By Yafit Magidash
There’s nothing like a field trip to shake things up. And this goes the same for teachers as it does for students. Getting out of your every-day space to see something new is one of the most important practices educators can adopt to feed their own need for learning and professional growth. So once a month the teaching staff at Studio 70, a Jewish Learning Lab in Berkeley CA visits another school, ECE center, or other educational program and spend the morning learning from them. The cost is a couple hours a month, the benefit is truly immeasurable. After two years of adopting this practice, here’s some of what we’ve learned.
Site visits are meaningful opportunities for professional learning, especially for teachers in the beginning of their careers. In Bendura and Waters social learning theory, they’ve noted that the learning process is influenced by imitation. The first stage involves observing influential models, the second stage is imitating the observed behavior. Someone’s ability to learn while observing and subsequently imitating a model allows her to internalize new behavior without trial and error. The individual saves time and is spared unpleasant situations, relying on the experience of others, anticipating that her behavior will lead to a certain outcome following what was learned through observation.
When a teacher who observes another teacher is paying attention to reactions, teaching style, and dialogue between the teacher and student, he creates for himself a meaningful opportunity to learn what worked well and what didn’t. It affords an opportunity to ask questions such as: Why did the teacher make the choices he did? What options did the teacher have at any given moment in the lesson? This is an opportunity to see how another teacher presents a body of knowledge.
Site visits offer a productive “time out” from teaching, preparation, and problem solving. There are few times in a teacher’s workday when she can reflect on her different decisions, think about them, and learn from them. In any given lesson the teacher makes hundreds of choices, reacts to multiple requests and is orchestrating a series of complicated events. By creating a pause we allow her the opportunity for personal reflection and growth.
Looking at the learning spaces of other teachers offers valuable perspective. What did they choose to put on the wall? How is the room set up? And what does this teach me about the teaching process or about the teacher’s values? Again, this observation invites self-reflection: Do I use my space as a learning space? Are there any “talking walls” in my space? What did I choose or not choose to put on the walls and why? What is my classroom seating shape? Space is a teacher and it’s wonderful to see how other educators use it.
Observing a colleague is a great opportunity for collaboration. The number of times teachers are exposed to their peers’ work is minimal, mainly because they are all in their respective classrooms at the same time. Stopping and observing a colleague can lead to cooperation, shared learning, and collaboration.
Site visits create community. When a teacher watches another teacher, he emerges for a moment from the isolation of his classroom and moves into a state of “partnership.” Despite the fact that they are not working together on the observed lesson, it is clear to the two teachers that they can support each other emotionally and professionally. Observation is an opportunity to help the teacher step back from established patterns of thinking and consider other possibilities. It affords the teacher an opportunity to see other ways of teaching and other ways of interacting with students.
Yafit Magidash is Learning Specialist of Studio 70 and Director of the Young Adult program, the Jewish Learning Innovation Corps. For more information and to apply visit: www.studio-70.org/jlic