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A new approach to professional learning

Gates Chili CSD is utilizing a new tool to aid teachers in their professional development, and teachers don’t have to go far to benefit from it. 


“Although before- and after-school in-services play an important role in developing the capacity of our teachers, it doesn’t work for everybody,” said Florence Brasser Assistant Principal Meghan Bello. “We began to look at the different ways that we could tap into the desire to build instructional capacity but do so during the workday. That’s when the idea of Learning Labs came to be.”


Learning Labs are a new form of professional learning available to teachers in the district. This job-embedded professional development for teachers, by teachers, fosters collaborative communities. It gives educators the opportunity to continue to learn from one another and develop shared practices.


The process is setup in four stages: a pre-visit meeting between a host and guest teacher; a classroom visit where guest teachers can see a class in action; a post-visit meeting, which can provide time for reflection and discussion; and finally, outcomes or closure, where the guest teacher can take what they have learned back to their own classroom.


After piloting the program last school year, staff took part in Learning Labs at various grade levels throughout the district’s elementary, middle and high schools on Oct. 16 and 23. Although these first two experiences gave many staff opportunity for growth, Learning Labs aren’t meant to be a one-and-done experience.


“Learning Labs are meant to build relationships between the colleagues and the teachers that are going to be a part of it,” said Chris Amesbury, innovation coach. “It’ll be an ongoing way for teachers to collaborate and improve the student learning that’s happening in the classroom.”


Tara Roberts, a second-grade teacher at Paul Road, visited Jen Christensen’s fourth-grade classroom at Florence Brasser on Oct. 23. During the visit, Roberts watched Christensen facilitate an inquiry-based learning activity. Students worked on a lesson about the Haudenosaunee people, then shared claims about what they noticed with their peers through a discussion thread on Schoology. Roberts said the lesson inspired her to try something new.


“I was able to experience students using technology in meaningful ways for learning and collaboration,” said Roberts. “I feel motivated to try some new strategies in my own classroom.”


So far, seven host teachers and 10 guest teachers have taken part in Learning Labs. Learning Labs will continue this spring, with new host and guest teachers. The district hopes to offer this professional development framework to include other initiatives beyond instructional technology.


teacher working with students