Peer Learning Labs

Peer Learning Labs provide an in-depth view of IBD lessons in action. During a peer learning lab, teachers come together to observe a colleagues’ classroom in action, and then have a conversation about what they saw, wonderings, and next steps for instruction. The host teacher takes an open stance by saying, “Come on in. Here’s what I’m working on in my classroom. Here’s what I’m wondering about. Let’s have conversation.” The host teacher is definitely not saying “what’s happening in my classroom is the greatest thing you’ve ever seen.” The ultimate goal is about teacher learning and reflection (Margolis & Doring, 2012).

Participants observe a colleague’s classroom with a specific focus in mind. For example, they might want to examine how students build on one another’s thinking, how the teacher facilitates large group discussions, or how students engage in text-based writing. Peer learning labs support teachers in the following areas:man on pencil isolate

  • How to use time effectively
  • How to support student collaboration and discussion
  • Supporting teachers’ efficacy linked to implementation
  • Supporting students when engaged in close reading
  • How to support writing instruction as coaching

The host teacher is provided a safe environment in which to open up his or her classroom. An IBD professional developer coaches the lab teacher prior to the observation and provides long-distance support via email or phone as necessary. The IBD facilitator also provides the host teacher with a sample learning lab letter. The host teacher composes a similar letter that he or she gives to lab participants on the day of the lab. A pre-observation conference with the host teacher and all participants outlines the protocol for the learning lab, as well as appropriate participant behaviors during the lab. Participants receive a focus for the observation from the lab host. Participants are given guidance on how to take descriptive notes based on the lens for the focus observation. The IBD facilitator guides participants through a structured discussion protocol to ensure that everyone participates and that discourse is positive and respectful.

When reluctant teachers see Inquiry By Design lessons in action, they are often motivated to use the lessons with their own students. In addition, teachers who have implemented Inquiry By Design lessons feel more comfortable making adjustments as needed.

Noteworthy Features

  1. Per learning labs allow teachers to visit the classrooms of colleagues who are working with similar student populations, curriculum implementations, and instructional strategies.
  2. Peer learning labs are the one professional development model that is differentiated for both the novice and veteran teacher, all at the same time (Grose & Strachan, 2006).
  3. Peer learning labs exist at the school site, making transfer of the teachers’ new learning more likely.
  4. Teachers love peer learning labs. They report feeling energized, rejuvenated, and excited to teach after participation.

Grierson & Gallagher (2009) found that a lab classroom “enhanced teachers’ willingness and abilities to modify their practices and provided support for the recommendation of such opportunities” (p. 583).


Grose, K. & Strachan, J. (2011). In demonstration classrooms, it’s: Show-and-tell every day. Journal of Staff Development, 32(5), 24 – 29.

Grierson, A. L. & Gallagher, T. L. (2009). Seeing is believing: Creating a catalyst for teacher change through a demonstration classroom professional development initiative. Professional Development in Education, 35(4), 567 – 584.

Houk, L. M. (2010). Demonstrating teaching in a lab classroom. Educational Leadership, online article:

Margolis, J. & Doring, A. (2012). The fundamental dilemma of teacher leader-facilitated professional development: Do as I (kind of) say, not as I (sort of) do. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48(5), 859 – 882.