Lesson Study in San Francisco

San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is currently working toward Vision 2025, our collective plan and call to action to shift educational outcomes and ensure every student graduates from SFUSD “able to compete and thrive in the 21st century world” and with the six competencies outlined below:

Adapted from p.18, Vision 2025

We believe lesson study is a vehicle to accelerate school progress toward Vision 2025 and student progress toward the Graduate Profile.

History of Lesson Study in SFUSD

In 2008, voters in San Francisco overwhelmingly approved the The Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA). This act provides increased support and accountability for our educators and schools. Included in this ballot proposition was a mandate to create a “Master Teacher Program” to support the retention and practice of veteran, exemplary teachers. A team was soon convened to design this program, an early group of educators was identified, and lesson study was adopted as the foundation of this program’s work. This decision was spurred by SFUSD’s involvement with Dr. Catherine Lewis and initial, promising work with lesson study through Mills College.

Since then, much progress has occurred:

  • The Master Teacher Program, now renamed the Teacher Leader Fellowship, has grown from 9 participating educators (year 1) to 40 participating educators. Each of these educators is supported to lead a Lesson Study team at their site. Each team develops a unique research question and theory of action, aligned with a content area and problem of practice of choice, based on data and student need.
    • Roughly 1/3 of these educators currently participate in a Project Based Learning (PBL) track within our program, focusing their lesson study work on inquiry-based instruction and elements of effective project based learning. In collaboration with High Tech High, we have supported this cohort to grow PBL at their sites and lead our district’s PBL initiative.
    • Roughly ½ of these educators currently participate in math-focused lesson study, exploring the implementation of Teaching Through Problem-Solving at their sites. This work is supported through our partnership with Mills College, Dr. Catherine Lewis, Dr. Shelley Friedkin, Dr. Takahashi, and Dr. Watanabe. Through this collaboration, we have supported these educators through Summer Math Institutes (4 years), “Deeper Dives” into content (3 years), Cross-Site Research Lessons (5 thus far), a cross-site Impact Grant, participation in the Japan IMPULS professional development trip (50+ educators have attended 10-day trip), and ongoing structures for authentic cross-site collaboration and planning.
  • Since the 2017-18 school year, we have been supporting a growing number of sites to adopt lesson study as their primary professional learning structure for the whole school, collectively working toward lesson study as the vehicle for school transformation. We currently have 5 sites participating in this whole-school initiative and many more schools that have grown their lesson study work from one to multiple teams.

What makes San Francisco Lesson Study Unique?

  1. In San Francisco, lesson study is teacher-led not administrator-led. Teacher leaders are supported to design and facilitate the lesson study process. While administrators have varying levels of involvement (from none at all to offering support), the initiative is fully teacher-led. As a result, lesson study efforts are more sustainable and grass roots (bottom-up as opposed to top-down), since internal leadership is identified and nurtured. 
  2. In San Francisco, our lesson study work maintains a strong focus on equity. We believe that professional development must center the students least served by our system, and prioritize the students with most need. Given the ongoing opportunity gaps that exist for students of color, students with special needs, and English-language learners, our lesson study efforts are designed to accelerate the learning of our least-served students. We choose lesson study because it attends to the intellective capacity of each and every student, and places the responsibility for learning on the system – rather than demand that students conform to an inequitable system that has historically denied access, opportunity and humanity to historically underserved youth. We believe that lesson study allows us to further our equity imperative, specifically:
  • Shift narratives and counter assumptions about our students and schools rooted in racism, anti-immigrant bias, and classism
  • Address the structural barriers impacting our students’ lives
  • Create spaces of joy, liberation, and resistance in our classrooms
  • Validate and amplify our students’ brilliance 
  • Ally with our students; know them and grow them as scholars, thinkers, and creative resisters
  • Ensure they THRIVE – not just survive, within our schools

How is Lesson Study funded and supported?

SFUSD lesson study is funded by the ballot measure (QTEA, outlined above) and supported by the Teacher Leader Fellowship. The Teacher Leader Fellowship is designed as follows:


  • Strong teachers are recruited from schools across our district, with a focus on the recruitment of teachers working in our highest need schools.
  • Applicants must have at least 4 years of teaching experience and demonstrate strong classroom practice, a commitment to further equity work, a commitment to teacher leadership, and a willingness to lead lesson study
  • The interview process includes a paper application, a classroom observation, and an in-person interview. 

Program Commitments: 

  • Once accepted into the Fellowship, Teacher Leader Fellows (TLFs) can remain in the program for 4 years
  • All TLFs
    • attend monthly 3-hour meetings with all the other TLFs in the network. These monthly PLCs focus on developing your equity stance and your leadership skills (facilitation, agenda design, structuring lesson study, etc.), building relationships across sites, and sharing resources and best practices for lesson study
    • lead Lesson Study at their site (two cycles of lesson study + fall and spring public research lessons).
    • support site-based professional learning and teacher leadership at their site
    • present their learnings and the work of their lesson study teams at the end of the year in a district-wide Exhibition.

Supports and Compensation:

  • Teacher Leader Fellows receive: hourly pay for attending the monthly PLC meetings; a $2500 Stipend; and 25 hours of pay and 2 substitute release days for themselves and EACH member of their lesson study team. 
  • Teacher Leader Fellows are assigned a coach that supports them in developing and tracking a leadership goal, designing and implementing lesson study, identifying research and input for their research theme, and facilitation support at public research lessons.

The Program Mission is as follows:

The SFUSD Teacher Leader Fellowship strives to identify and develop strong teachers committed to equity-centered leadership, in order to:

  • Support teachers to create, foster and sustain equity-centered professional learning communities that will transform individual teacher practice and increase student success – impacting both student achievement and student experience.
  • Support teachers to develop as responsive facilitators for equity and social justice, able to lead professional development and change initiatives at their sites that are contextual, responsive, and strategic.

Toward the goal of: Ensuring all students have access to personalized, equitable and high performing schools that believe and demonstrate each student can, should and will succeed.

And ultimately: Interrupting and transforming current and systemic educational inequities through a belief in grassroots change (ground up).

New to Lesson Study

Lesson Study is a simple idea: If you want to improve instruction, what could be more obvious than collaborating with fellow teachers to plan instruction and examine its impact on students? In Lesson Study, teachers bring their own questions to the table and seek answers from one another, from outside specialists and research, and from careful study of students.

A team of teachers move through the phases of a lesson study cycle: Study, Plan, Teach and Reflect.

As they collaborate to improve instruction, they deepen their knowledge of content and student thinking and their commitment to working together.

If you are new to lesson study and want to learn more click here.