makes the Iowa Professional Development Model relevant. I had an opportunity to observe and participate in one of these experiences last week and was very impressed with what I saw.

Teachers debrief with instructional coach and model teacher
following the demonstration of a teaching strategy.
Essentially a group of practitioners were invited into a model teachers classroom to observe the delivery of an instructional strategy that has proven effective in our setting. We know this strategy works because formative assessment data has been collected that illustrates success. In this case, the strategy was number talks and is used to help students think about mental math in a different way. Prior to the observation, the model teacher and instructional coach met with the practitioners to explain exactly what they would be seeing in the classroom and why the strategy works. They were asked to look for specific things that would be occurring within the context of that instruction and to reflect on what they saw. Following the observation, the instructional coach and model teacher met with the practitioners to debrief what they observed during instruction. The final component of the debrief discusses next steps for instruction and how that practitioner will take what was learned from the coaching lab and implement it into their own practice with the assistance of the instructional coach and model teacher. 

Hudson school began their teacher leadership system during the 2014-2015 school year as one of the first 39 districts in Iowa selected in a competitive grant process. While it is expected to take between 3 and 5 years to fully implement, Hudson is already seeing positive results in student achievement. 

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