Demonstration classroom teachers help peers improve their instruction.
On a recent morning in Atlanta, eighth-grade English language arts (ELA) teacher Naja Freeman sat in the media center at Bunche Middle School describing to two visiting teachers the lesson she was about to deliver to her 27 students. Freeman told her visitors that she was going to use the Socratic Method, posing questions designed to get her students to think critically and discuss reading material aloud, while weaving in a lesson on metaphors.
“I don’t know what that’s going to look like,” she said as she told the others to join her in the classroom at the end of the hall. “I’m excited to see how it’s going to turn out.”
Freeman is a demonstration teacher—one of about 12 elementary, middle and high school standouts in the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) who volunteered to open up their classrooms and allow colleagues to observe and learn from them. The program began in school year (SY) 2013–2014 with the costs covered by Race to the Top and district funds. The costs include a $1,500 stipend for the demonstration teachers, convening the demonstration teachers, salaries for substitute teachers filling in for the visiting teachers and, more recently, video technology to record the demonstration lessons so that more teachers can see them.
Georgia, like more than 20 States across the country, adopted more rigorous college- and career-ready standards for English language arts and mathematics. To implement the standards, teachers are providing opportunities for students to do critical thinking and problem solving, read more complex texts, and communicate their ideas. The standards require a shift in teaching practices and the demonstration classes are helping Atlanta teachers make that shift.
Typically, new teachers are afforded opportunities to watch more experienced mentors in action; however, Atlanta’s demonstration classrooms are open to all teachers, new and experienced alike.
The project showcases teachers who know the content, have a solid grasp on Georgia’s new college- and career-ready standards and are able to effectively engage students in their learning. It is one of many professional development tools the district relies on to help teachers improve their instruction, and it stands out for its innovative approach. Teachers say they like that the demonstration classrooms occur during the school day and offer them a chance to see what really works with students in a classroom led by one of their peers, instead of listening to lectures by non-teacher experts after school or on weekends.
Dr. Qualyn McIntyre, APS’ lead induction specialist, said the district chose the demonstration teachers based on interviews, recommendations, a classroom observation and their willingness to learn, even as they teach others. “We wanted reflective practitioners, because as long as you want to grow, you’ll help others grow,” she said.