“I discovered, to my surprise, that the adults in school~even colleagues who had more or less equal power~found it hard to trust each other. Something about teaching is so personal and raw that teachers spend a lot of energy avoiding serious help from those who could best give it.” ~Deborah Meier~
Our district has embarked upon an ambitious project; the adoption of the Instructional Rounds protocol as a process to support networked professional learning across the district. Instructional Rounds is a model of collaborative professional inquiry that has been developed under the leadership of Richard Elmore and a team of educators at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Based upon 7 guiding principles, the essential premise of Rounds is that improvements in student learning can only occur through the careful observation, description and analysis of classroom practice with subsequent predictions and suggestions on what may need to done to address the problems of practice that are revealed through this process. To paraphrase master Yoda, dangerous work, this is.
The dominant culture in North American education is one of isolation and privatized practice. Don’t get me wrong; teacher collaboration is abundant in schools. We share unit plans, resources, ideas and work together to make a wide range of extra-curricular activities and a hardy few collaborate deeply using social media platforms and through blogs and entities like the DEN. We share, which is good; but we don’t really engage in what Judith Warren Little calls ‘joint work’, which would be better.
Rounds offers a way to do this type of work; to safely pull the veil away from the isolated nature of teaching practice and make this practice the focus of deep, collaborative professional learning. Last week, along with a colleague, I served as a co-facilator to a network of 5 elementary schools that were engaging in this process, one of the first networks to do so in our district. Much attention was paid to developing norms and protocols to guide our work and ensure that the integrity of the process was followed. Since a big focus of the process involves having the participants divide into teams to observe and record descriptions of actual lessons; much of our focus and attention as facilitators was on keeping this ‘safe.’ We were also happy to have the support of our local teacher union and welcomed participation of the union local president as a member of one of the teams.
With all these careful considerations in place, all of us, facilitators and participants, found the day to be challenging; stretching us and pushing us away from our old, safe habits of evaluative and judgemental language and towards a more analytical stance about the teaching and learning that was observed. As @debmeier reminds us, it is hard for us to trust one another to the point where we can accept genuine feedback on our teaching. Even when this is exactly what we we all need and, deep down, what we want.
As a stated in the opening, we are in the early stages of putting this into practice as a district and my goal is to safely and respectfully archive and share the journey through this blog, and using the hashtag #RoundsYR. Please feel welcome to join me on the journey…