Small Teams with Big Impact: Engaging in Lesson Study

Brian Harrison

The grade 6 students settle down as the lesson begins. A few scan the room, intrigued by the novel presence of three teachers and one administrator,  clipboards  in their hands. I begin the lesson; the topic is note taking and summarizing from informational text.

Why was I here? I don’t normally teach grade 6; I teach a grade 7/8 class, along with intermediate history, on rotary. Although I often try to get over to Kim Arbour’s grade 6 classroom to chat, to visit, to see what she and her students are up to, there never seems to be enough time. We squeeze in a few minutes for professional conversations on the fly, waiting by the photocopier, scrambling up the stairs as the bell rings, or perched upon the edges of our students’ desks for an end-of-the-day laugh – or on some days, a rant.

We teachers lead busy lives, often focused on the  urgent. We try  to steer our  conversations toward the important and long-lasting ideas that drew us to teaching in the first place, but the time always seems to fly away. When and how will we be able to have the professional conversations we want and need to have, we wonder. How do we fit our professional interests and concerns into the rush of our school days?

This year, as part of a project funded by our district school board, groups of teachers across our  region have been participating in  school-based action research designed to facilitate professional conversations to help improve teacher understanding and skill in teaching literacy. At our school, Jersey Public School in Keswick, we have decided to  incorporate lesson study into our project, and our focus is on deepening our understanding of  the role student engagement plays in the quality of their writing.

Lesson study is a process that originated in Japan.  It  involves  the  collaborative  planning, teaching, observing and  revising of  a specific lesson by a team of teachers. It is designed to bring teachers together to observe, first-hand, the impact that a lesson is having on students as the lesson is being taught. The lesson topic is usually drawn from a concern or issue that teachers on the team have identified as important. The team plans the lesson, then one of the members volunteers to teach it while the others watch and record their observations of the students.


Teacher using computer in classroom

PD on the Fly is a great way for teachers to grow professionally, easily and on their own time. So often teachers get that “late for school” feeling as they rush to join after-school professional development sessions already in progress. PD on the Fly gets rid of all that.

Author reading to students

What do you do when you can’t find a resource to start important conversations in your classroom? You create one, of course. Peel teacher Greg Maxton (who writes under his married name, Kentris) had become increasingly frustrated with the persistent, intentional and casual homophobia that he saw in his middle school teaching environment.