Instructional Rounds

Last Thursday we hosted Instructional Rounds (IR) at BAA. Instructional rounds are the new buzzword in education, largely defined by Lee Teitel and Richard Elmore at Harvard. The purpose of the rounds is to analyze and improve teaching and learning practices at the classroom level. Although I’m not completely convinced yet how helpful the results of the observations are, what IS powerful is getting teachers, students, parents, and administrators out of their routines and looking deeply at the practices of teaching and learning in a different context and through a different lens than they experience during the day-to-day.

I am proud that BAA was the first Boston Public School to have students and parents participate in the rounds. They were absolutely phenomenal. The parents were honored to be a part of the process and found it extremely helpful to think about the school as a whole rather than just the needs of their own student.  The 5 students who participated spoke eloquently and passionately about the positive aspects of BAA, as well as pointed out the real challenges for including all learners.

One of my favorite comments came from a BAA music student who pointed out the differences between the theatre student warm-ups she observed and the music vocal warm-ups she experiences in her own classes. She enjoyed how theatre students both warmed up their bodies and built community at the same time, and she was excited to bring that practice back to her music classes. I loved watching this mini “teaching moment” happening for a student!

Later that evening at my HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education) class, three seniors from a new turnaround high school came and spoke. They were all transferred to this new school after their high schools were closed for underperformance. Despite the fact that they had experienced their previous schools firsthand and hold a wealth of information about what worked and didn’t work for them, they told my class that they had no input on structures or practices at their new school. Their disempowerment and lack of engagement in the process of constructing their own educations was jarring, especially after watching parents and students blossom during the IR at BAA earlier that morning.

The takeaway from last Thursday for me was this: when we’re thinking about school reform, I am reminded again that we need to put the voices of students and parents at the forefront of the discussion. How do we incorporate these voices so that they are not an afterthought, but a forethought? After all, who is school reform really for?


6 Responses to “Instructional Rounds”

  1. 1 carolynmillsmambuca March 13, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    I love that the BAA includes parents and students in the process of instructional rounds. It is sometimes so difficult to create an activity that is meaningful for parents and increases their involvement in our schools. This is a great way to get started!

    • 2 lindanathan March 16, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      I agree- I’ve been thinking about how to incorporate the voices of students and parents in a more meaningful way than just meetings, which can feel like “add-ons”… we need to be more thoughtful about building these voices in at all times!

  2. 3 Stephen Dill March 14, 2012 at 10:30 am


    To your final question, “How do we incorporate these voices so that they are not an afterthought, but a forethought? After all, who is school reform really for?” Carol Brown spoke on this topic recently in her blog, when she said, “What could we create if instead of trying to “scale up” every innovation into a monolithic bureaucracy we “scaled down” to allow local and individual control, freedom, experimentation, and diversity?”

    Her point is that we have sacrificed the autonomy of the child to determine their own path in life in order to mete our federal and state dollars based on testing that no child or parent had a say in creating, much less approving.

    It’s a complicated challenge, and you know my suggestion is to step aside and start to design a new system from scratch to see if we would be better off dropping everything we are investing in now or applying insights that such an exercise would provide. But for you and the many others in the current “trenches,” efforts such as the IR and increased participation by the school owners (those who pay the bills, as opposed to those who manage the business) makes good sense. Such good sense one would wonder why those owners don’t demand it of every instance of the system we call public education.

    Carol touches on that as well. I’ll leave that for you to read.

    Thanks for the update, Linda!

  3. 5 Lee Teitel March 14, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Delighted to hear of your including students and parents on a rounds visit, and engaging them in what we know can be a powerful practice. Love to hear more details of this.

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