Inspired by Teacher Learners
Picture this. A new teacher, Eric, drops in on an experienced teacher, Jeanette, at the beginning of his planning period. Eric explains that he’s having a challenge with a particular learning objective and a particular group of students and asks for a few minutes of Jeanette’s time and advice. Jeanette is a phenomenal mentor teacher, and – to his amazement – she shares the clearest, most succinct and powerful explanation he’s ever heard. She covers the most important elements of designing instruction particularly for his students’ needs, what things to watch for, a few if-then scenarios, and follows it up with handouts that she’s used and that he can customize for his students. In three minutes he has what he needs to spend the rest of his planning period applying that advice to planning great instruction for his classroom and his students. He’s just experienced a lessoncast.
This scenario actually happens every day across tens of thousands of classrooms. The problem is that every Eric doesn’t have a Jeanette readily available when he could really use some advice. A lessoncast digitizes and scales Jeanette’s expertise. And the Lessoncast process guides a new way of thinking about teacher preparation and professional learning.
Tools For Highly Effective Learning Communities
Jeanette has accumulated a great deal of wisdom in her decade-plus in the classroom. She almost instinctively knows how to adjust her instructional approach to meet students’ varying needs. But it wasn’t until she began to write down this wisdom and condense her thoughts into three-minute lessoncast chunks that she began to ask herself tough questions like: What parts of this instructional idea are most essential? What’s really working to improve student learning? How can we personalize learning and meet students’ individual needs? Using this intentional process to design professional learning resources has made her a better coach. She’s also taken a hard look at her own practices to revise areas where she wasn’t taking her own advice, making her an even better classroom practitioner.
The Department Chair
Frustrated by how often professional development is disconnected from the everyday challenges that teachers face, Jeanette has created archives of lessoncast mini-presentations that address the most common learning needs of her departmental team. Each lessoncast shares instructional insights in a manner that can be quickly absorbed and immediately put into practice. By encouraging newer teachers in her department to view the lessoncasts and more experienced teachers to adapt or create their own, Jeanette has begun differentiating professional development for teachers across the teacher-learning spectrum. Her department meetings have transformed into collaboration sessions where teachers create shared expectations for what good instruction looks like and devise ways to measure effectiveness. The rest of the school has taken notice as their department has shown increasing success at adopting new practices in the face of changing standards.
The Teacher Preparation Instructor
Like many great educator coaches, Jeanette works evenings as an adjunct professor in the local teachers’ college. As a course instructor, she discovered the true potential for using Lessoncast to improve teacher preparation. In her graduate and undergraduate courses, Jeanette guides teachers through assignments where they create and share lessoncasts to demonstrate how they plan to implement new instructional practices in their classroom. She uses the resulting lessoncasts to engage the entire cohort in critical discussions of what fundamental elements must be present for learning. They review practical implementation steps and consider how to prepare for common misconceptions or classroom challenges. Jeannette is able to gauge how well each teacher is prepared to implement the ideas. She can give much more actionable feedback before the techniques are tried with real students. At the end of the course, each participant leaves with a library of lessoncast resources, which helps them put what they’ve learned into practice in their current and future classrooms.
The Professional Learning Community Leader
Jeanette is constantly exploring ways to connect professional learning experiences with the realities in current classrooms. She periodically communicates with former course participants to gauge how they were able to put new ideas into practice and hear what challenges they faced. This feedback helps Jeanette adjust her future course activities, and when a new course participant creates a lessoncast that addresses an existing teacher’s need, she is able to forward that resource to other educators. As new technologies and practices emerge, each cohort’s lessoncasts contribute to the community library. With help from Lessoncast, Jeanette has created a professional learning environment that supports and interconnects several highly effective professional learning communities – allowing one great practitioner to improve the learning experiences of dozens of educators and potentially thousands of students.
The LessonCast Story
In January of 2010 Nicole Tucker Smith designed the LessonCast process to support an innovative professional development practice she invented while serving as an assistant principal in a zero-based school.
She and her engineer/marketer husband Khalid Smith built the first version of a service where teachers could create and collaborate using this new digital communication tool, a lessoncast. What sets LessonCast apart from other lesson plan or teacher sharing sites is that lessoncasts are designed to be easily absorbed, evaluated for quality, reapplied, and modified.
Lessoncasts are modeled after the compact teacher-to-teacher conversations long employed by highly effective educators. The process was designed not just to help teachers get through a particular lesson, but to improve instruction and multiply the effects of great teaching.
Our Core Principles for Leading & Learning
Effective Communities Learn in Public
Lessoncast tools accelerate the development of trusting cultures of collaboration.
- Co-developing shared expectations for effective practices builds trust.
- Creating concrete actionable resources as part of the professional learning process facilitates sharing of new ideas.
- Lessoncasts provide a low-risk starting point for peer interactions, including coaching, collaboration, and observation.
Make the Implicit Explicit
The rigorous process of uncovering insights behind quality instruction helps educators see beyond what’s discernable by simply watching model lessons. Lessoncast creation promises new methodologies for acquiring and demonstrating deep understanding.
Creation as Professional Learning
The lessoncast creation process is itself a professional learning experience. As teachers explore and explain how they plan to put new ideas into practice, their learning process produces resources for other educators.
Constraints Create Clarity
Constraints built into the creation process ensure each lessoncast is a concise examination of the essentials for increasing student learning.
- The storytelling framework structures clear communication.
- If more than 3 minutes are needed, either the topic is too broad or the explanation is unclear.
- Fewer design options ensure that visuals enhance communication not decoration.
- Limiting the target audience to teachers (not students) elevates communication to focus on insights, the “why” behind effective instruction.
Learning Produces Artifacts with Real-World Significance
Lessoncasts are living learning artifacts – sharable as part of an educator’s portfolio, connected to visible improvement in classroom practice, and evidence of a community’s professional learning journey.