I had the fortunate experience to be a part of a team from our district that recently returned from a week of Instructional Rounds training at Harvard. The days included rich learning in a group setting, trips to local schools for actual Instructional Rounds and debrief sessions to discuss possible solutions to their problems of practice, followed by daily planning time as a team. For those of you that are unfamiliar with these terms: Instructional Rounds is a process developed by the Harvard School of Education in which a group of educators visits a school to support a team of teachers through a problem of practice. Problems of practice are challenges the teachers identify as barriers in their school that prevent them from effectively helping their students move forward and meet their desired levels of success. Our daily planning time focused on building on the Rounds work already started in our own district, and eventually using it to support larger teacher teams and perhaps even entire schools with their problems of practice related to their school improvement plans. These plans should reflect the work described in our Pathways to Learning Education Plan, which is designed to guide our district in its transition away from teaching and learning granular outcomes in every subject and grade level, towards providing broader competency-based learning opportunities for our students.
Ours was the second team to be trained from our district. The group that participated last year had begun integrating the practice with seven single class visits using an adapted strategy and an invitational approach. This meant collecting classroom data that stayed down the level of inference as per usual practice, but in a clear departure from the Harvard strategy, the classroom teachers were invited in to join the debrief session which allowed them to reach their own conclusions about their instructional practice based on review of the raw data and the conversations that followed. This local modification increased the safety level for participating teachers as well as helped to build facilitator confidence. This was a great way to introduce the practice in a comfortable manner, but we are very interested in broadening its impact as we move forward.
As with any larger endeavour, there are several moving parts which require consideration. In addition to planning the transition from single-class visits to full scale Instructional Rounds, there will be a need to promote the opportunity, describe what it is and what it can do, as well as explain who got to go to do the training, who gets to go next, and why we are spending money on this instead of something else. The local teacher's union has raised concerns about the cost of each trip, which equates to about four more blocks of teaching time or one more education assistant spread across the district, so it is up to us to explain how this process will grow its members' confidence through the Pathways transition in a way that educator time alone never could.
It is important for us to make the best possible use of the practice, which will require locating the sweet spot between ineffective platitudes that don't actually help, and the kind of pointed observations that can be potentially off-putting and discourage further teacher participation. Our team is very aware of the challenge it faces in this regard (especially in our post labour-dispute context), but every member is equally committed to seeing the process meet its full potential in regard to building teacher efficacy and transforming student learning.
Some articles describing Instructional Rounds:
Improving Teaching and Learning through Instructional Rounds
School Based Instructional Rounds