I never pretend to know all of the answers to hard questions like Chad's but I love exploring potential answers in my work as a principal.
Greer Elementary is in school improvement with the Virginia State Department of Education and one of the things we need to do as a result is write a school improvement plan with the VDOE. They empower us at the school level to choose 5-7 improvement strategies from a list of a couple of hundred. One of the strategies is to develop a system of peer observations in the school. We chose this strategy for some simple reasons: it was a lot better than some of the other ones, it had real potential to change culture in our school, and I was personally tired of paying lip service to peer observations every year and never really implementing them.
So with the leadership of our instructional coaching team at Greer, Ken Ferguson and Sue Harris, we dove into the book Instructional Rounds. Ken has especially been instrumental in leading the effort of rounds in our building from developing our unique philosophy behind it and working out all of the details.
A couple of choice quotes from the book:
- "The rounds process is an explicit practice that is designed to bring discussions of instruction directly into the process of school improvement. By practice we mean something quite specific for observing, analyzing, discussing, and understanding instruction that can be used to improve student learning at scale. The practice works because it creates a common discipline and focus among practitioners with common purpose and set of problems."
- "The process of rounds requires participants to focus on a common problem of practice that cuts across all levels of the system."
- "You improve schools by using information about student learning, from multiple sources, to find the most promising instructional problems to work on and then systematically developing with teachers and administrators the knowledge and skill necessary to solve those problems."
- "Language is culture. Culture is language. How people talk to each other about what they are doing is an important determinant of whether they are able to learn from their practice."
Here are some of our rounds strategies unique to Greer:
- Every single teacher and administrator is involved in rounds. We decided against piloting. We are all in. If we ever want to make teaching public at Greer, we could not have this be an opt in event.
- Every teacher gets coverage two hours a month to practice observing from video and then spending time observing in different classes.
- We have focused relentlessly on having everyone practice non-judgmental feedback. It is a harder skill to learn than people think.
- The teacher involved in rounds on a given day debrief after school.
- We took feedback from every teacher after a few months of rounds and had the school improvement team do old fashioned sorts and wordle sorts with the info to come up with our school challenge of practice. Our challenge of practice- how to improve as a school at checking for understanding multiple times in a lesson.
PLC meetings can get old. For those of us schooled in the Dufour model, we can sometimes look at test data every which way til Sunday and still never really talk instruction in a meaningful way. Rounds helps get at it.
But one caution. Although the book is written more for division rounds teams, the first few chapters are essential for understanding the process. Rounds are not walkthroughs. Rounds are not observation checklists. Do not implement the process if you are just doing that because you will not change culture in a building. "Language is culture, culture is language" and we cannot make that phrase meaningful until we foster powerful conversations among a staff around what is actually happening in the classroom.