School-wide Lesson Study

In school-wide Lesson Study, teams at a school focus on a long-term vision for student learning, using Lesson Study to test and refine ideas to bring that vision to life.

An elementary-age male student points while his female teacher stands beside him and observes

I think teacher buy-in is one of the fundamentals…really tapping into teachers that are ready to take that first step. It’s such a public process that teachers really have to buy into it for it to be successful…Identify those leaders in your building that would be able to take on this process and spread it within grade levels, and then grow it into [a] school-wide focus.
—Mariel Laureano, Principal, Chicago Public Schools

What’s the Best Way to Build School-wide Lesson Study?

Lesson Study does not usually start out school-wide. Instead, it usually grows from the work of one or more teams that find Lesson Study valuable and spread it school-wide.

Find out how to:

  1. Lay the groundwork for school-wide spread of Lesson Study;
  2. Connect Lesson Study to pressing needs at your site; and
  3. Make time for school-wide Lesson Study

As you go from thinking about school-wide Lesson Study to actually starting it, you will want to consider who will manage the work. Typically a leadership team or Steering Committee is needed, to plan the overall strategy, handle logistics such as scheduling, and document the work in ways that allow knowledge to flow across the school. The tab “Managing” provides further information.

Laying the Groundwork for Spread of Lesson Study

Since Lesson Study requires teacher leadership, it is hard for the site administrator to initiate school-wide Lesson Study from the top. Instead, site administrators often start by encouraging one or two teams of volunteers to conduct a Lesson Study cycle. By attending carefully to the work of one or two teams, a site administrator can learn about the conditions needed to make Lesson Study successful. Once teams can speak authentically about the value of Lesson Study, the site leader can create natural opportunities for teams to share their experiences and bring in more colleagues.

Mariel Laureano is principal of a Chicago public school, whose annual Lesson Study conference with public research lessons attracts teachers from around the world. She describes the development of School-wide Lesson Study at the school:

We started the Lesson Study approach about eight years ago–our second year as a school community—with just one grade level. Our eighth-grade team engaged in the process. As other teachers saw the impact that it had on their colleagues’ growth, and on our scholars, they wanted in on the process. The same is true for how we expanded it to different content areas. Three years ago, two teachers noticed the impact that it had in math, and the planning that their colleagues were engaged in, and they wanted to engage in the process for a humanities lesson. And once other teams saw that, they said, ‘Wait, this worked for humanities just the same? What would it look like in a writing classroom? What would it look like in a science classroom?’ So teacher voice and what teachers want to see in the development of their practice have had a lot to do with Lesson Study growing school-wide and across content areas.

How Lesson Study Spreads School-wide

Every school that has built up to School-wide Lesson Study has done so in a slightly different way—but in every case, there has been both teacher leadership and a supportive, strategic administrator.

At one California elementary school, the entire faculty except for three teachers voted to join Lesson Study teams after one Lesson Study team at the school presented its learning. The principal spoke privately with the non-participating teachers—a beginning teacher and two 25-year veterans—and asked them to use that time for alternative professional learning and not to undermine the Lesson Study work. The principal also made sure that they were invited to observe research lessons.

The principal of a K-8 school in Chicago noticed that students of teachers engaged in Lesson Study teams were showing greater growth in academic learning. She advocated for school-wide practice of Lesson Study, and showed her seriousness by teaching a research lesson to kindergartners in front of the entire faculty. A teacher at the school who had been shy about stepping up to teach a research lesson was impressed by the principal’s commitment: “Who am I to say I can’t teach a research lesson, if the principal is taking her time to teach a research lesson?”

Connecting Lesson Study to Pressing Needs at Your Site

Most educators already have too much on their plates. Lesson Study should not feel like one more thing. Rather, Lesson Study it should feel like a useful tool to address some of those already-pressing demands.

Teachers in one California school used School-wide Lesson Study to address two urgent issues: a district mandate to reduce the achievement gap and a new writing program that included many teaching strategies unfamiliar to the faculty. As part of their School-wide Lesson Study teachers

  1. Reviewed student work to identify the writing challenges common to their lowest-achieving students
  2. Examined teaching strategies included in their new writing program and asked district literacy specialists to model these approaches in demonstrations
  3. Worked in Lesson Study teams to plan and teach research lessons using the new teaching strategies, with a particular focus on addressing the writing challenges of the lowest-achieving students.
  4. Watched each other’s research lessons and built shared knowledge about effective use of the new teaching strategies

Using School-wide Lesson Study, the school was able to get rapid traction on both pressing problems.

A Chicago principal was asked by a Lesson Study team if team members could use Lesson Study as their formal observation, and they requested that the principal sit in on their planning team and research lesson. Teachers and principal both found the process much more valuable than a “checklist, compliance-driven” evaluation. The new approach to evaluation quickly took hold at the school: “you’re doing this process anyway as part of who we are as a learning community. Why make the evaluation something separate and different?” The principal and assistant principal also found it more time-effective, since a planning team might include 4-5 teachers, who would not need separate pre-observation consultations. You can learn more about work at this school in this report by the Chicago Public Education Fund.

Is there a way you can use Lesson Study to take something off your overcrowded plate?

Making Time for School-wide Lesson Study

I think teacher buy-in is one of the fundamentals…really tapping into teachers that are ready to take that first step. It’s such a public process that teachers really have to buy into it for it to be successful…Identify those leaders in your building that would be able to take on this process and spread it within grade levels, and then grow it into [a] school-wide focus.
—Mariel Laureano, Principal, Chicago Public Schools

Schools make time for Lesson Study in different ways but consistently we hear that the successful implementation of the work happens when Lesson Study becomes the focused form of professional development at the school.

Three Types of Meetings in School-wide Lesson Study

This section outlines the three types of meetings needed for School-wide Lesson Study, the time commitment and purpose of each, and some scheduling strategies schools use. The sample schedule in a resource tile below provides an example and template for when to schedule these meetings in relation to one another.

Whole Faculty Meetings

Time: 2-4 meetings per year (or more) of 1-2 hours

Purpose: All educators in the school (or department) meet together to develop the research theme at the start of the work (1 meeting). Additional school-wide meetings may be needed for professional learning you want to experience as a whole faculty–for example, perhaps you want to study a website together or ask a specialist to help you unpack standards or to model a new teaching approach, as a shared foundation for the work the Lesson Study teams will do. Additional meetings (1-2) may be needed to share learnings or take stock of your School-wide work.

Lesson Study Team Meetings

Time: Teams usually conduct 2 Lesson Study cycles per year, each consisting of 10-20 hours (weekly or bi-weekly meetings of 1-2 hours are ideal).

Purpose: During these meetings, team members study and plan for the research lesson (See first two phases of “Conduct a Cycle”) and after the research lesson, they need time to reflect on the key learnings (see Reflect Step 2 of “Conduct a Cycle”).

Scheduling Strategies: Some sites schedule these meetings during grade-level planning time (if using grade-level teams) or prep periods. Some sites schedule specialty subjects (computer lab, music, physical education, etc.) or draw on other school personnel (academic coaches, administrators, student teachers) to free up members of a Lesson Study team at the same time. After-school meetings (sometimes with stipends) are another option chosen by some schools.

School-wide Research Lessons

Time: (2 lessons per team per year; about 2-3 hours per lesson, including pre-lesson and post-lesson discussion). Observing educators need substitute coverage if the lesson is taught during school hours.

Purpose: One team hosts a research lesson, taught in the classroom of a team member. Other colleagues (ideally, the whole faculty of the school or department) observe. The purpose of the research lesson is to bring to life the school’s research theme and theory of action, in a real classroom. During the pre-lesson discussion (about 30 minutes) the team shares what they learned about the specific content, explains the rationale for the lesson and the data to be collected and asks non-team members to read the lesson plan. The post-lesson discussion allows observers to share data from the lesson, discuss implications for the school’s theory of action, and (often) to hear an outside commentator.

Scheduling Strategies: Teachers observing the research lesson need coverage of their classes. Some schools arrange a special school project (e.g., school mural, garden, drama) that is managed largely by outside specialists and volunteers, and provides a valuable educational experience for students. Some schools ask the class participating in the research lesson to remain after school (often on an early-release day) or to attend school for part of a professional learning day. Some schools have only half of the faculty attend each research lesson. As the account from Paterson School #2 highlights, some schools are able to designate a second educator to be familiar with each class.

As School-wide Lesson Study builds over several years within a school and educators begin to see its value, scheduling often becomes easier. So the crucial work of the initial years of School-wide Lesson Study is to build a process that teachers find valuable and to find a schedule that works for now, as teachers are starting to learn about school-wide Lesson Study.

Scheduling Lesson Study at School #2, Paterson, New Jersey
Sample PD Schedule/Template