Improving something as complex and culturally embedded as teaching requires the efforts of all the players, including students, parents, and politicians. But teachers must be the primary driving force behind change. They are best positioned to understand the problems that students face and to generate possible solutions.” -James Stigler and James Hiebert, The Teaching Gap. 1999

The dedication and professionalism of Vermont educators make our schools strong. The increasing attention to teaching effectiveness, however, necessitates that we create a coherent system of support so that educators can continue to achieve at this high level. Vermont’s test scores show that our students living in poverty, like others across the country, lag behind their more affluent peers. Our students too have become more diverse, engaged by technology, and eager to become global citizens. Vermont educators must adapt to these realities and to schools that have become more student-centered, standards driven, and accountable.

We propose a shift.  State departments of education across the country are choosing to focus their efforts to improve schools by addressing teacher evaluation, new student standards (e.g. Common Core State Standards), and improved student assessment systems. We agree that each of these taken together have the possibility to improve schools. Their potential impact, however, is diminished greatly in the absence of work to also support concentrated teacher learning and targeted growth. We propose a shift from chiefly examining student performance and by extension, educators themselves, to examining educator practices and their relation to student achievement.

We choose to look at the changes we need in schools as shifts. Shifting our practice is easier to manage and envision than completely transforming everything we do; supporting shifts in educator practice is possible, doable, and manageable. We believe, however, that shifting the practices of Vermont educators through concentrated study of teaching practices can absolutely change schools, and that many of these shifts taken together over time can be transformative.

Project Shift is an opportunity to develop a system for building and sustaining a professional knowledge base by refining the instructional practices of educators through use of collaborative video lesson study. We anticipate accomplishing this by building on professional practices we already do well in our schools and by tapping school structures we currently have in place, including teacher leadership.

Schools across Vermont have already begun to create a variety of teacher learning communities. When facilitated by trained teacher leaders, such communities can be a potent means of improving student learning. The adoption of the practice of lesson study through video reflection as a part of teacher learning communities in Vermont schools amplifies this potential.