I remember the first time I participated in Instructional Rounds. At that time, I was a middle school English teacher, and I had ALL SORTS of reasons why I should not be taken from my classroom to go watch other teachers teach. I had my own classes to teach! And 7 of us were going to cram into another teacher’s space and just sort of snoop around? I also had a HUGE problem with identifying a ‘problem’ of practice. Why are we looking for problems? How could that POSSIBLY be a safe space that would lead to professional growth? Frankly, to me at that moment in time, it just felt invasive and almost disrespectful. So, I put all this in a pointed, yet professional email, asking to be excused from the event.
That didn’t go over so well.
Begrudgingly, to the pre-brief I went. And of course, once I got over my angst and engaged in the discussion, and then got to see the magic – and the reality – of my colleagues’ classrooms, I was hooked. I was still anxious about people coming to my classroom, but the validation from the feedback overpowered any nervousness that I had. Instructional rounds not only enhanced my professional practice, but they strengthened our community of teachers. We were able be a witness for one another, recognizing the effort, the energy, and the care that went into our daily routines.
I was fortunate to be part of a school with a deliberate professional learning culture. I recognize that not every teacher nor every school is in a place where doors are wide open and everyone is welcome at all times. In case your team or school is looking for a safe and easy way to begin or enhance a peer observation practice, here are two ideas that might work for you.
Pineappling. Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy, wrote a wonderfully descriptive blog post about this practice. Basically, the idea is that people sign up for slots of time they would be open to having visitors. They put a brief description of what they will be doing at that moment, and interested peers can drop in as they see fit. In her article, Gonzalez writes, “Pineappling gives teachers the permission they feel they need to collaborate, observe, ask, and reflect. It is a ‘safe’ and powerful professional development opportunity.” It is a fully teacher-driven process, which is also part of its magic!
For something even more preliminary, check out this kid-free peer observation protocol. This was inspired by two teachers in my district who wanted to visit their colleagues, but in a small school where most are ‘singletons,’ schedules don’t always line up to make this happen. So, we crafted some guiding questions and an ‘open house’ type of structure. The idea was teachers could travel to each other’s spaces and showcase different elements around entry and exit procedures and ‘go-to’ instructional strategies, as well as share upcoming unit topics to make connections across content or grade levels. We shared the protocol in advance so everyone knew what to expect, and asked our teachers to think about a strategic group of 4 they wanted to work with.
This process went better than any of us could have hoped for. Here is some of the feedback:
- This is one of the better PD days we have had, if I may be allowed to state such. The conversation was terrific and there was a sense of not wanting the day to come to an end.
- Getting together and being able to laugh with people that have shared experiences was needed
- It was extremely helpful to visit colleagues in their classrooms and learn about their techniques and delivery of curriculum. It served to remind me that, at the core, we have much in common: ideals, principles, philosophies, etc. However, how we each instruct our students is unique. The experiences shared were invaluable and helped reinforce the bond we have among the faculty.
- The afternoon activity of going into each other’s spaces to learn about our individual teaching/classroom strategies was awesome. This PM activity was great and I don’t think that he needs to be better- just more of it!
We will DEFINITELY do this again; most likely as a way to kick off our professional learning week in August. Hopefully, this will be a stepping stone to even more of this type of peer collaboration. I heard once that “the best PD is the teacher down the hall,” and the feedback from this experience proves it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
With more than two decades of experience in education around the globe, Kristen Moreland is committed to bringing humanity back to education. A former middle school English teacher and Instructional Coach, she is currently serving as the Director of Teaching and Learning for the Littleton Schools in Littleton, New Hampshire. You can follow her on Twitter @kmorekin and on Instagram @educatorsforhumanity