America’s teaching force needs better support.
The adoption of new college- and career-ready standards, such as the Common Core, combined with the accelerating demands of the 21st Century knowledge economy, mean that all teachers are expected to teach to a significantly higher bar than a generation ago. Yet accountability efforts have placed pressure on teachers without the counterweight of increased support and development. Meanwhile, those most poorly served by the old system—low-income and minority students —are the groups growing most rapidly across the country.
To achieve equity and excellence in the face of these new demands, the U.S. needs a systemic approach to increasing the skills of its over three million teachers. A large body of research has established teacher quality as the key driver of student outcomes, yet America’s infrastructure for teacher improvement is remarkably ineffective: despite spending $18 billion a year on teacher professional development, the vast majority of teachers do not improve their practice over time.
As former teachers, we know that most educators are working hard and want to help all students, and that the issue is one of skill, not will. Teaching Lab’s approach reflects a new model for teacher improvement based on the intersection of curriculum implementation, professional learning, and teacher leadership. We believe that with this new paradigm, teaching will improve as much over the next 30 years as medicine has over the past 30.
Research suggests that effective professional learning incorporates three critical components:
Core academic content is aligned to specific curricular materials and research-based practices. We refer to this as the “head” of professional learning. Without core content, teachers adopt new techniques that may be ineffective or even counterproductive and do not grow their knowledge over time.
Teacher-led community is critical to build both social capital and buy-in from teachers. We call this the “heart” of professional learning. Without teacher-led community, there is low buy-in and often resentment; teachers feel that professional learning is not relevant to their needs and resist adoption of new content or techniques or passively comply.
Professional learning is structured around repeated cycles of inquiry that allows teachers to apply what they learn and evaluate evidence of student learning. We call this the “habits” of professional learning. Without cycles of inquiry, new ideas are not incorporated into regular practice and those that are adopted are not verified using evidence of student learning.
In practice, our work revolves around the creation of “Labs” in school systems:
Labs are small groups of educators working with students in the same or similar grade levels and subject areas that meet regularly to collaborate and share successes and challenges.
Lab Leaders are experienced teachers and instructional coaches from within a school system who facilitate the exploration of content modules within Labs.
Professional learning content modules are PD session plans created by Teaching Lab and vetted by experts; these modules are both content- and curriculum-specific. Teaching Lab directly supports Lab Leaders in implementation of these modules through direct and virtual coaching.
Cycles are six-to-eight-week, structured inquiry investigations, consisting of multiple sessions focused on curriculum-aligned content, practice, and evidence. Led by Lab Leaders who are coached by Teaching Lab. Labs typically complete between two and four cycles per year.