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 that 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 that builds 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 that is structured around repeated cycles of inquiry, which allow 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:
Educators work with students from aligned grade levels and subject areas and meet regularly to collaborate, share successes and, discuss challenges.
Lab Leaders work from within their school system to facilitate the exploration of content modules within Labs.
Teaching Lab directly supports Lab Leaders through direct and virtual coaching.
“Cycles” are 6-8-week, structured inquiry investigations focused on curriculum-aligned content, instructional practice, and evidence-based learning. Labs typically complete four cycles per year.