By Mindy Farry, School Improvement and Accountability Representative
How do you gather evidence of teacher performance to coach, reflect, and eventually evaluate teachers? Formal observations, of course, give school leaders a great deal of information. In addition, conferencing with the teacher both before and after an observation also helps gather a more comprehensive picture of a teacher’s practice and what focus areas might be most beneficial to that teacher.
But, besides those more formal processes, walkthroughs and instructional rounds can also help a school leader see instruction in the building, not only teacher by teacher, but also as an overview of instructional practices throughout the building.
Traditional walkthroughs are short, intermittent visits to the classroom. One of the most beneficial ways to conduct effective walkthroughs is to focus on an instructional strategy or student behavior. Otherwise, in a short ten minutes, an evaluator could become overwhelmed by the number of pieces of evidence.
Let’s use the example of opening classes with an activity (bell ringer) and an explanation of the objective and the agenda for the class. Do a brief mini lesson with the staff about the importance of these items, how they might benefit instruction in their classrooms, share an article, and then set a goal for the weekly walkthroughs. You might say, “This week, I’m going to be focusing on these items in my walkthrough, and I will let you know the classroom averages at the end of the week. We are aiming for 85%.” As the building leader, you might even keep a visible graph in the office or the teachers’ work area to show how many walkthroughs you’ve conducted (it will keep you focused, as well) and what the percentage of classrooms are using those techniques.
At the end of the week, reveal the percentage of classrooms in which you observed that strategy. Then either repeat that focus area (if you reached your goal) or move onto another focus area starting again with a mini lesson for teachers and research. Areas you might focus on in your walkthroughs include student engagement; differentiation; rigor; student-led discussions; student-led work; number of students who complete instructional tasks, use of student data, etc. Whatever evaluation rubric you are working with will give you some ideas about focus areas.
Once you determine the overall focus areas for the building, you can begin to differentiate your focus for specific teacher needs. One teacher may want to work on her questioning skills; one may be working on classroom management.
Instructional Rounds take walkthroughs to another level that involves the staff. Instructional rounds are a disciplined way for educators to work together to improve instruction (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel,2009). The practice combines three common elements of improvement: classroom observation, an improvement strategy, and a network of educators.
Effective Instructional Rounds (modeled after doctors as they make their “rounds”), involve 4 phases:
1. The school identifies a problem of practice that is observable; focuses on instruction; is actionable; and is high leverage. A problem of practice is something the school cares about, feels stuck on, and wants to understand more deeply.
2. Observation teams collect data that is descriptive (not evaluative); related to the problem of practice
3. Observation teams then debrief their observations. They describe what they’ve seen, look for patterns. It is essential that the facilitator keeps the group on the path of evidence and not judgement. “It took the teacher too long to begin class” is a judgement. “Class began 7 minutes after the bell rang” is a piece of evidence. Instructional Rounds should never be about a single teacher, but about a pattern seen in the observations.
4. The observation teams then brainstorm the “now what”—what is the next level of work.
Depending on the school, sometimes instructional rounds are groups of people who have a common “job” (ie. math teachers). Often, instructional rounds are formed by the schedule and which teachers have a common planning time. School leaders need to be creative in how they provide coverage for teacher classes. Start with a small group of teachers who are willing to engage in the practice.
Whether you are employing informal walkthroughs, or more prescribed instructional rounds, immediate feedback is essential. Recognizing the elements of sound instruction that you observed, asking coaching questions, and having conversations with teachers is an essential part of the growth process.
The challenge for all school leaders is TIME. But there is no other activity you can engage in that is more important than teacher observation, feedback, and coaching.
• Create a goal for the week and be transparent about it to teachers and staff.
• Make the tracking of the goal visible.
• Treat that time as sacred unless an emergency takes you away.
• Enlist the help of administrative assistants; leave a message on your voice mail; email.
• People by day; paper by night.
“… the greatest effects on student learning occur when TEACHers become LEARNers of their own TEACHing …” (John Hattie, 2012)
City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., &Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving. learning and teaching. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Philpott, C. and Oates, C. (2015) Learning rounds: what the literature tells us (and what it doesn’t), Scottish Educational Review 47(1), 49-65.
Teite, L. (2009). Improving Teaching and Learning through Instructional Rounds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.