Transformational Professional Development: Japanese Lesson Study at Wildflower Elementary

Ann Marie Stanley, Louisiana State University
Brittany Raley, East Baton Rouge Parish School System
Alicia Monroe, Louisiana State University

Even the highest-quality music teacher professional development (PD) may fail in the classroom implementation phase (Avalos, 2011). Music teachers’ challenges— isolation, transient populations, difficult schedules, inadequate administrative support, rare collegial collaboration (Abril & Bannerman, 2015)— mean even motivated teachers may abandon new PD initiatives in frustration, and return to their familiar techniques (Jurasaite-Harbison & Rex, 2010). To combat this tendency, researchers in the PD-ET ASPA recommend PD with long-term, site-specific support. Absent sustained personalized support for teachers, the new curriculum that sounded great at Saturday’s conference workshop can seem insurmountably difficult in Monday morning’s classroom.

Brittany is a music teacher at “Wildflower,” an urban elementary school. Wildflower is less diverse than its district overall: 70% students qualify for free/reduced lunch. The student body is 90% African-American, 6% white, 4% Hispanic. 45% of its teachers are deemed “chronically absent.” While well-educated, experienced, and musical, Brittany was at her wits end and contemplating resignation, when she bravely contacted first author, Dr. Ann Marie Stanley, and her LSU doctoral student Alicia Monroe, for help with her challenging fifth-graders.

We identified an intense, site-based PD adaptable to support Brittany’s learning at her school: Japanese lesson study (Lewis, 2006). Following JLS tenets, each week we co-planned a “research lesson” for Wildflower, attending to levels of engagement, musicianship development, and social-emotional learning. For nine weeks, we alternated teaching the lessons to three successive fifth grades. While one author taught, the other two re-directed students, checked for understanding, and noticed details undetectable to the teacher who was “on.” We usually immediately rotated roles for the next class.

Post-lesson, we debriefed, watched classroom video, journaled, and documented everything. We spent 170-plus hours on JLS-style cyclical planning, teaching, and reflecting. After the unit, Dr. Stanley performed a self-study—co-analyzing and coding our journals, videos, plans, and artifacts—to determine our perceptions of the efficacy and suitability of JLS as music teacher PD.

In this session, we will present our findings in two categories:

1) Learning from JLS within Brittany’s context:

· Developing personal connections with students revealed Wildflower fifth-graders hold richly layered, yet conflicting, internalized views of school.

· Students were motivated by our (artificial) creation of urgent, immediate goals.

· Combining movement, drumming, and creativity diffused anger and frustration for students and teacher.

· Great lesson plans are not a cure-all and their failure can make disappointment more profound.

· JLS allowed Brittany a meaningful opportunity to see her students through new eyes and gain fresh perspective. JLS supported a potential re-invention of all of our teaching practice.

2) Perceptions of JLS as PD

· Three music teachers in one room yields undeniable benefits for student and teacher learning.

· Immediately repeating lessons, modifying them in-the-moment based on observation of another’s teaching, is uniquely instructive.

· The JLS cycle, teach-observe-reflect-modify-teach, enables teachers to conduct realistic, revealing post-mortem lesson evaluations.

· Securing administrative support for JLS was difficult; scheduling requires creative persistence.

· The hours necessary to do JLS make it difficult to replicate.

· JLS is intense, sustained, and site-specific. While a sturdy mechanism for supporting meaningful change, it does contain inherent difficulties.


Abril, C. R., & Bannerman, J. K. (2015). Perceived factors impacting school music programs: The teacher’s perspective. Journal of Research in Music Education, 62(4), 344-361.

Avalos, B. (2011). Teacher professional development in Teaching and Teacher Education over ten years. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27(1), 10-20.

Jurasaite-Harbison, E., & Rex, L. A. (2010). School cultures as contexts for informal teacher learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(2), 267-277.

Lewis, C.C. (2006). Lesson study: A handbook of teacher-led instructional change. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.