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It's About Instruction

CISD works to answer the questions of today's high stakes world.

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How do we improve our students’ learning? How do we push to improve the way we educate our students when we already do a good job? How do we tell if our students are really being prepared for life beyond high school?

With the high stakes faced by school districts in today’s world, many educators are looking for ways to answer these questions. Schools are not only faced with preparing students for standardized testing and accountability. They must also prepare them for life.

In society today, just a high school diploma does not guarantee a person a living wage. Most careers require some kind of post-high school education, whether it is at a university, community college, trade school, or a certification program. And most educators realize that what really matters is preparing students for wherever their career decisions lead them.

This year CISD committed to an integrated program called Instructional Rounds. Based on medical rounds used to train doctors, instructional rounds uses classroom observation, networking among educators, and improvement strategies.

While all three aspects are present on each campus, instructional rounds combines the elements in a way that guides the professional development for the teachers and to collect data regarding a needed area of improvement. It is this combination that makes rounds a powerful tool.

The first step for the network of educators is to define the problem of practice for the campus. This problem of practice is something the group wants to understand more deeply and on which they want to focus.

For Clarendon, that initial network consists of teachers, support staff and administrators from all three campuses. The group met in June to receive training on how to implement instructional rounds. During this time, the group discussed the areas in which they would like to see student improvement. They pinpointed the problem of practice to center around depth of knowledge and questioning by students and teachers for all campuses.

Next are the classroom observations. The network forms smaller groups of three to four people which visits several classrooms and observes instruction for about 20 minutes at a time. Their purpose is not to “fix” or “critique” the teachers. Their purpose is only to collect data about what is happening in the classrooms for a particular campus. They are not looking at what happens in the classrooms in general, they are looking at their specific and identified problem of practice. The observed teacher is never discussed or critiqued.

In Clarendon, they are looking at the types of questions posed not only by the teachers, but those asked by the students. They are looking at how many of the questions are open-ended as opposed to closed. They are also gathering data as to how many of the questions show higher order thinking as opposed to procedural or basic knowledge questions.

During the debrief time after observations, the groups gather to disseminate the data they have collected. At this time, they qualify the instances of the problem of practice and then count the number of times they occurred. Charts and graphs are created and displayed where all the educators can see the results of the data, without reference to any particular teacher or classroom.

Another part of the debrief is for the network to discuss their findings and how that impacts the problem of practice. They also discuss what happens next. They can make suggestions for professional development or a change in procedure if needed. They can then start to develop the improvement strategies for the campus or district.

One result of this process is to help teachers quantify what is happening on their campus. This information can then be used to identify campus strengths and weaknesses.

Another is that the observing teachers have an opportunity to see what happens in other classrooms and how other teachers conduct business. The observers can then use that information in their own classrooms.

But perhaps the most powerful result is the opportunity for educators who usually work in isolation, to talk about education in their school. As they talk about what is happening in the classrooms, they also gain a collective definition of what should be happening. They get a unified vision of what they want their school to be like. It gives the people who work most closely with students a voice in the solution and a stake in the outcome.

To be the most effective, instructional rounds are a continual process. It becomes a part of how the school operates. When one problem of practice is identified, quantified, and addressed, the next one begins. In this way, the district continually pushes to improve instruction.