Chatting About Instructional Rounds

Chatting about instructional rounds

Chatting About Instructional Rounds

Last week, I was invited to chat (via Google Hangouts) with a group of students at Harvard about instructional rounds. Wow – what an honor! It was fun to share the experiences of my team since we launched the practice of IR at Mount Vernon in 2013.

Some of the questions posed included…

How do you transform the culture of a school?

How much time do you spend aligning terms, norms, and expectations with observers and teachers?

How do you measure and capture the demonstrations of the MV Mindsets?

Have you ever included students or parents in instructional rounds?

Do you start with a problem of practice? What are some examples? What about teachers self-identifying a goal or focus in advance of being observed?

Following the chat, one student engaged in a follow up correspondence. His questions provide great prompts for discussion.

After teachers receive the feedback, what do the reflective and responsive action parts of the process look like in practice at your school? That is, once observations are made and data collected, how are strategies for improvement, for growth, ideated and communicated? Are individual teachers supposed to develop new ideas based on the information in SurveyMonkey and test them out on their own, or are there structures in place to help facilitate this in more of a collaborative way? In other words, what does the feedback process look like in terms of strategies for growth and learning among teachers?

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Thanks for the Feedback

Our team has recently discovered this fabulous book, recommended by Meredith Monk from Folio Collaborative. The authors outline the 3 types of feedback we all need and receive as human beings: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.

None of these concepts are new, but the clarification of each one, as well as the interconnectedness of them are providing important insights for us. Just the summary from Chapter 1 alone has given us great fodder for discussion and reflection.

“Feedback” is really three different things, with different purposes:

Appreciation – motivates and encourages.
Coaching – helps increase knowledge, skill, ability, capability, growth, or raises feelings in the relationship.
Evaluation – tells you where you stand, aligns expectations, and informs decision making.

We need all three, but often talk at cross-purposes.

Evaluation is the loudest and can drown out the other two. (And all coaching includes a bit of evaluation.)

Be thoughtful about what you need and what you’re being offered, and get aligned.

Implementing Instructional Rounds

Implementing Instructional Rounds

Recently, the idea was posed to us about how to implement instructional rounds. I’m so excited at the prospect of sharing this valuable practice with other educators, that my mind began racing. Hundreds of thoughts all crashing together in my mind at the same instant.

Pulling out a trusty, white legal pad, I began to scribble down questions. Ah, start with questions. It’s embedded in my DNA.

Questions for Schools to Discuss Before IR

  • Can you describe your school’s current model for observation? Current evaluation model? Feedback model?
  • Is there any peer to peer observation happening in your school?
  • If you were to start with a small, pilot group, who are the people who will observe? What training do they need?
  • Who will be observed? What training or information will they need?
  • Are the right conditions of trust in place? Or do they need to be developed before beginning IR?
  • What tool will you use during the observations to capture what you see? What are the key elements or problems of practice you will focus on during your rounds?
  • How will you structure your debriefs? What formal or procedure will you use? How will you prepare people for the debrief to get the most out of it?
  • Logistically, when and how will you schedule the rounds and debriefs?
  • instructional rounds
    The Science Vertical Team debriefs after an observation. Trust is key to a successful conversation. The focus is growth not evaluation.

    instructional rounds
    Bo Adams shares about how MVPS approaches instructional rounds.

Traditional Observation v Instructional Rounds

Instructional Rounds

In our third year of practicing instructional rounds, I continue to learn and grow in my ability to deliver quality, meaningful feedback to our teachers. They are the best. The top. The elite professionals. I often tell them they are the “Michael Phelps” of education. And even Michael Phelps needs a coach to be the best in his field. I believe instructional rounds is one of the most effective methods to professional growth in education.

“A commitment to professional learning is important, not because teaching is of poor quality and must be ‘fixed,’ but rather because teaching is so hard that we can always improve it. No matter how good a lesson is, we can always make it better. Every professional teacher has a responsibility to be involved in a career-long quest to improve practice.” C. Danielson

What is the difference between the traditional observation that far too many educators experience across the nation and the practice of instructional rounds? 

Traditional Observation Instructional Rounds
1 admin observes 1 teacher at a time 3-5 admin/teachers observe 1 teacher at a time, 3-4 teachers in a row. All 6-9 debrief together for an hour in the same week.
observer leaves carbon copy of eval in teacher’s mailbox observee receives 3-5 typed evaluations in advance of a whole group, one hour debrief. **
observation happens once maybe twice throughout year observations happen at least 4 consecutive weeks for more frequent, in depth feedback
data is useful only for that teacher data is useful for teacher and helps school build a pedagogical map of teaching and learning practices
Instructional Rounds
Students conduct science experiments with measurement in centers during instructional rounds observation.
Instructional Rounds
The job of the observer is to capture what one sees and hears. Be as objective as possible, reflecting back like a blind spot mirror to the teacher being observed during instructional rounds.
Instructional Rounds
It is difficult to fly under the radar during instructional rounds when 3-5 observers walk in (and when our students are so friendly).
Mrs. Levison’s class is always thought-provoking and interactive. During this lesson, she is challenging students to come up with questions that test whether something (fire, a blade of grass, etc.) is alive. Does it grow? Does it breathe? Does it die? Is it alive? I love instructional rounds – I learn so much.

The official hashtag I use for instructional rounds is #irfedu. Please use it and share your experiences. What other differences can you see between traditional observation and instructional rounds?

Another Round of Instructional Rounds

This Fall will be our Middle School team’s 3rd consecutive year utilizing instructional rounds as a key part of our reflective practice and professional learning cycle. With the exception of developing and leading professional learning, I believe observing teachers and providing feedback through follow up debriefs is my favorite part of being an educational leader.

Utilizing a data collection tool created by Bo Adams in Survey Monkey, we have provided detailed, written feedback to each individual educator observed, as well as mapped out a larger view of our collective pedagogical practices – a fancy phrase for “stuff that happens in classrooms.” We observe and measure data points such as ‘what role is the student asked to perform: consumer, producer, researcher, etc’ and ‘which MV Mindsets are being infused and to what degree.’

Since September 2013, Middle School has documented a total of 525 observations using Instructional Rounds.

To iterate, this year’s IR Networks will be organized by vertical teams. In another new twist, those being observed will switch roles and conduct an observation of their vertical team peers at least once during the 4 observation experience.

Our ‘problems of practice’ (a fancy term for what we will focus on during the observations), will include assessments, use of interactive technology, and elements of design thinking.

Instructional Rounds is a four-step process:
1) Identifying a focus/problem of practice
2) Observation
3) Debrief
4) Focusing on the next level of work

* (City, Elmore, Fiarman, Teitel)

Instructional Rounds observations focus on a problem of practice related to the Instructional Core.


P.E.A.K. – Professional Learning


In 2009, I designed and piloted a program at Chattahoochee HS that enabled teachers to observe one another and share feedback for the purpose of professional growth. The program was called “PEAK” an acronym for “Peer Experience and Learning.” The idea being that if an educator desires to reach new heights in his/her teaching craft, then he/she must rely not merely on what was learned in teacher college and inside the four walls of the individual classroom, but also on the experience and knowledge of one’s peers.

The PEAK program was part of my grad school work at GCSU and though it was short-lived, it was a precursor to the work I love most today – instructional rounds. If schools truly aim to create professional learning communities, then administrators must find time and space for collaboration outside of the teaching schedule and beyond the confines of a single room. Take any hallway in your school and add up the total years of experience and degrees earned by the teachers. There is a gold mine of professional learning waiting to be discovered right next to you. For free.

Teacher Feedback – Old School

In my basement are 5 large boxes of files from 10 years of teaching. It used to be more, but I have been slowly condensing the boxes over the last 4 years. I was amazed to discover some old observation feedback from my first year at Dunwoody HS. It was fascinating to compare how I received feedback then as a teacher to how I capture and deliver feedback now as an administrator, especially as it relates to instructional rounds (#IRFEDU).

Teacher Feedback


Date: April 13, 2000
Focus of Lesson: Socialism/Capitalism
Teaching Task I: Provides Instruction

Your students participated in the classroom discussions as well as the homework review. The student responses indicated the appropriate instructional level. By discussing genetics concepts of historical value and relating those to genetics of today (cloning) you built for the transfer of knowledge.

Teaching Task II: Assesses and Encourages Student Progress

By using a combination of instructional activities, classroom debate between socialism and capitalism and the homework review allowed you to monitor progress as well as to promote engagement.

Teaching Task III: Manages the Learning Environment

I appreciate the importance you place on room organization and cleanliness. Please request that the custodial staff remove any extra and unnecessary furniture. (Stacked desks, brown computer station) Your students demonstrated appropriate behavior and remained on task.

Teacher Feedback


Date: January 20, 2000
Focus of Lesson: Renaissance and Reformation
Teaching Task I: Provides Instruction

 Your teaching style encourages concept teaching rather than strictly factual teaching. You developed the concept by sharing facts (dates), opinions (politicians), and drawing conclusions.

Teaching Task II: Assesses and Encourages Student Progress

 As you introduced the Renaissance you promoted engagement by introducing the “characters” – Michelangelo, Martin Luther, and Gutenberg. As you introduced new topics you reminded students of first semester concepts and how they were important with today’s discussion (ex: Renaissance humanities)

Teaching Task III: Manages the Learning Environment

As you encouraged students to define “humanism” you reminded students not to burst out. Your class is attractive. If the stacked desks are not needed please ask Mr. Davidson to have them removed. All learners were involved in note taking and demonstrated appropriate behavior.

 Teacher Feedback

Date: April 13, 2000
Annual Evaluation Summary Report

Mr. Houston uses a variety of instructional techniques which results in a high level of student interest and involvement. I appreciate that he values every instructional moment and teaches bell to bell. Mr. Houston will continue to grow and develop as a master teacher.

Mr. Houston fulfills all duties and responsibilities assigned to him. He is an asset to Dunwoody High School and the social studies department.