Indulge in Instructional Rounds!

As we enter this season of indulgence (for some of us, at least), I’d like to share my new favorite form of professional development: Instructional Rounds is a collaborative approach utilized for the sole purpose of improving individual practice.  This past summer, at New Tech Network’s 2015 conference, I had the opportunity to attend a session around the what, why and the how of “Rounds”. The session was offered by educators from Katherine Smith School in San Jose, California. Much of their research and practice is based on the book, Instructional Rounds in Education, by Elizabeth City and Richard Elmore. So, I read the book and it has changed the way I engage in professional development!

Instructional Rounds is a non-evaluative data collecting experience that teachers use to support growth in their own practice. That’s right, an opportunity for personal craftsmanship. As I recently shared with some teachers, it is one of the most selfish forms of professional development! Treat yourself! All kidding aside, teachers needed to hear that; so often their teaching space is infused with individuals collecting data only to measure and evaluate instruction. The intriguing thing about rounds is that, while the data collection happens, it is done by other teachers, around an agreed upon focus. Recently, I had the pleasure of engaging in rounds with a group of elementary teachers from a local school district. Our focus this year centers on “grit”, or perseverance. How do we facilitate kids beyond the “one and done” approach so often witnessed in the classroom? How might we gather strategies from one another to entice kids to persevere? These questions framed our learning for the day.

Before indulging in our guilty pleasure, we dialogued around the purpose of rounds; we established norms for our practice: “assume positive intent, avoid judgement, don’t evaluate”, just watch and listen… see and hear. Colleagues from our learning group, who will be engaging in rounds later this month, invited us into their rooms. They knew to just do their thing, while our small teams collected data around the teacher, the students, and the content, the “instructional core” (City and Elmore, 2009). My job as facilitator was to ensure, during each debrief in the hallway, that the data was based only on observation; no inferences were allowed. It didn’t take long for the group to get comfortable with this practice.

We returned to the library, and I charted while the group identified trends around teacher, student and content:

Teachers noticed how independent these middle schoolers seemed. They shared that in each room they had seen agendas and posted learning targets: “non-teacher” reminders of task and purpose. They noticed how teachers used strategies, such as a simple “snap-echo”, to gather learners’ attention. So, the trend was that of self-directedness. “How might we use similar strategies to facilitate our small learners toward that same independence? How might we support them to take risks, to persevere, to grow “grit”?

An interesting thing about Instructional Rounds is teachers don’t have to visit similar level classes; in fact, I try to dissuade them from that so that the data is pure, truly focused on instructional strategy. So, these elementary teachers could use observations gathered in middle school and special education classes to improve their own practice! The team realized that they want to spend more time modeling and teaching protocols, scaffolding such work to meet the needs of their small learners. The day concluded with the crafting of our next steps as learners, so that grit and perseverance might become a part of the elementary culture.

We were exhausted at the end of our rounds day, yet filled with purpose and excitement, ready to take what we learned from colleagues’ classrooms and use it to improve our own practice. I can’t wait to treat myself to rounds again. The best thing about it? No calories!

Downs_Randi_WEB_1409Randi Downs

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