Improving Learning Outcomes with Instructional Rounds

Innovative instruction entails the development and execution of novel instructional techniques and methodologies (including technology) to enhance student learning outcomes. I was exposed to this idea while serving as an instructional specialist at the central office of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) in Virginia. Our director of curriculum and instruction, Victoria Oakley, spearheaded our team during quarterly classroom visits to aid school leaders in crafting professional development strategies for the 50 district schools.

We employed the process of instructional rounds to pinpoint and resolve instructional issues in schools, utilizing action research to fulfill the district’s instructional innovation objectives. Instructional rounds entail the strategic use of three vital elements: classroom observations, enhancement plans, and a collaborative team approach to addressing practice-related challenges. With a dynamic team effectively partnering with schools, RPS achieved full accreditation by the state of Virginia in 2010.

By combining my firsthand experience of classroom visits for personalized teacher development, acquired at RPS, with expert teaching skills, I have supported several superintendents and school leaders in enhancing their school systems’ instructional innovation endeavors in recent years utilizing insights from instructional rounds.

Educational Exploration

Integrating instructional rounds into a school’s educational framework can significantly boost the instructional innovation efforts of the teaching team. Conducting rounds does not involve evaluating the teaching staff; rather, it centers on teams engaging in learning walks to observe teaching and learning in classrooms. To maintain transparency, we inform the teachers being visited, refrain from documenting their names, and limit observations to 10 minutes. Through these learning walks, the team gains crucial insights to identify areas for enhancement, gather relevant data for timely feedback to teachers, and plan interventions for professional development and collaborative work sessions.

If instructional rounds and learning walks are not currently integrated into your school’s practices, establishing trust with the teaching staff is essential before proceeding. Improper implementation can lead to the perception of learning walks as evaluative rather than supportive. It is crucial to explain the process clearly, share resources such as this Edutopia video, discuss objectives, address concerns, and engage in open dialogue with the team.

To embark on the instructional rounds process, assemble a team of educators responsible for supporting instruction in the school (e.g., administrators, coaches, lead teachers). Here are six recommended steps to kickstart instructional rounds effectively. Adapt these steps as needed to align with your school’s unique requirements.

6 Guidelines for Implementing Instructional Rounds

1. Initiate team facilitator preparation: Delegate a team facilitator to oversee the process. Collaborate with the teaching team to select an instructional focus area for the upcoming learning walk. This focus area could center on student engagement or differentiation, among others. Ensure that everyone comprehends the structured learning walk process (see step two for illustrations) and its role in data collection. Establish a schedule with time allocations, assign team members specific classrooms to visit, and notify the teachers under observation.

2. Conduct a team briefing: Lead a pre-round briefing session involving the entire teaching team. Clearly articulate the objectives of the instructional round to ensure alignment. Allocate roles and responsibilities, assign classroom visitation schedules, and define the structured learning walk protocol corresponding to the instructional focus. Offer guidance on what aspects to observe during classroom visits.

Note: You can create your own protocol or access an adaptable version here. Inspired by the Leadership Capacity Toolkit, I customized this document with a focus on differentiation. Using ChatGPT, I clarified each differentiation method on page one, omitting any inaccuracies to the best of my ability.

3. Commence data collection: Engage in learning walks by visiting classrooms in small groups of two to three team members. Adhere to the observation protocol and document observations objectively and truthfully.

4. Post-learning walk debriefing: Facilitate a shared discussion of observations, preferably structured via a protocol. Start by highlighting positive practices observed without naming specific teachers. Focus on how students receive instruction and identify common instructional challenges across observed classrooms. Brainstorm solutions to the identified challenges.

5. Analyze and reflect on findings: Analyze the collected data to uncover the root causes of instructional challenges. Reflect on the implications for student learning and teaching practices. Define the desired improvement outcomes necessitating a professional development intervention. Deliberate on potential interventions to achieve these outcomes.

6. Chart your course of action: Collaborate on developing improvement plans to address the identified instructional issues. Define goals, strategies, and realistic timelines for implementation. Allocate responsibilities to teaching team members for executing the action plan.

Instructional innovation transcends a procedural approach; it requires commitment, team cohesion, patience, and effective data collection methods to elevate teachers and instructional practices. Instructional rounds and classroom observations offer a structured pathway for teaching teams to innovate through a data-informed strategy.

The suggestions and steps outlined in this article constitute a segment of the broader process. For many, these elements could serve as vital components of an overarching school plan for instructional innovation. After engaging in instructional rounds, ongoing follow-up, monitoring, and reflective practices are imperative. Instructional innovation should be a continuous journey.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Victoria Oakley. Special thanks to Superintendent Serbrenia Sims for contributing to the refinement of this process. Our upcoming book on enhancing instructional innovation through action research is forthcoming from Solution Tree.

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