Dr. Lynsey Gibbons Shares Teacher Learning Insights with Educators & School Leaders in Brazil

Dr. Lynsey Gibbons, Assistant Professor at BU Wheelock, delivered a series of talks to peer academics, teachers, and school leaders in Brazil this August. The first, delivered at Insper Institute of Learning and Research, focused on organizing schools and systems in support of ongoing teacher learning; the second, delivered as part of the International Seminar on Basic Education: Pedagogical Management and Learning Outcomes in the Brazilian state of Ceará, centered on naming core practices and the use of instructional activities in support of teacher learning.

The trip to Brazil began with an invitation from a Boston University student, Julia Caspary Blay (CAS’21), who was spending her summer break working as a research assistant at Insper Institute of Learning and Research, a private institution of higher education located in her hometown of São Paulo.

One of Ms. Blay’s projects over the summer involved the launch of the Insper Education Center, an initiative led by Insper’s Vice President and Dean of Undergraduate Programs, Dr. Carolina da Costa. Dr. da Costa’s center would seek to “promote the pedagogical development of managers, teachers, and students through a greater understanding of how the classroom can impact school performance, focusing on STEM.” The center would create and offer a free postgraduate program that would train STEM teachers to use research-based instructional practices and to share their training and knowledge with peer teachers.

Insper planned to open this new center in August with a kickoff seminar co-hosted by the Federal University of Ceará, one of Brazil’s public universities. It was Ms. Blay’s job to help identify potential speakers. As she conducted a review of existing literature on improving STEM education through instructional leadership, she came across two papers from an educational researcher at Boston University, Dr. Lynsey Gibbons: “Developing collective capacity to improve mathematics instruction: Coaching as a lever for school-wide improvement” and “Investigating How to Support Principals as Instructional Leaders in Mathematics.” Ms. Blay reached out to Dr. Gibbons, who quickly accepted the invitation and began planning her trip to Brazil.

Insper held its opening seminar, “Instructional Networks and Classroom Excellence,” on August 21. Dr. Gibbons spoke as part of a panel that afternoon, discussing her work on supporting teachers to develop “ambitious” math teaching practices.  “Ambitious teaching” involves teachers using meaningful tasks that allow students to access rigorous content, leading discussions that elicit students’ thinking and ask students’ to provide an explanation for that thinking, and orienting students toward each other’s thinking and toward mathematics. In doing so, continued Dr. Gibbons, teachers support the development of students as mathematical thinkers and doers via meaningful participation and deep conceptual learning.

She cited two projects which supported this notion at scale–Vanderbilt University’s MIST and the University of Washington’s Hilltop Elementary Research Practice Partnership–and discussed professional roles which support teacher learning, including district mathematics experts and educators from partner universities.

Quickly after her engagement in São Paulo concluded, Dr. Gibbons traveled to Fortaleza, the capital of one of Brazil’s northern states, Ceará, to participate in the International Seminar on Basic Education: Pedagogical Management and Learning Outcomes, hosted by Brazil’s education ministry and the Unibanco Institute.

Sponsored by the Federal University of Ceará, the Cearense Foundation to Support Scientific and Technological Development, and the Insper Education Center, this seminar looked broadly at progress made in the state’s efforts to improve and standardize education at its 600-plus high schools.

Dr. Gibbons spoke on Friday, August 23, on a panel which also included Dr. Paula Louzana of Chile’s Universidad Diego Portales. In her talk, Dr. Gibbons gave attendees an overview of the US education system, illustrating how systematic reforms and standards such as No Child Left Behind and the Common Core made it necessary for schools and districts to create opportunities and supports for teachers to reorganize their practice (rather than just extending or elaborating upon existing practice).

Also speaking at the second seminar was Former Minister of Education of Portugal, Nuno Crato, and Carolina da Costa, both of whom had participated in Insper’s kickoff seminar earlier in the week alongside Dr. Gibbons and Dr. Louzana.

Reflecting on her visit to Brazil, Dr. Gibbons noted the importance of sharing these concepts with attendees. Friday’s talk, she explained, was delivered to over 1,000 educational professionals, including district-level specialists, principals, and close to 200 mathematics teachers.

“Brazil deals with some similar issues what we deal with in the US, but with some key differences” says Dr. Gibbons. Brazilian researchers explained that private K-12 schools are seen as better than public schools, but also hold public universities in higher esteem than private institutions of higher learning.”

“Students face a high-stakes test, which determines which schools they can get into and ultimately determines which careers they have access to,” she continues. Through initiatives like the Insper Education Center and Ceará’s efforts to improve public high school STEM education, Brazil’s pedagogical experts aim to give more of its young learners access to the high-quality instruction and learning necessary to the pursuit of valued careers. As both initiatives illustrate, such change must begin with support for teacher learning.

Learn more about Dr. Gibbons’ research via her faculty profile, and watch her August 23 talk on core practices in STEM teaching below.