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December 3, 2014

What are Instructional Rounds?

by Chris Lindholm

TN-Protocol-200x183Today was an exciting and challenging day full of great learning work in #ISD186.  Six of our teacher leaders opened their classroom doors to a team of colleagues and administrators so we could take a deep dive into the Marzano Instructional Framework.  Using just 1 of the 61 elements in the framework, our learning was focused on what to look for, how to ask good coaching questions, and how to facilitate peer observations in a safe and trust-building manner.  The learning discussions were rich and the willingness of the team to take risks and dive into learning together was admirable.  

So what was this crazy activity about anyway?   After all, it looks a bit intimidating to see 3 principals, a superintendent, 4 – 7 teachers, a couple of coordinators, and a consultant walk into a classroom to do an observation… right?

It might look intimidating, but it shouldn’t be.  The purpose of our activities today was to engage in honest, collective inquiry into element 1 of the framework and into how to be better learning coaches when we do peer observations.  Key questions we wrestled with during our many pre and post conversations were:

  • What is a good learning goal and why does it matter?
  • What would it look like if we observed it being done well?
  • What questions should we ask in a post observation meeting to best support the teacher in his or her professional growth?
  • What is the difference between a learning goal and a daily lesson target?
  • How do we write a scale for a learning goal (element 2) – and how do we teach students about this scale?
  • How might students self-monitor their own progress towards demonstrating mastery of a learning goal?

It’s important to point out that our administrators were learning right along side our teacher leaders today.  I asked a lot of questions and gained a much better understanding of how to use the questions built into the protocol to better support our teachers and our principals as they do the work of instructional leadership.  Our principals asked a lot of questions also and offered insight about what they’ve seen in other lessons.  No one was evaluated today.  We focused entirely on our own learning about the framework and how to be “Leaders of Learning.”  Instructional rounds at this point in our journey in ISD 186 are focused entirely on developing a common understanding of the framework and how to use it to help each other grow and learn collaboratively.  Today our teams were learning the protocol for doing the instructional rounds – and we still have much learning to do.  We made mistakes today and will make some more, but we will learn from them and grow with each step.

What did we learn? 

While we already knew that many great instructional practices occur everyday in our classrooms, today we learned that we need more common language to discuss when, where, and how they are happening – and how to better connect them to results (student learning).  This led to some discussions about how to be more overt and intentional in our practice.  Ensuring that students know the learning goals and how to self-assess their progress against a well understood scale is a high bar for any teacher.  My group wrestled with this observing an 11th/12th grade science lesson and then observing a 3rd grade math lesson just a few hours later.  We learned that practicing how to apply element 1 at multiple grade levels and subjects through the activity/protocol of instructional rounds is challenging and an excellent learning activity that will make us better.  We also learned that elements 1 & 2 might be the most challenging to start with!!!  This led to some good dialogue about focusing on some of the other elements to create “quick wins” and more confidence with the processes.

The elephant in the room…

The air was thick a few times today with questions about the purpose of instructional rounds, and nonverbal signs that made very clear that feelings of fear and mistrust are alive and well in the hearts of some on our ISD 186 team.  While maybe not what some wanted to hear today, I made very clear that the only people who can fix or address that issue is… well… us.  Me included, and I own that responsibility.  That’s why I’m embracing and investing resources in processes to learn this framework and these protocols together with more teachers in the room than administrators. It’s why we have created official leadership positions for teachers such as Curriculum Leads and Building Leadership Team members and why we are dedicating time to pulling those folks together to learn collaboratively.  As a teacher, I wanted clarity about what was expected of me.  I’ve had the same feelings as a principal, and I still have those feelings as a superintendent.  Creating a common understanding of what we expect of teachers is why we are doing instructional rounds – so why would anyone resist a process for gaining clarity about what is expected?

Survey says… because it requires vulnerability – and that’s extremely difficult if we’ve been burned before.

Teaching is incredibly personal and involves putting our souls on the line every day.  We teachers don’t sell stuff.  We don’t manufacture stuff.  We reach into our own hearts and put treasured pieces out on the table in hopes of making a difference in the heart and mind of the kids we love.  Hearing feedback – while we want it – hurts when we realize that the piece we put on the table didn’t make a difference or wasn’t presented effectively.  Right??  This “feelings stuff” resonates for some more than others, but without question this work is personal for all of us.  Earlier this week I reposted a post from years back that included two clips of Parker Palmer discussing his book The Courage to Teach.  He gets it.  He puts words to this mind/feeling thing that happens inside every educator.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on shame and vulnerability.  This is a great topic for PLCs to discuss with some clear norms about how to step into it safely.  Here’s a tough question…  Are we, the instructional team in Pequot Lakes Schools, prepared to be vulnerable about instruction and our classroom craft?


Only we have the power to create an internal district environment that embraces the vulnerability necessary to learn about improving our practice, innovating, and changing to better serve our students.  And why wouldn’t we want to do that?  My own children – and most of your own children – attend our schools and deserve teachers willing to take these risks.  Today 6 teachers modeled the courage to be vulnerable and engaged in some great learning work through instructional rounds.  I learned a great deal from them, and I’m sure the rest of the team would argue the same.  I sincerely hope that 2015 will bring a sense of collective desire to jump into the inquiry process and reap the joy that comes from seeing growth in our craft and in the learning of our students!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the folks that jumped in today!!


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