Wilson has implemented a new method of running LEAP (LEarning Together to Advance our Practice) this year, aiming to increase collaboration between teachers. Teachers at Wilson are now provided with different instruction plans and seminars than other schools, and they are mandated to observe other teachers.
LEAP is a professional development model rolled out by DCPS in 2016 in which teachers meet weekly with an instructional coach and a group of teachers teaching the same subject. It was created after the general workshops, normally far removed from teachers’ daily work, were deemed ineffective.
“DCPS is sobered by the research on professional development. Millions, if not billions, of dollars are spent on PD every year with little to show for it,” DCPS stated as to why LEAP was created. They also said that they are approaching LEAP, “exactly how DCPS approached IMPACT, its groundbreaking teacher evaluation system.” IMPACT underwent major changes this year after a WAMU-NPR and a subsequent OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education) investigation revealed teachers felt pressure to pass students regardless of performance and attendance.
Though LEAP is held at all DCPS schools, Wilson runs it differently. “We have seminars and workshop protocols that are supposed to be followed that are given to the TLIs (teacher leader initiatives) [who lead LEAP],” Principal Kimberly Martin said. “We review their materials, and if we want, use them, otherwise we create our own plan.”
LEAP involves two weekly 45-minute morning meetings between teachers of the same subject with the goal of fostering collaboration. On weeks with a modified schedule, such as a day off, there is only one meeting. Teachers are also observed by an instructional coach for 15 minutes, once every two weeks, followed by a 30 minute debrief session.
Another unique part of LEAP at Wilson is teacher-teacher observation. Teachers are part of a cohort containing 5-6 teachers from all different subjects, and certain weeks they are supposed to observe one person in their group. “Incorporating teacher feedback, we made it so weeks where teachers observe each other we don’t have morning meetings,” science teacher and LEAP TLI Travis Hartberger said. After they observe another teacher, they have meetings where they share comments on the lesson.
Though teacher observation has to occur during planning periods, Hartberger believes it is still valuable. “When you go into other classrooms, there are so many things to see about how that person approaches their profession of teaching. I call it stealing ideas, because I’ll watch people do something a totally different way than I did, and then I have the opportunity to go get that idea and then implement it.”
Science teacher Poonam Sharma agreed, saying that it is helpful to receive honest feedback from other teachers.
Art teacher Alia Hasan found that the difference in subjects can be a difficulty. “When it’s something totally unrelated to what you do, you have no idea what feedback to give.”
Hartberger thinks that the diversity in content areas in teacher observation is one of the most effective parts of LEAP. “Some of the most different things I have seen being useful that I never would’ve thought of came from classrooms that weren’t science classrooms.”