Sustaining Innovations Through Lead Teacher Learning: A Learning Sciences Perspective on Supporting Professional Development

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There is a rich history of researchers developing curricular materials aimed at enhancing student learning in American classrooms. Though many of these innovations have been successful on a small scale, institutionalizing them so they become part of a district's instructional culture has been a challenge. As large districts try to scale up and sustain the use of successful innovations, they are faced with the task of supporting many teachers with varied levels of experience with the materials on an ongoing basis. This article describes our efforts within a mature district–university partnership to build the district's capacity for providing this support. In this effort, university researchers have participated with district curriculum specialists in a workcircle to support district lead teachers as they plan and conduct professional development around reform‐based curriculum materials. Our approach has been to build on the classroom expertise of the lead teachers by providing them with access to theoretical and research‐based knowledge relevant to their work as professional developers. We use two examples of our work with the lead teachers to describe how theoretical ideas from the learning sciences guide our efforts. These ideas include the situated nature of knowledge and learning, the role that communities of discourse and practice play in refining practitioners' understandings, and the use of a cognitive apprentice model to scaffold lead teachers' understandings and enhance the district's capacity to scale and sustain reform.