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The 5 Non-Negotiables for High-Performing Instructional Rounds

Updated: Jul 10

Instructional Rounds are a powerful tool for improving teaching and learning within schools. They are akin to medical rounds in hospitals, where professionals observe, reflect, and refine their practice.

To ensure these rounds are effective, there are five non-negotiables that leaders should consider, each feeding into a focus area. This focus area is derived from overarching data that points to a need, challenge, or gap that requires attention within the school-community.

It's important to note that a focus area doesn't have to be a direct school goal. However, it must be linked to school goals in some capacity. Everything should align to maintain coherence and direction.

1. Establish the Unified Purpose and Goal

The foundation of successful instructional rounds is a clearly defined purpose and goal that everyone understands and works toward. This unified goal ensures that all efforts are aligned and that every observation, discussion, and action taken during the rounds contributes meaningfully to the overarching objective.

For example, if the overarching goal of a school is to improve student engagement in secondary classrooms, then Instructional Rounds should aim to support this goal, as long as the data continues to point to student engagement being a need.

Identify the overarching goal of the work.

2. Determine a Data-Driven Goal

The goal for Instructional Rounds should be grounded in student and teacher data. Student data can include performance exams, attendance records, behavioral reports, and other relevant metrics. Teacher data should derive from patterns in previous walkthrough data, goals that teachers have set for themselves, anecdotal data collected during debriefs, survey’s from past training or PD, and feedback provided during debriefs.

By analyzing this data, (I have a quick tutorial that breaks down how to do this), schools can identify areas that need the most attention and set a goal that addresses these specific needs. For example, let’s say that data indicates that students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds have lower attendance rates compared to other subpopulations. Additionally, teacher walkthrough data reveals that teachers are using direct instruction for 45 minutes. These two issues might be related, suggesting that low engagement could be contributing to poor attendance.

Therefore, the goal for the Instructional Rounds might be to focus on student engagement practices. By observing and refining how teachers can make their lessons more interactive and engaging, the school aims to improve attendance and overall student participation, particularly among low SES students.

3. Use Indicators to Drive the Teacher Feedback

Using specific Indicators to provide feedback will not only help develop a common language around the Instructional Round goal, but will also establish consistency among leaders and supervisors conducting the rounds. For example, two teachers might each have a different leader conducting a walkthrough. The Indicators allow each of those leaders to conduct a streamlined observation that minimizes bias..

These Indicators, also known as Success Criteria or Look Fors, should be research-based, clear, measurable, and aligned with the overall goal. For example, a school focusing on strengthening their co-taught classrooms, would have Indicators focusing on best inclusion practices, whereas a school focusing on differentiation, will use Indicators for differentiation. Inclusion and differentiation are certainly related to each other, but are not the same and therefore, have different Success Criteria.

Leaders will use the Success Criteria to guide their observations and collect data to monitor teacher progress toward the goal. While these Indicators inform feedback to teachers, they should also be analyzed and discussed internally. Identifying common patterns within the Indicators will allow leaders to target next steps and training, further supporting teacher growth.

4. Monitor Growth and Self-Reflection through Indicators and Feedback

Yes, Instructional Rounds are leader-driven. However, what makes high-performing instructional rounds is the inclusion of teacher voice and accountability. Teachers should use the Look Fors and feedback to monitor their own growth and adjust their instruction accordingly. This involves regularly assessing student progress, reflecting on teaching practices, and making necessary adjustments to meet student needs.

Student-work analysis and data dives are excellent ways for leaders to engage teachers in this process. If you’re concerned about time constraints, consider integrating these activities into grade-team meetings, PLC meetings, or during dedicated professional development days or half days. By doing so, schools can ensure that teachers have the necessary time to engage in meaningful reflection and growth, particularly as it relates to the feedback received during Instructional Rounds.

I’ve been in schools where these data-dives are prioritized (and in schools where they are not). Teachers who are provided the time to dive into student work that reflects the focus area of Instructional Rounds, are making greater gains than those who aren’t. What’s the lesson here? Prioritize the time if you can.

Teachers who are provided the time to dive into student work that reflects the focus area of Instructional Rounds, are making greater gains than those who aren’t.

5. Walkthrough Analysis

As mentioned earlier, it is imperative that leaders dedicate time to analyzing the walkthrough data on a bi-monthly or quarterly basis. This analysis helps identify trends, strengths, and areas for improvement within instructional practices.

Regular analysis ensures that the feedback provided to teachers is timely and relevant and is an actionable way to show your teachers that you believe in continuous improvement. Leaders should look for patterns in the data that highlight both successes and challenges, allowing for even further targeted improvement within the focus area. Likewise, the data may reveal that the Instructional Rounds can shift to another priority of need.

By adhering to these five non-negotiables, Instructional Rounds can become a powerful mechanism for school improvement. A unified goal, driven by overarching data, ensures that everyone is working toward the same focus with efficiency and objectivity. Focused observations, informed by this data, provide clarity and direction. Leaders and teachers then use specific indicators and data trackers to monitor and support growth and create a continuous cycle of improvement. This structured approach not only enhances the effectiveness of instructional rounds, but also fosters a culture of collaboration and ongoing professional development.

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