My roundabout, though brief, exploration of “instructional rounds” today began with this Edutopia post by Elena Aguilar: “Teachers Observing Teachers: Instructional Rounds”
Instructional rounds, modelled after the “rounds” made by doctors learning to hone their practice, take different forms and approaches. In some cases, such as in Aguilar’s post, teachers pair with administrators to spend time in the classrooms of their peers. In other instances, administrators use a similar model to observe in teacher classrooms. Regardless of the format, the practice of instructional rounds is based on
- Developing a “problem of practice” to solve. Whether it is administrators, adminstrators/teachers, or teachers observing in classrooms, the observation begins with a defined problem of practice. For example, in Aguilar’s post, the admin/teacher pairings were studying vocabulary development in ELL students. In Blanding’s article, he suggests problems of practice such as improving math proficiency or literacy.
- Observing in classrooms. Again, this looks different at the local district level, but it could be admin, admin/teacher, and/or teacher.
- Debriefing. After observations, the observers meet to discuss commonalities in the observed settings. Blanding lists four steps with which observers are tasked: 1) Describe what they saw, 2) Analyze patterns from the settings, 3) Predict the learner response to the teaching they observed, and 4) Recommend next steps to aid the district in reaching its goal.
I’m sure models of this nature are not new. In fact, this article dating to 2009 shows the practice has been making its way into the United States for several years, but the model was certainly new to me.
Let me be a little personal for a moment–Looking back on my relatively brief time in the classroom, I was never able to cultivate the classroom management skills exhibited by so many of my more well-experienced peers. At any given moment, you could walk into my classroom and there was a 50/50 chance the students would be on-task. Because my head was swimming in curriculum and content, I often failed to see the big picture of management. I would have relished the opportunity to be in the classrooms of some of my contemporaries. I would have been thankful to have 20 minutes to sit in on a stellar lesson across the hall, to figure out how Mrs. So-and-so kept the students wrapped up in her lesson, to reflect on my own practice and learn something new to try. This type of learning cannot be disseminated in a sit-and-get professional development scenario.
So, I find the instructional rounds model interesting, and I see several benefits to implementing something similar:
- Instructional Rounds = Meaningful Collaboration: I’ve posted about collaboration before based on this article exploring the importance of collaboration in school reform. Imagine, as an administrator, the quality of teacher team time that could result from allowing teachers to observe in each others’ classrooms with a common end result (i.e. improving math or reading proficiency) in mind. No, collaboration to this effect would not happen overnight; in fact, it would take some time to really build up an environment of trust before teachers may feel comfortable discussing their practice, but with a model in place for defining a problem, observing practices, and looking for trends, collaboration would be much more meaningful.
- Evaluations/Observations = More Relevant: I know I wouldn’t be the first to say that the old administrative observation model (once a semester for 30 minutes-ish) was not the best form of evaluating my practice, though the new model adopted by Ohio seems more appropriate given its formative instruction-like approach. As the Blanding article points out, administrators are often removed from the classroom. Who better to provide relevant and timely feedback that one’s colleagues, and what better format than by creating teams of teachers studying a problem of practice in the district?
- Benefits to New Teachers: I’m not incredibly well-versed in the new teacher residency program in Ohio, but I would be interested in how much observational time is a part of the expectations. I think I was required to spend two periods in my co-worker’s classrooms observing and reporting back what I saw. By including a new teacher in instructional round observations, they are not only focused on the defined problem, they are also gleaning refinements to their own practice.
- Developing a Community of Support: When teachers are working together toward a common goal (seeking trends to solve a systemic issue), they will become a team and morale will improve. Rather than a top-down approach to educational reform, using instructional rounds (with teacher and/or admin/teacher pairings for observations), teachers are in charge of locating instructional concerns and discussing/deciding on next steps–the power of instruction (and subsequent professional development) rests in the hands of those on the frontlines. (Increased buy-in, better PD, more loyalty, etc. should see improvements as well.)
I would love to see more examples of schools trying this model.