Instructional Rounds

She asked…

After a recent classroom observation, one growth-mindset, goal-oriented teacher asked me for feedback. Normally, I write up my notes on an instructional rounds tool and add an “I like, I wish, I wonder” component to the FOLIO page. I always offer a 1:1, face to face, meeting to debrief the notes, but few teachers take me up on my offer.

This teacher, however, initiated the ask before I even extended my offer. After we discussed our individual reflections on the lesson, I offered some additional insights. We focused on four areas.

  1. Classroom Practice
  2. Classroom Culture
  3. Programatic Design
  4. Leadership

We discussed strengths and identified opportunities for growth in each category in her role as a teacher-leader. This reflective, collaborative, and strategic discussion was a great reminder of the many facets of an educator’s role. These conversations are a great reminder of what I love about my job and my School!


Learning Walks are Scaling Up

More and more parents are expressing their interest in the daily Lower School experience. So far we have had three successful learning walks with parents. The goal is to share the open-door culture and practice of classroom observations with our parent partners. We also seek to receive feedback and grow from this process. Observing the flow of learning kindergarten through fourth grade brings many “I likes” and “I wonders” to an engaging debrief.

Some of the insightful feedback we have received includes:

I like

  • “Learning at Mount Vernon is extremely different than my school experience. It is so respectful of children.”
  • “I was surprised to see that learning is tactile all the way through fourth grade. I saw lots of math tools and lots of connections being made between math and science.”
  • “I saw how students were encouraged to think differently and allowed to enter the thinking at different times or using different methods: verbally, on ‘spider legs,’ or on post-it notes.”
  • “The centers in first grade. Everyone was doing something different, but they were all engaged and learning.”
  • “Rich vocabulary was everywhere even for the classroom helpers like electrician and tailgunner. This makes kids feel important.

I wonder

  • “Why do you teach nonsense words?”
  • “Why do some fourth grade classrooms only have math resources and others only have Language Arts?”
  • “What is this?” (a rekenrek)
  • “When do we start teaching US History and wars?”

We are excited to continue this practice with more learning walks being offered in the second semester.

Instructional Round, The Debrief

According to the work of Elizabeth City, Richard Elmore, Sarah Fiarman, and Lee Teitel in their book Instructional Rounds in Education, A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning, the debrief is a time to reflect on practice, discuss observations, analyze work, and grow from it. Three simple steps are described to accomplish this.

Taking the time to describe what the observed realized from his or her observation is an important but easily skipped first step. It is necessary to describe the recorded data by starting with questions. Each teacher needs time to reflect upon and gain more understanding about the observations that were made.

Through this intentional study and discussion, observers will also learn more about the practice of making observations, while the observed will realize what others see in his or her classroom.

Next, careful analysis should occur. The group may look for patterns. Patterns may exist in teacher language, student language, questioning techniques, space configuration, the role of the student, instructional modes, or student engagement levels.

The observers may also notice patterns in the way they recorded their own notes compared to another’s style.

After careful analysis, the group should predict how the task and teacher’s instruction relate to the learning. What are students learning? How do we know if they are learning it? This will bring awareness to areas for improvement. The group is challenged to predict the specific behaviors of students and teachers which promote or inhibit learning.

Finally, identify the work that needs to be done.  Considering current initiatives and available resources, a detailed plan of improvement should be agreed upon.  The book suggests exploring the following questions, which I am pleased to say that Mount Vernon can answer “yes!” to each:

  1. Do the hosts have common planning time? (Our teachers meet at least weekly, some daily, as a grade-level team along with our Director of Teacher and Learning)
  2. Are faculty meetings used for professional learning? (Faculty meetings are always used for professional learning. This year we have  explored assessment through the essential question, “How might we accurately communicate student achievement and promote more learning?”)
  3. Do teachers have a formal means for communicating across grades? (Every teacher is involved with at least one Research and Design Team with representatives PS-12 who focus on innovative practice in each discipline.)
  4. Have all of the faculty  members received training? (All teachers in Lower School, to varying degrees,  have received UbD, Project Zero, Design Thinking, Orton-Gillingham, Number Talks and Algebraic Thinking Investigatory Math trainings.)

We are reminded that improvement occurs (in students and teachers) when ideas and feedback are specific. We must push each other for detailed suggestions. The debrief is not about “fixing” the problem. It is about  developing clarity around what a rigorous and relevant learning environment looks like. Then making a plan to become one.

Instructional Rounds Part II, Thoughts on Kindergarten Cafe

Last Friday our team of 3 administrators and 1 Head of Grade set out at 1:00 to observe the learning that was going on in Lower School. While part of the intent of Instructional Rounds is to gather data about pedagogical practices occurring, I came away with more questions than answers that Friday afternoon. Some questions arose about my role in the process.

  • With so much going on in a classroom, I wonder where I should focus my attention.
  • I wonder where I should zoom in to most help this teacher.
  • I wonder how I can improve my observational and note-taking skills.

Other questions arose about instructional time in general.

  • How many kindergarten students can successfully learn under the direction of one teacher?
  • How might we measure learning and engagement of students more precisely?
  • How might we hold every child to the same expectation?
  • How many “silent thumbs” should a teacher see before she calls one one student to share?
  • How often do we reveal the learning objective or learning outcome with our students?
  • Should the teacher be the only one aware of the desired outcome of the lesson?
  • If students are not following classroom management routines, should a teacher stop to reinforce the routine, (like 1,2,3… eyes on me) or continue with the planned lesson?
  • How much time does the brain need to transition between and experiences such as an author study and a math lesson?
  • How do we harness the energy of the few students that dominate the discussion to allow time and opportunities for others to think and share their thoughts?
  • How does the way the teacher responds to a student comment effect the next contribution made by a student?
  • Before reflecting on the Instructional Rounds data, what would the Kindergarten Team have identified as a Kindergarten Cafe problem of practice? After reflecting on the data?

After reflecting on this list, I realize that Instructional Rounds are accomplishing their purpose. The answers to these questions are important, but it is more important that we will engage in collaboration and brainstorming around these ideas in a debrief with the Kindergarten team. I look forward to that discussion and observing the way Kindergarten Cafe grows as a result.

Instructional Rounds Debrief, Take 1

Cultivate a culture that is hungry for feedback. When I met Tyler Thigpen, head of upper school, he encouraged me to do just that. I did not know how when I heard his phrase three years ago, but that did not stop me from trying. I tried the line, “May I give you some feedback?” Then I changed my wording to, “May we collaborate on something?” I tried group think, one-on-ones, and dedicated reflection assignments. I tried modeling by asking others for feedback on my work. Regardless of my intentions, however, feedback still became known to some as the “F” word in our community.

Today, however, I can share an approach to feedback that has excited a small group of educators that we at Mount Vernon call Heads of Grade. After studying the process of Instructional Rounds through the work and coaching of Bo Adams, we attempted our first round two weeks ago. Four of us, three administrators and a current teacher/head of grade set out with our laptops. Our objective was to record dialogue of learners, space configurations, student roles, student engagement levels, instructional methods, and demonstrations of Mount Vernon Mindsets (21st century skills). Observation forms were shared with the teacher immediately after the completion of the round.  The observational notes were meant to be clinical in nature, not evaluative. Observers could add questions in parenthesis around their comments, however, to promote future conversation.

The morning following the rounds, we met before school in the Teacher Collab to debrief these notes. We found this article helpful to prepare for the debrief.

With the opening question posed, “How was this for you?”, we set the timer for 10 minutes per teacher. Sherri spoke first using a scan and respond method. “This was good feedback for me because it helps me know what to look for next time. I love that you all noticed my one student, John Smith. Does anyone have any ideas for how I can serve him better?” One idea that Sherri realized included not assessing work students were doing in centers other than the teacher-facilitated center. I am excited to see how she responds to this realization.

Andrea shared next by digging deep into one area of her observation. After being asked, “How was this for you?” She shared with the others that her lesson was about feedback in her second-grade classroom. Students were in control of peer feedback and she removed herself as the expert in the room. After reading the reflection, Andrea asked, “Should I have had my students write the feedback down?” Together, the team brainstormed a before and after chart that could serve as a visual to help students see how their writing improves after collaborating with another on it.

Lastly, Jenny answered the question, “How was this for you?” She shared that she was glad one observer caught the point of the lesson. She realized how long she spent going over the directions. She also realized her use of the word “perfect” and thought aloud, “Is that a word I ever want to come out of my mount?” We brainstormed some words that would better articulate the message of encouragement she attempted to convey.

Overall the team commented that they appreciated the clinical nature of the observations. It required time for reflection, a discipline we all too often preclude from our practice.

After the teachers returned to their classrooms, the admin team remained to meta-debrief. We explored questions like: How do we really measure engagement? Are we looking at desk or body arrangement when marking space configuration? We also asked questions about comments we made in the document and in person to make improvements for next time. This was a great learning experience for the observers and those observed. Feel free to review the observational notes attached.

Instructional Round Observation Notes

Kirbo –  McCranie  Farnham

Instructional Rounds

I love that fact that we at Mount Vernon are redefining the purpose of school. Being a learning organization does not only mean that we support the learning of children as our students, we also embrace the responsibility of developing every member of our community – students, parents, teachers, neighbors, and people around the world.

We are committed to doing the hard work, taking risks, failing, reflecting on our failure, and trying again. and again. and again.

Instructional Rounds were launched in the Middle School last semester, and have begun in Lower and  Preschool this semester. This process involves a set of protocols for observing, analyzing, discussing, and understanding the instruction and learning that happens in our classrooms. We look forward to the professional conversations that will begin around these observations and reflections.

Three observers became my mirror last week during our first attempt at Instructional Rounds. Here is the reflection of the Lower School faculty meeting. I invite you to join us on the journey of the practice of Instructional Rounds.