John Hattie states in his book, Visible Learning, that “the highest impact on student learning occurs when teachers themselves become learners of their own teaching.” Improving teacher instruction and student achievement often requires the breaking of patterns of teacher seclusion. Instructional rounds provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate and take active roles in constructing their knowledge and their craft. Building this culture of collaboration impacts teachers and students at schools who intentionally pursue it.
The world of educational policies and reforms seems to be continually evolving from one initiative, strategy, and program to the next. While policies come and go, one element that many of these improvement plans have in common is their method of improving teachers individually, rather than making collaboration a priority for systemic improvements. Research supports the idea that to improve teacher instruction and student achievement, there must be opportunities for teachers to move from an old-fashioned model of individual learning to a more collaborative model of collective learning. One option for this would be to have school administrators and teachers participate in instructional rounds.
What Are Instructional Rounds?
The process of instructional rounds in education involves groups of teachers forming small network groups where they define a specific instructional practice to work on, observe each other at work in their classrooms, analyze their observations, and then plan steps of action toward improving their instruction.
The idea of conducting instructional rounds within a profession is not a new one. In fact, many researchers cite that initial instructional rounds in education have been based on the practice of rounds in the medical profession (Roegman & Riehl, 2012, p. 922). While medical rounds can vary from place to place, the process generally involves a senior attending physician taking less experienced medical students with them through rounds of bedside visits to review and explain treatments.
Instructional rounds in education are formatted slightly differently than medical rounds because hierarchy of any kind is rejected in the instructional rounds process for educators. While medical rounds emphasize a senior leader bestowing knowledge to peers, educational instructional rounds seek to establish a level playing field among participants and rely on the group’s cooperative knowledge in developing high-quality teaching. As Roegman and Riehl (2012) stated, “While doctors are attempting to transfer knowledge to students, facilitators and superintendents [of instructional rounds] are attempting to create a collaborative culture in which all are teachers and learners” (p. 937).
Tietel (2013, p.19) described schools that had implemented rounds to have generated three things:
- A clear idea about what high-quality teaching and learning should look like
- A coherent and strategic approach to systemic improvement
- A collaborative approach to adult learning that is embedded in practice and relies on engagement and inquiry rather than compliance
During the observations, groups typically will stay in the classroom for 20–25 minutes. Observers are tasked not with evaluating the teacher being observed but rather describing what they see happening. They are answer questions including “What are the students doing and saying? What is the teacher doing and saying? What is the task?”
What Teachers Gain from Instructional Rounds
The process of instructional rounds fits the needs of adult learners perfectly. Glickman, Gordon, and Rose-Gordon (2013) stated that “in order to learn and grow, teachers must participate in a continuous cycle of collaborative activity and reflection on that activity, and must develop the powers of critical thinking” (p. 47). Teachers who participate in rounds should expect to learn not only elements about teaching but also aspects about themselves. Instructional rounds add professionalism to teachers’ practice because through being active participants in their own learning, teachers gain ownership of their craft, a broader perspective of what excellent teaching looks like, and are able to see measurable improvements in their goals.
I have been leading an instructional rounds program for middle and high school teachers for the past five years at Sioux Falls Christian School. One of the biggest gains I have seen happen is the community that is built in these small groups. Teachers who potentially would merely cross paths in the hallway have a chance to not only learn from each other but get to know each other better and build friendships. This is especially helpful for new teachers, as it allows them to be more immersed into our school family. Young teachers and veterans alike learn tips and tricks from each other, and in the end, all are better for it. The biggest hurdle in our experience with instructional rounds is the scheduling. It takes a lot of coordination and some substitute teachers to execute these days well, but if you can manage it, I have found it to be well worth the effort.
In his book, Visible Learning, John Hattie states the highest impact on student learning occurs when teachers themselves become learners of their own teaching (Hattie, 2009, p. 22). Therefore, to improve teacher instruction and student achievement, schools need to break the pattern of teacher seclusion and provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate as well as take active roles in constructing their knowledge. Instructional rounds may be just the ticket.
Glickman, C. D., Gordon, S. P., & Rose-Gordon, J. M. (2013). The Basic Guide to SuperVision and Instructional Leadership (Third ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
Hattie, J. A. C. (2009). Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Student Achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.
Roegman, R., & Riehl, C. (2012). Playing Doctor with Education: Considerations in Using Medical Rounds as a Model for Instructional Rounds. Journal of School Leadership, 22(5), 922–952.
Teitel, L. (2013). School-Based Instructional Rounds: Improving Teaching and Learning Across Classrooms. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Jessica De Wit currently serves as the K–12 Teaching for Transformation director and professional development coordinator at Sioux Falls Christian School. She holds a B.A. in Music Education and a Masters of Education in Educational Leadership from the University of Sioux Falls. She has been teaching in Christian schools for fifteen years. Jessica’s deep hope is to inspire creativity, curiosity, and a joyful community of learners that celebrates our potential as Christian educators. If you have questions for Jessica about incorporating instructional rounds in your school, contact her at gro.naitsirhcsllafxuois@tiwedj.
Instructional rounds add professionalism to teachers’ practice because through being active participants in their own learning, teachers gain ownership of their craft, a broader perspective of what excellent teaching looks like, and are able to see measurable improvements in their goals.