ED. Magazine

Round & Round

By Lory Hough

Borrowing a page from the medical school world, educators at the Ed School are showing teachers and school leaders how to find common ground when it comes to learning and .


, Ed.M.’05, Ed.D.’09, remembers being with a group of educators as they sat in a classroom observing a reading lesson. The teacher was asking lots of questions and students were constantly raising their hands. All of the textbooks were open. Afterwards, the group of principals, superintendents, and union leaders gathered to talk about what they saw. As Fiarman remembers it, the comments were all over the map.

“Some left feeling like, Wow! Did you see how engaged the students were? Others thought the text wasn’t useful,” she says. Other comments were directed at the teacher’s performance. Fiarman herself felt like no real learning had taken place.

Now a principal at a K-8 school in Cambridge, Mass., this former teacher realizes that everyone was on different pages when it came to describing the scene and evaluating the classroom. “We didn’t have a shared practice,” she says. “As educators, we have such different ideas of what effective and learning is.”

Now imagine that the educators are medical students and instead of observing a class, they are in a hospital room with an experienced doctor visiting a patient. Later, huddled outside in the hallway, the group talks about what they saw. Their comments are factual and based on evidence: I noticed this; the patient did that. Questions get asked. Eventually, a diagnosis is offered, as well as potential treatments. Everyone is on the same page before they move on to the next patient.

Could this same medical training model — one that includes a shared language and a common sense of what’s effective — work for educators?

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  • Paul Suk-Hyun Yoon

    I found this article extremely informative and very compelling. As an educator, I find the formal evaluation process used by my school district to be uninspiring, unhelpful, and uninformative. If the goal of evaluations are to challenge educators to improve, I believe this method may present more benefical opportunities for administrators and teachers alike to collaborate and to co-define what successful teaching really means. I, like the author, hope we can find a “coherent, national model of what effective teaching is” because everyday we do not have one is a day students across this country suffer.

  • Donna Downes

    I think this article has a lot of merit within teacher observation. I think that a pilot in one grade in a school to get the kinks worked out before full implementation would be a first step because it lessens the feeling of being overwhelmed by both teacher and administrators. The administrators have to be comfortable with this model for it to be used effectively.

  • Lori Adams Chabay

    This ‘instructional rounds’ model of first sharing what you see/observe, without interpretation, analysis, or judgment is the cornerstone of good observation in early childhood education. Many educators engaged in learning with young children spend their days working very hard to capture in words, photos, drawings, and recordings the work of the children as well as their colleagues. This documentation is then shared with the children, parents/families, and teachers as a tool for reflection and developing a deeper understanding of what is occurring within the teaching-learning relationship. I think that the lessons learned here shine a much needed light on the need for a stronger connection and bond between teaching practices at all levels of education. Thank you for your research, insights, and activism.

  • Dr. Mary Nardo

    Ahh, the power of collective IQ!
    I appreciate the ‘instructional rounds’ model with the evidence-based focus, use of common language throughout observations and reflections, and the restricting of personal judgements throughout the observation process. Most importantly I am impressed with the educational plan for professional staff throughout the process knowing “that we are always learning and we don’t always have all the answers”. Great read! Thank you.

  • Brian J. Mac Donald

    Having been fortunate enough to experience the power of collaborative reflection upon teaching practice, both at HGSE and other universities, I was much taken by this article. Anything that discourages ‘top down’ evaluation and empowers everyone in the educational enterprise is always welcome.

  • Olli Maatta

    Having read the acticle I recognized some familiarity with the procedures of feedback and peer-evaluation involved in teacher training in Finland. As a matter of fact, the group of superintendents referred to, matches well- in the trivial points of interest and adaptness to refer to own experiences about school- with the unexperienced teacher aspirants who drop in to my classroom every fall to do their preliminary practice. In the three phased teaching practice (subject teacher education) consisting of 20 ECTS points, the preliminary practise focuses on observing and analysing lessons given by teacher trainers in University teacher training schools. The points of interest indicated in their lesson observation hand-out comprise themes as classroom atmosphere, student-teacher interaction, use of facilities as a learning device, motivation, the structure and content of a lesson, diciplinary measures and so on. All observations done (the group shares a common topic) are discussed in a de-breifing session and the common ground is set by virtues of dialogue and ingredients of a solution-based approach. What I as a teacher trainer value the most is a continuum of empowerment reached by understanding, unhostility, listening, representing individual values, seaching for solutions together, compromising,devaluing “victory” and orally describing success.

  • Lorraine Richardson

    Developing a common ground with a common language sounds ideal. However, there are so many philosophies of teaching. Believing that learning is both social and cognitive, I developed a collaborative learning community and was criticized by administrators for allowing students to talk while sitting in their groups . Others, believed that I had empowered students to share their collective wisdom and wanted to spread the approach throughout the school. My only fear is that whatever common ground is developed that it will be tied to test scores. What is the ultimate barometer for effective teaching: Improved math or science scores(a political agenda)? What is our ethical and just responsibility to students? Teaching was once a noble profession. You wouldn’t become rich, but you would make a difference in the lives of your students. Now there is so much disharmony and alienation in the profession, especially in urban areas.
    I, too, am creating a codified system for coaches, teacher leaders, and others who work with secondary school teachers in a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental manner. However, it is not tied to test scores or graduation rates. The Journey from Compliance to Community identifies specific strengths and gaps in three core areas: How effective teachers establish credibility (six guiding principles); How they demonstrate caring (six guiding principles) ; How they create systems (six guiding principles). Follow-up is designed to address only those areas that require strengthening on the part of teachers. In addition, those teachers who exhibit strong points can serve as models for those with gaps. Social networking will be employed to enhance a cross pollination of ideas, concerns, and strategies among the trusted professionals.

  • Lucy

    I think harvard is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!! its the best school in the world. the people are nice and so are the teachers. though they are strict, they are still firm. thankyou for your time

  • Roz Cummins

    I am glad that this model is gaining support.

  • John Watkins

    I am intrigued to see this comparison between medical rounds and instructional rounds in schools. I want to remind folks that these sorts of practices have been around for several decades now, in various forms. In particular we might remember Pat Carini’s Descriptive Review of the Child, Steve Seidel’s Looking at Student Work protocol, the various protocols for looking at teacher practice that are part of the Coalition of Essential Schools’ Critical Friends Groups’ work (later Annenberg, then NSRF)… all of which create networks of teachers who work together to examine their practice and the student work that results from it in order to improve, that is, using inquiry processes to improve practice. It is in these communities of practice, not simply through the use of a technology, that agreements about what constitutes good teacher and learning can be forged. It’s a human process above all else, based on increasingly shared beliefs, relationships, information, sense of collective identity, and common purpose, no matter what the exact tools and protocols and processes that are used.

  • Barbara Schieffelin Powell

    It is great that the idea of using a protocol for observing student work which focuses on careful description before interpretation and which was pioneered by Steve Seidel at HGSE’s Education Rounds is being used in classrooms across the country. For the past 14 years teachers from numerous states and foreign countries having been coming to Rounds on the first Saturday of every month, bringing student work, posing questions, and learning from each other and from Steve to do the kinds of structured observations described in this piece.

  • Donna Beth, Ph.D.

    As a teacher, I am less impressed with this model than many other models. First the authors fail to cite empirical evidence showing school improvement. Second the model is based on NONJUDGMENTAL administrators observing teachers in practice (my colleagues find this aspect difficult to imagine as do I). Third I find it interesting that certain levels of educators prefer and get alike-role networks (read: superintendents) but teachers only receive cross-role networks. In short, I see this model as just another way to mico-manage teachers. With 50% of new teachers leaving the profession within five years of entering it, we need to be cautious on what inflict on teachers. The potential for abuse in this model is huge.

  • Mark Walker

    I read the article with some interest as I facilitate an instructional rounds group in a network of schools in the Bayside suburbs of Melbourne Australia.
    A few years ago I visited a number of schools in the States and was challenged by the power of walk throughs to provide me information and feedback as a principal on, amongst other things, the effectiveness or otherwise of our professional learning program.
    For a while the strategy seemed to work but I had some doubts on the long term benefits of walk throughs to improve teaching and learning in classrooms.
    One of the missing parts was the lack of a common framework to describe teaching or instruction as I now term the interaction between teacher and student/s in classrooms. In Victoria we have developed an instructional framework we call the 5E’s.This helps us all more effectively describe instruction.
    What was also missing from walk throughs was the relationship of the teacher to the feedback given by the observers. If the feedback was affirming of current practice it was well received, if it challenged something there was usually denial. In other words no instructional practice seemed to change very much after the feedback . The power relationship between the observer and observee was at some imbalance. This is corrected in rounds when teachers describe the problem of practice that becomes the focus of observations.
    However like Donna I am wanting to collect some evidence that improvement has occurred. Rounds is the focus of my research in my Masters Program at Monash University.
    I have started a wiki on this for all the teachers who volunteer to be part of Rounds to share our analysis, feedback and research articles we collect on the problems of practice described by teachers.

  • Ruth Lilian Harris

    Using the analogy of the medical model is seriously flawed and inappropriate to generalise to education settings. Much research has gone on into the damage done by those rounds. There is also an underying assumption of one way of doing things is the best which works for using the right procedure for an operation, or for the right medication. But every educator teachers from their own personality and use many interpersonal, emotional intellegent skills to influence, guide and teach we are not the same nor will we ever be. It has in it, intrinsic that we all have to do it the same.

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