A familiar face appears in the doorway of my office on Friday afternoon: “We’ve been talking…” this teacher begins and shares how she and her teammates are feeling anxious about our upcoming day of learning. The day has been on our calendars for almost a month, and a week ago, she volunteered to host us during an upcoming writing workshop: “Writing is my jam” she said at the time.
Now, in this moment, she isn’t so sure, isn’t sure that she would model anything worth noticing, that her team will take anything away, that we should even spend the time in her room. “I’m still figuring things out myself,” she says.
“That’s it,” I tell her. “That’s the risk you’re taking. And trust me: we’ll all learn something.”
Recasting her role from host to risk-taker is all it takes to keep us on track for Monday morning. The word “risk” immediately changes her idea of what our work might look like. She is not expected to be the expert; rather, it is her lesson that will serve as a jumping-off point for learning among colleagues who are also still figuring things out.
We call it a learning lab, which has been part of our school’s professional learning framework since before COVID. It is one of the ways that we ensure “Learning” in our PLCs goes beyond analysis of student work to study “teacher work,” or instructional practice. Some might recognize familiar peer observation structures—like prebrief, observation, and debrief—in our agenda that borrows from several sources, including our district’s six-step protocol and Vicki Collet’s 2022 CCIRA session based on her book, Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional Development.
Monday morning finds us ready to learn together, and though our host is still nervous, we recognize it as a natural part of the process. She shares her plan and the context for where she is in the unit of study. She is open about the things she is still figuring out, like how she is using the stripped rubric she designed last year, combined with our new curricular resource, to help students collect criteria for the genre they are studying. Through this prebrief the team uses their unit plans to clarify what students are expected to learn while we are observing.
Based on what she has shared, each of her teammates goes on to name something they are working to figure out themselves and what they look forward to seeing in her lesson:
- I want to see how someone else teaches writing; it is not my “jam,” and I am hoping to be inspired.
- I struggle with timing and want to focus on pacing throughout the workshop.
- I’ve taught just down the hall for years ,and I am excited to see all the wonderful things I’ve heard and imagined.
With these “essentials” named for our own learning, we grab our clipboards and make our way to the classroom.
As we pull up chairs, the class is gathering on the carpet at the front of the room. We lean in, listen, and begin to take notes. Here are a few highlights:
It is hard to leave the room, but having seen what we came for, we leave students in the capable hands of their substitute teacher and head back to our space to debrief.
We code our notes for things we think are important and take turns sharing out while I record noticings in the left column of a table in our PLC notes. We then go back and add the significance of each of the actions and open up a discussion that includes questions for our host and new learnings. Here are a few highlights:
As closure to the process, each teacher names one way that our experience will impact their instruction in the coming days:
- Don’t give up what we enjoy about writing. Take the lesson and do what we know writers need.
- Fake it ‘til we make it. (We can act enthusiastic about writing even if it’s not “our jam”).
- Use the students’ “toolbox” as a reference during conferences.
- Commit to a “hard stop” of skills instruction at 11:15 to ensure plenty of time for workshop minilesson and independent practice.
Each teacher, the host included, walks out of the room at the end of the day having learned something that makes them a better teacher. One teacher writes in her reflection:
“I noticed that I did quite a bit of reflection on my own teaching. What could I use from the modeled lessons to make my lessons more impactful to kids…I used reflection to pump myself back up and just make tweaks to my teaching to engage kids… I actually taught the same lesson today… and felt more comfortable with the lesson and the direction that we are headed.”
From the moment they put this time on their calendar, called in their substitute teachers, and made space for this collective risk-taking, this group of teachers was committed to learning from and for each other.
In addition to observing each other, there are many ways that teachers can team to enhance their writing workshops. Whether regularly or on-demand and in as many configurations as we can imagine collaborations can include:
- determining common expectations, assessments, interventions, and extensions;
- calibrating the scoring of student work with a rubric or creating one; or
- engaging in a lesson study by planning a lesson together, observing it being taught, and making revisions before teaching it or a similar lesson again.
This work—whether time spent sharing firsthand experiences with students or spent preparing for or reflecting upon teaching and learning—reinforces the idea that all students are our students. All writers are our writers.
We are stronger together.
Throughout the week, we’d love to hear your thoughts. We even have a book giveaway for those of you who share comments!
- This giveaway is for a copy Your Students, My Students, Our Students: Rethinking Equitable and Inclusive Classrooms by Lee Ann Jung, Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher, and Julie Kroener. Many thanks to ASCD for donating a copy for one reader.
- For a chance to win this copy of Your Students, My Students, Our Students: Rethinking Equitable and Inclusive Classrooms, please leave a comment on any of our blog series posts Sun., November 6th at Noon EST. Sarah Valter will use a random number generator to pick the winner whose name will be announced in the blog series wrap-up post on Mon., Nov. 7th. You must have a U.S. mailing address to enter the giveaway.
- Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment, so Sarah can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win. From there, our contact at ASCD will ship the book to you.
- If you are the winner of the book, Sarah will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – STRONGER TOGETHER BLOG SERIES. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. Unfortunately, a new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.
3 thoughts on “Teacher Teams: Stronger Together Blog Series”
I really like how this observation was organized with the team thinking about what they wanted to see before going in, and with each teacher having their own goal. Sometimes this is missing and teachers just go in and observe but they’re not focused on anything in particular.
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So true! Sometimes we go in with a set of criteria based on a school-wide focus based on our professional learning. Right now, we are early in the implementation of a new resource so differentiating the target for each teacher means they all benefit from each teacher’s unique lens. Thanks for reading and sharing your thinking.
Agreed an explicitly focused purpose before a peer observation gives participants and increased commitment into deeper reflection and broadened perspective.
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