The process of instructional rounds provides educators the opportunity to develop a shared practice of observing, discussing, and analyzing learning and teaching. Rounds are a tool which allows for leaders and faculty to work together to solve common questions of practice and to work together to make improvements. This practice builds collaborative networks of educators who learn together and develop a shared understanding of high-quality instructional practice and who develop strategies to improve our practice.
The process begins with a formation of a question of practice. Groups of faculty and administrators then visit classrooms in small groups using observation techniques. The groups then work together to share and analyze what has been observed. The debriefing process does not identify individual teachers or classrooms and only uses factual descriptions to identify patterns. These patterns then serve as the basis for further work of the district/school.
Learn more about instructional rounds:
Improving Teaching and Learning through Instructional Rounds --an article by Lee Teitel in the Harvard Education Letter, 2009
Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work™: New Insights for Improving Schools -- a book by Richard DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, and Robert Eaker from Solution Tree, 2008
Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning -- a book by Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, and Lee Teitel from Harvard Education Press, 2009
What are instructional rounds?
Instructional rounds is a collaborative process through which a team of teachers and school leaders can learn more about their practice in order to develop a collective understanding of teaching and learning. During rounds, the team briefly visits classrooms to observe and collect data around an essential question of practice. Classroom observations are a small part of rounds; the team’s work—and richest learning for the team—occurs in the discussion that follow observations, when the team tries to make sense of the data in order to refine its understanding of highly effective teaching.
How is the essential question of practice determined?
The district leadership team decides on the essential question of practice. In general, the question is an issue that the team has identified as resulting in high-leverage, high-yield results for students once a collective understanding about the issue has been developed. This understanding emerges from a professional collaboration among educators that includes observation, data collection, and discussion.
Why are we doing this?
The school system is committed to improving the achievement of all students. Research clearly identifies classroom instruction as the single most important factor in student achievement; therefore, a shared understanding of what high quality, rigorous instruction looks like is essential if we are to make progress toward our goal. By working in collaborative teams such as rounds, we can learn more about effective teaching in order to support high-quality instruction as the standard in our schools.
Is there a formal agreement between the union and the administration about this process?
The union president has been aware of this process from the beginning. The process has the support of union leadership as a methodology for increasing both the professionalism of teaching and the role and responsibility teachers hold in school improvement. Rounds are non-evaluative and will help inform administration in planning meaningful professional development for all staff.
When will instructional rounds begin? Will rounds happen at every school?
Instructional rounds will happen at all schools. We piloted instructional rounds for the first time at Crocker Farm Elementary School on June 8. Beginning next year, instructional rounds will be phased in over time, so that every school in our districts will have the opportunity to host rounds. Principals may schedule rounds at the building level in addition to “district rounds.”
How many people are involved in the rounds visit?
Typically, an instructional rounds team consists of about twenty-five participants, including teachers, principals, assistant principals, and central office personnel. No more than six people will visit any single classroom at one time (usually, it’s about four to five people). Dr. Rebecca Woodland, an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership, who has been coaching the district leadership team this year, facilitated and participated in the visit at Crocker Farm. Superintendent Maria Geryk has invited her mentor, Kevin Courtney, and Liz Elder, president of the APEA (Wildwood), to join the team, as well. Also, teachers from Crocker Farm, Fort River, ARMS, and ARHS have been invited to observe the process.
Will every classroom be visited?
Rounds will involve multiple 15-minute visits to a random sample of classrooms in the building. Classrooms are visited two to four times each by such teams. It won’t be possible to visit every classroom in the school.
What will a teacher need to do in preparation for the team visit?
No special preparation is necessary.
What will the team do in a classroom? Won’t such a large group be disruptive to the class?
In our experience with rounds, classrooms continue to function normally. The team will be respectful of teachers and students while in the classroom, and will be unobtrusive. Team members will be taking notes in order to ensure that conclusions and recommendations are based on specific evidence and not just feelings or opinions. If students are working in groups, members of the team may visit with students and ask what they are doing. We have found that students generally work harder and process their work more deeply when caring observers are present.
Should a teacher be expected to interact with the team?
The team is coming to the classroom to learn more about teaching and learning. Team members will not interrupt the lesson, or ask questions of the teacher. We won’t be looking to the teacher to explain what’s going on, or what students have learned or are learning, so teachers should feel free to conduct the business of learning as usual. It will be an honor and a privilege for the team to learn from teachers in their practice.
Can a teacher opt out?
No. Transparency in teaching and collaboration are crucial elements of improvement in student achievement, and instructional rounds is one strategy for building capacity among all players in the district toward realizing that goal.
How will the team create an environment that respects psychological safety?
The primary purpose of rounds is the professional development of the team. Its business is not to judge the effectiveness of teachers, but to identify practices that engage, challenge, and result in student learning. Visiting team members are learners, not evaluators. The group’s focus is on developing a deep understanding of what is working for our students. The discussions that follow observations omit judgmental information about individual teachers. Who is doing what is not part of the discussion. Finally, no hard copy of material will exist that could identify teachers or associate teachers to observations.
What are the norms used by the rounds group in the discussions that follow observations?
While many of the norms pertain to the internal functioning of the group (e.g., “limit cell phone use to emergencies;” “value all voices and thinking about students and their achievement”), the group also has a strict confidentiality norm that participants will not discuss specific observations with anyone outside the group meeting. In addition, classrooms are never referenced by teacher name or room number during the internal discussions of the team. General results, feedback, and recommendations for the building are shared with school leaders, but no individual classrooms are ever discussed in these consultations.
Will any member of the group share individual feedback to the principal?
No. This is a violation of the norms of the group. The group understands that this would be a violation of the trust of the schools being visited and would seriously damage the group’s credibility.
Can the principal use the feedback for a formal evaluation?
Nothing observed in rounds will be included in any teacher evaluation.
What happens, then, to the data from observations? Will teachers receive feedback from this process?
School leaders will be sharing general themes from the visit with teachers, and will be working in partnership with teachers to continually refine and improve the district standard around teaching and learning that supports the achievement of all students. It is essential for all players in our district to learn together about high quality instruction. We need the collective wisdom that grows from collaboration between and among teachers and school leaders in order to make our schools better places for all children. All raw data from observations are shredded immediately following the debrief.
How will rounds benefit teachers?
Instructional rounds will help all of us develop professional learning communities, intentionally focused on teaching and learning, throughout our districts. Through instructional rounds, each of us will be able to tap into the collective wisdom of our colleagues—including teachers and school leaders working together—to support the achievement of our students. Research shows that teachers who collaborate in intentional teams focused on student learning feel more efficacious and supported in their quest to help all students make progress. Instead of being left on our own to grapple with the complex issues in our practice, we can turn to one another to identify high-leverage, high-yield strategies that will make a difference for all students.
For more information about instructional rounds, teacher collaboration, and student achievement, please see:
City, E., Richard F. Elmore, et. al., Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning, 2009.
Dufour, Dufour, and Eaker. Revisiting Professional Learning Communities at Work: New Insights for Improving Schools, 2008.