Leadership Q&A: Lesson study – developing a culture of learning

In today's Leadership Q&A Teacher Editor Jo Earp talks to Ibu Sri Sulastri, Principal of GagasCeria Elementary School in Bandung, Indonesia, about creating an enjoyable culture of teacher learning and development using an approach known as Lesson Study.

Can you tell our readers a bit about the school?

GagasCeria Elementary School was established in 2005. The ages of children here range from six- to 12-years-old. The school is in Bandung (150 kilometres from Jakarta). The majority of our students live quite far from school, many children live around Buah Batu, Antapani, Soekarno Hatta, and perhaps the farthest is in the Kopo area. Our school has around 330 students from Grades 1-6, with each grade having two classes, so there are a total of 12 classes. There are 33 teachers.

What is your role and how long have you been there?

My role is Principal of GagasCeria Elementary School. I retained this role from last year, so this is my second year as principal.

When I visited last year, you mentioned the school puts a lot of focus on its professional development for staff. One thing you do is Lesson Study. When did the school start using this with teachers? Why was it introduced, and what was happening before?

The mission of our school is:

  • making the school an innovative and inspiring learning community
  • develop a culture of learning where each individual engages in a meaningful, active and reflective learning process

The mission is to achieve our vision: to become an innovative school of choice for students so that they can develop self-awareness that learning is important, and they can contribute to a more meaningful life in Indonesia.

The main foundation [of our school] is our vision and mission. Actually, we've paid a lot of attention to teacher development and training, because good teachers will provide good learning for the children. One of the teacher training and development programs is Lesson Study (LS). We have been doing LS since 2008. We see it as a good opportunity to learn, for all of us; opening up classrooms for joint learning and seeing how subject knowledge is applied in the real-world. What is also important is that LS builds equality of learning – young people can learn from the old and vice-versa, anyone can learn from anyone.

When we first used LS our school was only three-years-old; it only had students up to Grade 3 and our teachers were new and young. New schools, new teachers, young people, not much teaching experience, and high enthusiasm for learning. In our opinion, adopting LS when we did was the right moment to support the learning needs of our teachers.

In the first one to two years of LS implementation, we "just did it". In the following years, as we've come to understand what LS is, we've learned to see things that we could observe in the classroom during the learning process. We also focus on how the teacher manages the classroom and learning, and how good the learning is from the teacher's point of view (a good lesson according to teacher's perspective).

Traditional Lesson Study involves a lot of steps (from planning and observing to refining lessons and debriefing with other staff) – the way you use it may be slightly different, so can you explain how it works and what's involved at the different stages?

If we look at our Lesson Study journey from 2008 to 2019, we've experienced a lot of shifts, especially a shift in the paradigm of how we see, interpret, and carry out our LS to be better. In the beginning, our orientation was to see the teacher teaching. Then, through our learning process through LS, it has shifted to being oriented to the interests of students, how to make and ensure that students learn.

Gradually, we've used the Plan-Do-See cycle (planning, implementation, and evaluation). The difference from year to year, shown in the picture below, is how we've continue to make improvements in each part of the cycle:

Who takes part? Is it all the teachers and leaders?

The teachers and school leaders (the Head of the Foundation, the school Director, the school Principal, and the Vice-Principal) are all involved in LS. As school leaders, we try to issue policies related to the implementation of Lesson Study, namely:

  • Conduct an LS schedule (especially for observation sessions or open lessons and reflection sessions) to ensure that as many teachers can attend this activity as possible.
  • Form teacher groups as a learning team (usually associated with subjects).
  • Teacher participation in LS has an impact on the addition of teacher development points [needed by teachers to progress in Indonesian schools].
  • Make arrangements in the school academic calendar for LS and supervision. We see LS not as a place for evaluation, like supervision. LS is a moment of learning, not assessment.
  • We hold two class open sessions, in the first semester and in the second semester, to ensure sufficient learning opportunities for all teachers.
  • In the last two years, LS has become one of the school's strategic programs to improve the quality of children's learning.
  • School leaders are involved in every session in the LS cycle (in the planning, implementation, and evaluation).
  • To further improve the quality of our LS, and utilise it for our study sessions, we are often accompanied by domestic and international LS experts. These experts will be fully involved in the LS process from beginning to end.
  • School leaders and teachers routinely attend and participate in LS conferences both locally and abroad – ICLS (International Conference on Lesson Study) and WALS (World Association of Lesson Studies).

Is it used for certain parts of the curriculum/a particular subject area? Or, do you choose a different focus each time/or for each member of staff?

As I have mentioned before, year by year we always evaluate and reflect on each of our LS activities so that they continue to get better and are in line with our goals. Here are some of the things we've done in LS, based on our evaluations every year.

Over the years, we've seen that all teachers need to have experience in opening their classes and that other teachers can learn in all classes that are opened. So in some of the years we required all teachers to open their classes at least once a year for all subjects.

We've seen that planning learning is not easy, it takes time, and ideas from team members need to be [included]. We want to focus more on quality, not quantity. So [learning from this evaluation] we had a few teachers who opened their class, representing each team. For example: from a low-grade Mathematics teacher team there is one teacher who will open a class; from a team of high-grade Mathematics teachers there is one teacher who opens a class; and then from another team of teachers there is only one representative who opens the class. The other team members are the planning team and they help prepare the opening process for the teacher representative.

Then, we saw another need – namely how teachers can improve [teaching of the same topic material] from year to year. How can this material, in the next year and with different children, be better provided than in the current year? So, we have conducted LS with the same material every year to be taught to different children for three years in a row. For example, material about volume in Mathematics. In 2017 teachers conducted a LS. In the next year we used the results of the 2017 LS evaluation and reflection to do better planning for the same topic. Then, in 2019, the teacher reopened the class. From this example, it is hoped that we can find the most effective formula for children to understand volume in Mathematics. We call this a three-cycle Lesson Study.

In the early days when we conducted LS, all classes were opened with various LS topics submitted to each teacher. Then we saw the importance of making LS a research opportunity for teachers to solve problems in class. So, in the last few years we have collected data in class: What things do we want to improve? What are the obstacles in the learning process for children? What is hindering student achievement of expected learning goals? and so on. From there, we hold discussions and agree what our LS topic will be, and this generally represents the needs of each class. For example, on one occasion we agreed our research topic and LS should be about "listening skills". We brought in experts who understand listening skills, and at the end of the LS we wrote a reflection of our learning outcomes about listening skills.

What has the feedback been from staff about the process? Do they enjoy it? Being observed by other people and critiqued can be a bit daunting.

In the first one to two years, with LS we focused on teachers and of course it becomes an event that makes teachers worry. They felt concerned about the input or feedback given, because they felt "judged". But in the years that have followed, with a paradigm shift or our perspective shifting on LS, it has now become a part of what is commonly done, lived, and is a "learning" opportunity for all. LS is a place for learning, not a place for evaluation. This framing is what made teachers more comfortable and finally enjoy the LS process.

What are the benefits of Lesson Study? How has it improved teacher practice at the school?

The benefits for us include:

  • It helps build ways of thinking about the true nature of the teacher's role. The children are really our goal in teaching. How to ensure that children learn, how children [develop that self-awareness that learning is important] etc.
  • LS is a powerful tool to build learning communities and develop teacher professionalism.
  • LS is really not a tool to search and find the perfect learning process, because there really is no such thing as perfect learning. The teaching and learning process will actually always have a gap for improvement and for us to learn together. This should make us want to continue to study and learn, so we can improve our children's learning.
  • LS trains the teacher's way of thinking in understanding the thought processes of children.

The improvement in teacher practice includes:

  • Increased insight and knowledge about learning methods that can be applied in the classroom. Learning outcomes obtained during LS are applied in classroom learning.
  • LS increases the ability of teachers to conduct learning planning. The plans are more comprehensive and consider many things, such as learning material tools, the prediction of children's responses in class, teaching methods, how to develop collaboration in children … the curriculum spiral in subjects, how to plan questions for use in class, etcetera.
  • Team discussions related to learning, from planning to evaluation.
  • The writings produced by the teacher related to the evaluation and reflection of learning are deeper and sharper and see things from the child's point of view.
  • Teachers are becoming more enthusiastic about taking part in seminars on the theme of Lesson Study, as participants and presenters.

How has COVID-19 impacted the work that you're doing?

One of the things we did not do in the second semester of the 2019/2020 school year was Lesson Study. We planned the LS implementation, but due to the Coronavirus outbreak and children learning from home, this LS cannot be implemented. We have asked for assistance from experts, namely a UPI ( Professor, to become a consultant in LS in the last year. However in the end, the program could not be implemented. But we strive to ensure that teacher's professional development and training can continue in other forms. Certainly more through online sessions, both with speakers from within the school, as well as from outside sources.

How often do you take the time to critique a lesson you've taught? Consider the things you would have changed to improve the learning that took place.

Think about a topic or a skill you find difficult to teach. Is there an experienced colleague at your school who you could speak with or observe teaching?