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Learning Labs: Promoting teacher collaboration

Jessica Studley, grade 4 classroom teacher, Brown International Elementary, USA

This article examines the impact of Learning Labs on teacher collaboration, growth and leadership as well as student benefits. Learning Labs offer teachers an opportunity to host a small group of peers in their class, then reflect on the approaches to teaching and approaches to learning that were observed together.

An observation:

Early childhood educators are often more comfortable in front of a classroom of students vs. a small group of their peers. By breaking through this fear of judgment and criticism, the door opens to showcasing effective teaching practices, new avenues for collaboration and, ultimately, a more unified school alliance.

After hosting and participating in Learning Labs, it is clear this platform is valuable for observing, reflecting upon and celebrating the myriad of ways fellow educators can collaborate and make the PYP happen.

The Learning Lab protocol:

  • an educator hosts a small group of peers in their classroom with a guided focus;
  • the host and peers reflect on that focus together;
  • the host then receives a detailed post-script of how their ‘teacher moves’ impacted student learning.

Learning Labs offer participants:

  • a window into the classroom culture of their peers;
  • a snapshot of how their peers implement and supplement PYP curriculum;
  • an opportunity to offer solicited, non-evaluative feedback on high-impact instructional moves observed;
  • time to reflect on their own teaching practice.

The first step to host a lab is getting over yourself, your fears and your own self-judgment. Once that step is complete, the world of self-discovery and growth is your oyster. Next steps include:

Meeting with your campus’ facilitator or teacher effectiveness coach:

  • the first meeting addresses the host’s lesson foci for students and lab participants;
  • the facilitator ensures lesson content relates to the school’s Professional Development Unit (PDU) or host’s desired focus.

Pre-lesson meeting:

  • participants are given literature related to the school’s PDU or host’s desired focus;
  • lab participants peruse the material, highlight and make notes to discuss as a whole group;
  • after a whole group discussion, participants have a clear expectation of what they will observe and take away from the lesson;
  • before delving into the lab, participants note their own focus and guiding question (e.g. ‘how does the host arrange their classroom to ensure thinking skills are addressed in this lesson?’)

Learning Lab lesson:

  • participants visit the host’s classroom with an understanding that time and space are sacred – there is limited to no interaction with students. This is a time to observe the host and their class authentically and unobstructed.
  • participants note the approaches to learning, classroom structures, and systems that facilitate learning;
  • participants scribe what the host and students say and how students interact with each other and the classroom.


  • after the lesson, participants return with the facilitator to debrief on their observations;
  • participants take turns adding their observations of ‘teacher moves,’ ‘student thinking,’ and ‘impact on student learning’ to a co-created chart (pictured below);
  • the host then joins participants to answer lingering questions and celebrate successes;
  • participants communicate their own goal for implementing elements of what was observed and schedule a time for the facilitator to observe this in their classroom.

One of the more positive and productive next-steps in education, Learning Labs offer educators a chance to get into one another’s classrooms, receive non-evaluative feedback from peers, and celebrate successes they may only experience themselves.

Jessica Studley has been a PYP practitioner for 11 years. She taught Kindergarten for 11 years and is moving into the 4th grade next year. She presented at the IB Conference of the Americas in 2016 in Toronto, the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference in Denver, CO in 2016 and the IB ARMS Symposium in Aurora, CO in 2015. She has both hosted and participated in Learning Labs in her school for four years.