I recently read Instructional Rounds . I am including my responses to the book.
According to the book Instructional Rounds by City, Elmore, Fiarman and Teitel instructional rounds has the purpose of “meshing with a system-level strategy of school improvement and reinforces mutual accountability relationships between students, teachers, and administrators. “ p. 156
However, I have questions about the
- the lack of data supporting the premise,
- the supposed resources to be spent on something that does not have verified support for the increase of student achievement which should be our prime focus.
- ONE: Premise:Rounds is based on the “intersection of walkthroughs, networks, and district improvement strategies.” There are representatives from various positions on the team from superintendent, principal, a teacher, and central office. The goal is to implement a system-wide strategy focused on the instructional core. There is a year or more of training for these administrators as to what to look for and how to ask questions. The teams visit schools maybe once every 2 years and do some follow-up. The goal seems to be to implement the district-wide goals or the strategic plan. It feels like this is more about accountability, which they state as a goal, than it is about improvement in student learning.
- It seems like instructional rounds is more about building a definition of an instructional leader, accountability, implementing the strategic plan than it is about improving learning for students. Even a union president on one of the teams said “This is a way of making administrators smarter about the work of teaching, and anything that does that can’t hurt.” P. 156 Is this really where we should be spending this amount of time?
3. Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, recognized experts on schools and school change, say in Professional Capital, “We are paying more attention to leadership and leadership development but still putting too much faith in leaders as heroic individual saviors, rather than in communities of leaders who work together effectively and build on each other’s work over time.” P. 44
4. There are ways of building instructional leaders and also putting the primary focus on student achievement. The rounds process takes a lot of time and energy and only through happenstance, will improve student learning. We don’t have time for major resource-users of time and energy to be devoted to something that isn’t focused as a primary goal on student learning. Fullan and Hargreaves say it this way. “ We are at a new crossroads in educational reform…this still requires leadership, but it is the kind of leadership that reconciles and integrates external accountability with personal and collective professional responsibility. It is the leadership that focuses on developing teachers’ professional capital—as individuals, as teams, and as a profession.” P. 45 It is NOT only about building the instructional skills of administrators. Granted, we need this desperately but there are better models, less expensive and time-consuming models, than instructional rounds!!
5. Fullan and Hargreaves even mention instructional rounds to say, “Walkthroughs and instructional rounds are other quick-fix technologies that will again produce pitifully low returns unless there has been prior investment in knowing one’s staff and colleagues and building relationships with them. And without underlying trust, respect, or sheer time to build relationships, leaders who instigate what are now called challenging or courageous conversations with their teachers about expectations, strategies, or results will learn all too quickly that what is challenging to them can come across as just downright offensive to their teachers. P. 113-114.
6.In this process student learning is certainly one of the goals but it should be the primary goal. Our work, training, and discussions have to focus at the teacher level, with those individuals who are doing the immediate work in the classroom. Administrators certainly should be part of that but the FOCUS should be on teachers and classrooms, not on building a cross-positional district team that is to parlay the district goals into reality. This is too top-down and we know from experience that that does not always translate to increased change or student achievement.
7. John Hattie in Visible Learning Inside, as quoted in Fullan because of his metanalysis of metanalyses of things that work to improve student achievement, states “Teachers are among the most powerful sources of influence on learning.” p. 52. Therefore, we need to concentrate on highly trained, highly skilled teachers who deliver best practice instruction and monitor student learning constantly.
8. Their premise is that Rounds is a way to bring alignment with district goals. We know from experience and research that the work of creating and implementing strategic plans is most often at the district, central office level. Seldom do teachers engage in this process actively. And even more seldom could you interview teachers and have them recite the district goals. If one asks teachers what is on the strategic plan or what the goals are, few, if any, could tell you. Teachers are focused on their immediate concerns of educating the students that come before them daily. They may be aware of their building’s goal but seldom do they understand how that interfaces with the district’s goal. We know from research that if a strategic plan is over 1 page long, most of the practitioners do not know—or care—what is on the plan because they don’t feel it affects their work directly.
Should it be important for teachers to know the district direction? Certainly, but they must see it as meaningful and affecting their daily work. Again there are ways to utilize district plans without this labor- intensive plan of instructional rounds.
9, Rounds is built on the medical model. Just as schools are not businesses, schools are also not hospitals, focusing on cardiac rounds, or cancer rounds or pediatric rounds. Rounds usually focuses on a single patient at a time for the expert to professionalize the practice of the learner. Questions are asked and the focus is on one patient at a time.
Teachers have all types of “patients” in their classroom at any given time. The “cardiac”, “pediatric”, “surgical” patients are not segregated into separate wards. Teachers and schools CANNOT focus on one patient at a time—they have 25-30 at a time in any one classroom all presenting with different issues that need to be addressed. A secondary teacher may see 150-180 “patients” a day, all of whom must be analyzed and taught. The model does not translate to the real work of teaching.
9. Rounds provides feedback that is too infrequent to make a lasting impact
If a team only comes to each school once every two years to ask questions and then providing feedback and monitoring progress, that is too infrequent to make deep change. This schedule is no different than annual or semi-annual teacher evaluations given from administrators and we know that those seldom, if ever, have impact on deep instructional practices.
What changes daily practice is if teachers receive training and feedback several times a year so they can make daily and weekly adjustments to their teaching based on well-formed learning targets, formative, assessments, and collegial time to discuss how students are doing.
If we want to spend resources, we should allow our teachers daily time to examine student work as do the countries with high international test scores such as Finland, Singapore, Japan, and China.
Our teachers spend more time in front of students than do other countries that get better results. They need more collaborative time so that they receive feedback and look at data [See book notes on Finnish Schools]
In the US teachers do more work than in the countries named above. We need to make our classrooms so that students are doing the work and teachers are facilitating. [See book notes on Professional Capital]
10.The structure of rounds is that there are teams of observers who represent different positions—superintendent, central office, principal, a teacher,
I have concerns about the time commitment rounds requires and the ability of these people to follow through. There are days of training, meetings once a month, 5 or more days of observations, follow-up discussions, and a commitment that this lasts over a period of 2-3 years. I cannot see superintendents and principals being able commit to this time. Is that realistic? Their days are already demanding. People in these positions can be part of collaborative teacher teams to enter into the instructional discussions without adding this additional layer. They can be part of teacher teams that are, hopefully, already in place.
The other issue is that no matter how wonderful the relationship between principal-teacher, superintendent-staff, teachers will ALWAYS worry if the observation is evaluative in nature. Principals evaluate teachers. Superintendents are evaluating us all. Positional power cannot suddenly be turned off to be a “coach.” Human nature does not work that way. It would be more effective to train groups of teachers who are trained in cognitive coaching to work with each other to improve practice: THAT would make an instructional difference to our students and THAT’s what is important here.
Cognitive coaching is an effective tool for engaging teachers in improving their practice by using reflective strategies, understanding best practice instruction, and concentrating on student learning. The questions that Instructional Rounds participants are using are NOT coaching strategies. Supposedly, they are descriptive in nature, based on observation. Observation is only one tool. Reflection needs to be a part in order to create deep change. Plus, from the information in the book, it does not appear that training in interrater reliability is part of the professional development. How can instruction be improved if the teams are not observing for the same thing? Asking the same questions? Providing similar feedback? It is hard for teachers to believe that when the observers are “describing their evidence” that that is not evaluative in nature.
What the participants are trained to look for is not best practice. They are to answer 3 questions: a. What are teachers doing and saying? b. What are students doing and saying? c. What is the task?
The questions should be: What are the learning targets? Are students learning them? How do we know? What do teachers do if students don’t master the content? What do teachers do to accelerate those who already know? [These are basically the questions from Rick DuFour’s work on effective professional learning communities.]
The Rounds questions are too behavioral. Plus, the teams aren’t investigating the data to look at what students are actually learning, in addition to behavior in a classroom. They look at what activities a student is involved in. But how do they if that activity is part of a genuine learning target? Targets and activities are not the same thing. A student who appears engaged in a classroom may or may not be “learning.” That is what we have to know—Are students learning and are they learning the “right stuff?”
11. The authors state that rounds creates systemic change:
What proof is there of this? They do not offer any data that proves there was systemic change in any of the four groups. “Educators report that the rounds work increases their acuity and sophistication around instructional issues and builds a strong set of collegial relationships with a common language and common set of concerns” p. 12 of Instructional Rounds But does that create change at the classroom level? It hasn’t in the past. It feels like the visits and the professional development affect isolated, small populations that have few vehicles to share the ideas across an organization to create systemic change.
So why do we want to do this again? It’s the Chinese definition of insane—doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
TWO AND THREE; Lack of data showing that Instructional Rounds makes a difference and spending our resources on things that make a difference in student learning.
- In the book on Instructional Rounds the authors state that the participants report that Rounds makes a differenceThe authors have worked in four different groups: Cambridge Leadership Network, Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network, , Ohio Leadership Collaborative, Connecticut Superintendents’ Network.
- There were no samples of student data that learning had improved in any of those four settings. The comments were that the participants reported that the professional development—for them—and the networking—for them—was beneficial. But if this work does not translate to higher student achievement, why are we doing this?
- Fullan, Hargreaves, Doug Reeves, John Hattie and others have worked in hundreds of schools and entire countries and have data that supports the work they do in providing professional training and collaborative coaching for teachers creating systemic change AND, most importantly, improvement in student learning. The above authors are given credit for the success of schools in Finland, Wales, England, Ontario, and many other places. But their work focuses on building the professional capacity of teachers and focusing on student learning.
4. Building collaborative cultures with teachers (and administrators can certainly be a part of this and they should be) “build social capital and therefore also professional capital in a school’s community….Talk together, plan together, work together—that’s the simple key. The bigger challenge is how to get everyone doing that. P. 114 Professional Capital.
“Collaborative cultures do require some guidance and intervention. But this supports, facilitates, and creates opportunities for teachers to work together. P. 119 in Fullan and Hargreaves “ Deliberate change requires deliberate measures. Contrived collegiality is collaboration on steroids. The differences between merely arranged and artificially contrived or forced collegiality are to be found in whether there is already enough trust, respect, and understanding in a culture for any new structures or arrangements to have the capacity to move that culture ahead.” Fullan and Hargreaves, p. 125
It is important that administrators are instructional leaders. It is also important that district goals are aligned with building goals and that building goals are enacted by teachers in individual classrooms. However, instructional rounds focuses too much on district level participants with a focus on implementing system goals which does not translate to increase in student achievement.
We don’t have the luxury of spending valuable time and resources on an intensive process that is not directly linked to increasing student achievement. If we have resources, we should be providing time and training to teachers to focus on learning targets, checking for understanding for our students, reteaching, relearning, how to collaborate to focus on student learning. Rounds involves fewer people than training all teachers at an intense level of training, but consequently will have spotty impact. If we want systemic change for our students, we need to concentrate our time and energy on our teachers because highly trained, highly skilled teachers make a difference.
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