Lesson Study as a research concept is a new idea to me - however, the elements of what comprises it are not. I am an advocate of peer observations and feedback as an invaluable tool in improving teaching and learning. However, in the 12 years I have been teaching, I have found that the majority of teachers do not want to engage in this kind of professional learning.
I think there are a number of reasons for this but the main one being trust. I have found, in international schools, where your position is never tenured and you are always a guest in a country meaning your status often feels unstable, there is an underlying feeling of mistrust around observations. Rarely are they seen as tools for improvement but instead are viewed as ways to ‘catch you out’ and make you lose your job. It often doesn’t matter if you are an excellent teacher either, meaning even effective and experienced educators are not immune. It was with a refreshing air then that I read the article by Gebert and Ginsberg (2012) who, as leaders, wanted to use Lesson Study as a way to address improving teaching and learning with a focus on “creating for teachers, the same learning conditions they seek to create for students?” (p. 1), and who were willing to “take a risk in front of [their] staff and demonstrate that [they were] not asking [teachers] to do anything that [they] wouldn’t do” (p. 8). In hindsight, the researchers acknowledged that “this kind of leadership earns respect and builds trust” (p. 8) which is what is essential for innovations such as Lesson Study to work.
I find collaborative planning and peer observation a valuable method of ensuring our instruction is effective, and have worked in schools where the professional learning focus was on just this. However, again, what interested me about the Lesson Study method was very much focused on how teachers learn (Lewis, Perry, & Murata, 2006) but this was taken further by Gebert and Ginsberg (2012) who actually modelled the behaviour they desired. Too often, administrators spout theories at us, ask us to conduct action research, change our method etc., but never model. They seem to forget that they were teachers too, and they know how to teach (we hope). My problem has always been with leaders reading about a method and asking for it to be implemented without actually understanding it from a first-hand perspective. This attributes to the “faddism” mentioned by Lewis et al, Perry (2006) - administration never ‘walk the talk’ - whilst what I admired about Gebert & Ginsberg (2012) was that they did.
Another positive that I found was the element of choice. Providing a choice and voice to students is something we all know helps to personalise the learning and create the best outcome. When students can buy-in to their learning and take responsibility for it, they are more motivated and engaged. Yet again, admin seem to forget this and force upon us initiatives that are not required or needed for our learners in our classrooms - but are in fact, the latest fad. I believe Gebert and Ginsberg had almost a fifty percent take-up on the full Lesson Study because they did not force it on their staff, because they modelled it AND because they gave the resources for it to take place. And this is an unavoidable downside to this type of action research - the time it takes. In our already hectic and busy lives, being able to take time out to plan, observe and debrief is nigh-on impossible in many schools. Without backing, support and resources, it cannot happen at all.
Lesson Study seems an excellent way to “grow thinking” (The DSC Way, 2010) but there has to be a top-down approach that models the positive benefits, that provides options and choice for staff, and that allows time and resources for it to be conducted effectively.
Lewis, C., Perry, R., & Murata, A. (2006). How should research contribute to instructional improvement. Educational Researcher, Vol 35, No 3, 3-14.
The DSC Way. (2010, June 28). Lesson Study Overview: Introduction, from Lesson Study Support Kit. [video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHHryuuohpM.
Gebert, John and Ginsberg, Margery. (2012). Lesson study as a form of action research for instructional leaders. Washington State Kappan. 6.1. Retrieved fromhttp://journals.lib.washington.edu/index.php/wsk/article/view/14188