This interview features Dr. Motoko Akiba and Bryan Wilkinson, the authors of “Adopting an International Innovation for Teacher Professional Development: State and District Approaches to Lesson Study in Florida.” We asked the authors to share their experiences behind the research. Their article is published in the January 2016 JTE issue and is currently available online here.
Q. What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?
The topic of lesson study—a form of teacher professional development in which a group of teachers collaboratively study, plan, teach and discuss a lesson focusing on student thinking process and understanding—is close to my heart as I have observed as a student in Japan how powerful lesson study can be for providing meaningful learning opportunities to students. My previous comparative studies of teachers in Japan and the U.S. also showed major differences in teachers’ working conditions and support structures for professional learning, so I was curious to know how lesson study is practiced in Florida and how it is supported by the state and districts. My co-author and PhD student, Bryan Wilkinson is an experienced high school physics teacher and participated in a state-funded workshop on lesson study in Florida. He saw something unique about lesson study, so we decided to work together to uncover the state and district policies and practices for facilitating lesson study.
Q. Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?
The Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) won US$700 million RTTT funds in 2010 and become the first state in the U.S. to promote lesson study as one of the 13 projects to be implemented using the RTTT funds. This event made Florida an ideal context for examining the state and district policies and practices for facilitating lesson study.
Q. What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?
We discovered early on that the state and district administrators have a different understanding of what lesson study is. Many equate lesson study with Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and as a result, overlooking or minimizing the research process of studying students’ current understanding of a chosen topic, and testing hypotheses about how a specific instructional approach deepens students’ understanding based on the observational data gathered during a research lesson. This required us to closely examine how state and district administrators understand lesson study first, and develop a survey instrument that defines what is considered as lesson study and measures a variety of approaches districts have taken to promote lesson study.
Q. Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?
We have conducted a longitudinal survey of district lesson study policy and practice in 2013, 2014, and 2015. The changes in the district approaches to facilitating lesson study over time especially after the RTTT program ended in 2014 were of particular interest to us. However, for this particular study, we decided to focus on the state policy and 2013 survey data to conduct a more focused analysis of state and district policy mandate, inducements, and capacity building.
Q. What current areas of research are you pursuing?
We are continuing with our grant-funded research on lesson study by: 1) examining the actual lesson study practices through case studies of lesson study groups, and 2) investigating the changes in district lesson study policies and practices for facilitating lesson study over time through longitudinal survey data and interviews with district professional development coordinators.
Q.What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?
The major challenge we see is that teacher professional development is still practiced as a top-down, short-term process that is disconnected from teachers’ daily instructional practices and their students’ learning needs in many school districts. The changing state mandates and high attrition rates among district leaders affect the stability of teacher professional development (e.g., any professional development initiative comes and goes) and focus and coherence in professional development opportunities. Multiple and changing professional development initiatives overburden school district leadership, promoting top-down and short-term process as the only feasible way to meet all the professional development mandates. How to institutionalize a teacher-driven, collaborative, and research-based process of professional learning is a major question for teacher education and policy researchers.
Q.What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?
We would like to suggest two things that new scholars may keep in mind. First, engage in collaboration and mentorship. As a new scholar, it is essential to be mentored by someone with the same intellectual curiosity. There are many nuances in research that if a new scholar just stumbles through, it can leave a bad taste in their mouth that can ultimately prevent longevity in the field. A mentor provides the support structure, helps guide through the difficult path of publication and celebrates success.
Second, avoid binge writing. Writing requires thoughts that must be given time to develop and reflect on. Do not focus on the outcome whether it is finishing your dissertation or journal manuscript, but focus on simply writing every day even if it is only for 30 minutes a day. This process allows you to think about the topic more deeply and carefully from multiple perspectives, receive feedback on your work-in-progress, and slowly develop yourself as an academic writer who enjoys the cognitive process of thinking and writing.
Contact the authors:
Motoko Akiba – email@example.com
Bryan Wilkinson – firstname.lastname@example.org