“Is it possible for one of our students to come to school on Monday morning and not speak for the entire week? Could they actually travel through all their classes and never speak?” 
This powerful and thought provoking statement emerged during an Instructional Rounds session and it is a great example of the types of thinking and analysis of teaching and learning that is achieved through the Instructional Rounds process. Instructional Rounds (or Rounds) is a system of lesson observations and analysis aimed at developing resolutions to problems of practice. Similar to the Japanese system of Lesson Study, Rounds are a disciplined way for educators to work together to improve instruction.
Over the past two years my school has engaged in a program of Instructional Rounds, ultimately aiming to improve student outcomes and improve teacher practice. In its true form, Rounds is not about providing feedback directly to teachers, it is a whole school reform tool used by administrators to develop professional learning and school change initiatives.
But of course, in education, change can be challenging and even implementing a program of lesson observations in a school needs to be a well-drafted and highly strategic operation. Below, I will look at the aspects I think we did well and the things I would do differently.
The way we established Rounds at the school was to first create a positive professional learning culture. We already had a coaching/mentoring system in place and Rounds was introduced as a supplement to this program. We started off small with plans to increase intensity as the program developed. I think this strategy definitely worked well and I wouldn’t recommend initiating Rounds in it’s full form. Abbreviating the process provides staff with part of the process to become familiar with and gives you an idea about what elements of the model are most important for your setting. One this abbreviated version has been established, the full model can then be pursued.
- Professional Development
Before full implementation of the ‘textbook’ Instructional Rounds model, three staff travelled to Harvard to experience the Instructional Rounds Institute. The four-day course walked us through every detail of the model and enabled us to practice the process within two school settings. When we returned to school as ‘Rounds Experts’ we then walked the Instructional Coaches through the process during a practice ‘Round’ before introducing the process to the entire school. We also developed a promotional video to familiarise staff with the process and get them talking about it.
I can’t encourage more strongly the importance of training staff and preparing thoroughly prior to the implementation of Rounds (or any change for that matter). It was a blessing to be able to make the mistakes and refine the process within the developmental phase rather than in the presence of school staff during the ‘real deal’.
- Bottom up strategic planning
One great feature of Instructional Rounds is that it enables front-line staff to inform the strategic direction of the school. We used our findings from Rounds to inform future professional development across all sectors of the school. Our Problems of Practice were developed in consultation with the Heads of Academy and recommendations were then used to develop courses, workshops and department goals for future consideration. This was very empowering for all staff involved in the Rounds process and created additional buy in of the program.
- School Wide
Our mantra in relation to Professional Learning was ‘All In” so across all aspects of our program, all staff were involved, and this was also true of Instructional Rounds. We decided to engage all staff in one session each year. This involved taking six staff out of class for one day, every week. This is an obviously unrealistic option for most schools and it turned out to be unrealistic for us too. I don’t think it is necessary for Rounds to be completed as frequently as we did – it is good to gain a variety of perspectives; however, two or three groups per Problem of Practice would be sufficient. If I had the chance to introduce Rounds again I would like to develop a program whereby staff could volunteer to be involved in the observations and complete between 2 and 3 sessions per term.
Instructional Rounds is an excellent model for driving whole school change because the leadership comes from the staff on the front line, the flow of information is bottom-up instead of top-down and as a result, ownership of the change becomes everyone’s responsibility. And everyone is accountable for enacting the change.
So where to now for us? – We are exploring opportunities to collaborate with other schools, sharing staff visit between schools and inviting teachers from other schools to participate within our Rounds sessions. Video also provides an exciting opportunity for Rounds to occur between schools all around the globe…
I am interested in hearing about your experiences with Rounds or any issues you foresee with the model. Please leave a comment below and I look forward to the conversation.
 Aguilar, E. (2012) Teachers Observing Teachers: Instructional Rounds. States News Service 16 Mar. 2012. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Jan. 2016.
 City, E. (2011) Learning from Instructional Rounds. Educational Leadership. 69(2), p.36-41