Think about a time when you learned something new. What made that new learning memorable? Did the facilitator provide a demonstration? Was there an opportunity for guided practice? Perhaps, learning was sticky because you were able to make sense of the new content with a partner or even a small group.
Research says that if we want to know, want to grow, our intimate involvement with content is paramount. To summarize that research with a bold truth, ‘sit-and-get’ professional development opportunities stop the minute participants step away from the table; the slides; the handouts.
In “Growing Extraordinary Writers: Leadership Decisions to Raise the Level of Writing Across a School and a District”, Lucy Calkins and Mary Ehrenworth state, “Good professional development creates lasting communities of practice.” They also emphasize that professional development should be:
- the heartbeat of your school
- intensive, collaborative, collegial, and practical
- focused on strengthening teachers methods and spirit
- varied, informed, flexible, and responsive
Lab site experiences attend to the key points highlighted in Calkins and Ehrenworth’s article. In my opinion, day two is a sweet spot for coaching colleagues and strengthening a community of practice. The second day of classroom lab sites follows the orchestration of day one. Only this time members of the lab site cohort are responsible for instruction. Colleagues collaborate together to jigsaw the day’s mini-lesson or even teach in tandem. The cohort examines student data to support their lesson planning. They rehearse and gather feedback with each other before stepping inside the classroom. This small, intimate group of colleagues grow professional capital through shared social investment.
In what ways does the instructional coach support? The coach gives lab site participants feedback in the moment. The coach can whisper or lean in to give strengths-based feedback by examining a selected area of focus. This focus could be the use of lean language or engagement. A selected area of focus from each participant strengthens method and spirits. Most important, this focus allows the instructional coach to collect evidence of student learning.
Lab sites lift the learning for both colleagues and students. Instead of ‘sit and get’ professional workshops, lab site experiences make learning memorable. This type of job-embedded professional development creates a lasting community of practice.
Lab sites fill my professional cup. And speaking of cups. It’s time for my second cup of tea and allow new ideas to steep. Grab your cup and leave a comment below.