Project Go! Lab Classrooms offer job-embedded professional development

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"We are changing the way we provide professional development for teachers by making sure the work is being done in real classrooms, with real students, and in real time."

One of the problems facing educators today is the lack of time for personal and professional development. With overcrowded classrooms and heavy course loads it has become very difficult for many teachers to hone their craft or improve their teaching skills.  This is a problem the teachers surrounding Project Go! at Rowe Middle School in Portland, Oregon are trying to address. Their strategy? Take a proactive approach to change, by improving and sharing their teaching craft through lab classrooms. Project Go! involves an ongoing series of lab classes, opening classroom doors to coaching in the midst of teaching.  With classes often at capacity and teachers being forced to take their own, limited, time for professional development this project takes bold steps toward teacher development.

How does it work?

The first step Project Go! has taken to ensure teachers and educators have the time for professional development is to write half day substitutes into the budget.  That way a teacher isn’t required to come in on an evening or weekend and they can rest assured that some one is teaching their students. With this half day, the teachers are given the opportunity to participate in teaching labs.  Teachers participate in a preliminary meeting, lab site learning and debrief. With teachers being given opportunities to participate in these half-day labs, Project Go! supports their goal that “every educator engages in effective professional learning everyday so every student achieves.” Instructional practices, behavior management techniques, and pacing are all things to be discussed and deconstructed for the benefit of the educator. When paired with ongoing assessments, the teachers quickly find themselves with more education resources at their fingertips.

Teachers need learning structures that empower them professionally and enable them to collaborate with colleagues. (2010, ASCD)

So what do these labs look like? 

Each lab takes a half day: an hour for a pre-briefing/discussion of what will be seen, the actual teaching, and the debrief to name and discuss what was seen, analyze the teacher choices and the student engagement.  This model integrates the professional learning along with the learning of their students who will be gleaning the direct benefits of their teacher’s professional development.  Not only that, the students will get to observe the review process where the teachers discuss with each other on their progress as teachers, and at the same time giving the students a better understanding of the tools and methods that will be utilized in the future.

How is this program unique from other professional development or peer review proposals?

Project Go! supports the newest teachers in the profession, setting the environment of a school in which doors are open, risks are taken, feedback is honest and immediate change is an ongoing reality. Mid-career teachers, who have often gotten used to being the only adult in the room, will find it energizing, intellectually stimulating and welcoming to either share their practice or participate by watching and dialoguing about a colleagues craft. Veteran teachers are equally invited into an invigorating opportunity for growth; many veteran teachers have so much to teach our newer teachers but have no means in which to do so. By facilitating the purposeful opening of the teaching practice Project Go! provides a time and place for teachers to participate without hamstringing them by adding extra workload.

What has been learned in the three years this project has been operating?

According to their report, the program has had a significant affect on teacher learning and therefore on student learning.

“We are changing the way we provide professional development for teachers by making sure the work is being done in real classrooms, with real students, and in real time.  This models the metacognitive processes that teachers go through as they plan, teach, and reflect.  A pleasant and meaningful surprise that has manifested itself throughout the past three years has been our students observing and learning from our metacognition. Students share how much they learn from listening to the teachers dialogue with one another. They give us insight into what is helpful/not helpful in the process of teaching new information.”

That being said, they have not been without their challenges.  Scheduling labs around different teachers classroom schedules has proven more difficult than anticipated.  The educators also have some worry over the sustainability of the project, due to the sub coverage. This lead them to reach out to Portland State University and form a partnership with the goal of identifying new strategies for sustaining this model. Though new strategies will take time to implement, teachers are encouraged by the practice of learning from colleagues in action.

All in all the teachers of Rowe Middle School have taken a very proactive approach to improving their craft and educational standards.  Through collaboration and evaluation, these teachers have seen improvements in both their educator peers and students.  With budgets growing ever tighter, this may be a difficult model for other schools to follow, but the rewards are clear.  Any school wanting to create an environment of professional cross-pollination, where teachers are working with teachers and students gain the benefit should look into building a Project Go! of their own.

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    […] Project Go! Lab Classrooms offer job-embedded professional development […]

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