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Volume 30, Number 1
January/February 2014

School-Based Instructional Rounds

Tackling problems of practice with teachers


In 2008, Marilyn Oat was a fourth-year principal at Killingly Memorial School in Killingly, Conn., when her school hosted a visit by a group of superintendents from districts across the state. The superintendents were participating in a network devoted to using instructional rounds (IR), a practice of observing patterns of teaching and learning instruction across classrooms in order to improve them.

When Killingly superintendent Bill Silver decided to launch an in-district rounds process, Oat herself became involved in visiting schools with other principals. But soon into the process, she felt something important was missing: her teachers.

“Instead of looking at the teachers, what if we looked with the teachers at the students and what they were learning?” Oat asked. And instead of hosting a team of outside superintendents once every few years, or a team of district administrators twice a year, what if there were much more frequent observations by teachers and others from inside the school?

Over the next year, with the support of her superintendent, Oat and her team used these two questions as a springboard for innovation. While keeping faithful to the core stages of the IR practice (see “Key Elements of IR,” p. 6), they added some important variations: grade-level teachers began meeting together to identify collective “stuck points,” and half of them observed the other half one week and then flipped roles the next week. They used grade-level team meetings to digest their findings and observations and then made commitments to one another about the improvements that they, as a team, wished to implement. They repeated the cycle every seven or eight weeks and within the first year saw quantifiable gains in the assessment metric used by the district for instructional rigor and gains on state test scores.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.