Saturday, January 11, 2014

An Inquiry Process to Improve Teaching: Instructional Rounds

Instructional Rounds
Targeting Improvement

Today's guest blog features my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Connie Tate, an Instructional Rounds Consultant from the Central Valley in California. Connie's background is stellar and richly diverse. During 36 years in education Connie has been a successful reading specialist, literacy resource teacher, an adjunct professor, classroom teacher and a guest lecturer at various universities.  She completed her doctoral degree in 2012 as part of the inaugural doctoral cohort at California State University, Stanislaus.  She and her husband Mick have three adult daughters and nine grandchildren.  She brings much information to share with us today.

       For more information on Instructional Rounds, to include a step-by-step guide she has prepared, feel free to contact Dr. Tate either through Saturday Morning Coffee (leave a comment or request) or email her directly at

“I have learned more about myself as a teacher and quality instruction in one day of instructional rounds than in five years of professional development.”
A teacher's comment after participating in Instructional Rounds

                Walk into any school in America and you will see teachers who care deeply about their students and are doing the best they can every day to help students learn.  Yet, you will also see a high degree of variability from classroom to classroom. Instructional Rounds asks educators to collaboratively define and establish a common understanding of what good teaching and learning looks like.

 What actions might lead to a more equitable education for all?

               A promising practice developed by the authors of Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning is a must read for 2014.  This book is intended to help education leaders and practitioners develop a shared understanding of what high-quality instruction looks like and what schools and districts need to do to support it.

               I personally became interested in Instructional Rounds in 2010,  and my intent is to pique your interest in a model that creates a culture of continuous learning and questioning through shared responsibility and commitment.

               Rounds is modeled after the medical training model, where medical students gather in a hospital room with an experienced doctor visiting a patient.  Afterwards they discuss what they observed.  Medical students base their comments on evidence and keep their comments factual such as the patient did this or I noticed this.  They ask questions and eventually, a diagnosis is offered with possible treatments.  
               City, Elmore, Friarman and Teitel applied this same medical training model—one that  includes a shared language and a common sense of what is effective to education to provide a disciplined way for educators to work together.  The result is a learning process focusing on classroom practice, not about a teacher's personality and/or style. The practice combines three elements: a network, an improvement strategy and classroom observations.

Rounds is an Inquiry-Based Process

It is designed to help network members understand what is happening in their classroom, NOT to evaluate or "fix" individual teachers. This is not about teacher evaluation.

Instructional Rounds versus Supervision and Evaluation
What rounds is Not
What rounds is. . .
A program
A practice designed to support an existing improvement strategy at the school level or system level.
A teacher evaluation tool
No assessment of individual teachers.
Separate the person from the practice; focus on the practice
Learn about effective learning and teaching.
An implementation check
Rounds focuses on patterns of practice, predicted results, not compliance directives.
Training for supervision
Rounds focuses on collective learning, rather than individual supervisory practice.
A community of practice where we expect to push each other and learn from each other.

How Do Rounds Work?

STEP 1: Convene a network*.  You assemble a group of colleagues who will meet together over time to solve a problem of practice connected to an improvement strategy.  
 *No steadfast rule to networks; while some are composed of peers such as a principal network, others may include multiple roles such as superintendents, specialists, teachers, and principals. A facilitator is helpful, but this model is not dependent upon outside consultants.  The first network I worked with was comprised of district superintendents, county office personnel and representation from California Department of Education.  Another network was comprised of only three rural superintendents and two county office consultants. Each of those networks maintained a leadership team within their own districts.

 Examples of Problems of Practice
  • Student engagement strategies are in place, but all students are NOT actively participating.
  • Are students provided powerful learning opportunities in reading and responding to expository text?
  • Is the students’ understanding in mathematics conceptual or only procedural?
  • Do teachers do most of the talking and thinking in the classroom?
  • How are teachers challenging students with questions that require high levels of thinking and reflection and how are students responding to questions posed in class?
               The school identifies a problem of practice.  A problem of practice focuses on instruction that is observable, actionable, connects to a broader strategy of improvement, and is high leverage.  It should also be something the school cares passionately about, feels stuck on, and wants to genuinely understand.  Schools vary in their process, but clearly if the problem is something teachers feel stuck on they need to have an opportunity for their input.

Observe Practice in Classrooms

STEP 2: The network will visit classrooms in groups of 4-6. Each group visits four classrooms, staying 20-25 minutes in each.  There are no checklists, rubrics or boxes for tally marks.  Observation teams collect data that is: descriptive, not evaluative; specific; about the instructional core; and related to the problem of practice. Trained beforehand, observers take note of the actual tasks students are doing.  The network is collecting evidence and not passing judgment on teachers.

Debrief Observation
STEP 3:  Observation teams discuss and analyze the data for trends. Observation teams also predict what students are learning by asking:  "If you were a student in the class/school and you did everything the teacher told you to do, what would you know and be able to do?"

               The debrief is steeped in protocol. The debriefing process moves in steps from description to analysis to prediction and leads participants into identifying the next level of work.

Two Hungarian consultants and two teachers from Pleasant View.
Identify the Next Level of Work

STEP 4: Network members think collaboratively about what resources and support are needed to provide teachers with what will result in an improved instructional core.  Some networks brainstorm action steps for this week, next month, and by the end of the year.  

               Rather than handing teachers a “fix-it” list on how to improve, members think together about what kinds of resources and supports teachers and administrators would need in order to move instruction to the next level.  The more detailed and precise the suggestions the more helpful they are.
               In my opinion, the next level of work is where the complex relationships among teachers, students and content are addressed.  At this juncture the rounds process requires members to look within the school and district to suggest new and powerful ways educators can work together to achieve the student-learning they desire.  They do NOT blame teachers, students, parents or other factors outside their sphere of influence.

               If we believe in the educability of all students, then we must also ensure that we provide the supports and resources necessary for educators to do so. In closing, I would like to share a Superintendent’s comment after implementing rounds in his district.

    " I found teachers were doing exactly what we asked them to do, the problem was that what we asked  them to do was not improving learning.  We are all responsible for the learning in our classrooms. If you are sitting in your office, then you do not know what is happening in your classrooms."

Additional Resources to Learn More

Targeting Improvement: Instructional Rounds by Colleen Gillard
feature article in current January, 2014 issue of AASA

Learning From Instructional Rounds by Elizabeth A. City
ASCD 2011/ Volume 69/ Number 2 

             Thank you Connie for graciously sharing your expertise on instructional rounds with us. Having been involved in district-wide improvement, I can see easily see the strength for a district's stake-holders (from superintendent to include all teachers), in learning how to hold one another accountable, individually and collectively. Can't wait to hear about the results. Please come back and share with us.
               For next week I will be featuring an interview with Daniel O'Neill, a passionate high school math teacher from Central Oregon. He has pushed the idea of student reflection and accountability wide open. His story has completely captured my attention and admiration. Please join us. You will be inspired. As always, I hope you have gained something of special interest and send you best wishes for a very Happy Saturday.

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