“When professionals share their talents and skills, they help the whole school develop a collective wisdom.” ~ Robert Marzano
And now that the devices are in the hands of students in all of their 32 schools, the Alamance-Burlington Schools district has turned to a researched practice that not only makes a tremendous impact on the culture of our public schools, but expounds upon collaboration, increases rigor, and propels the capacity of all stakeholders at twice the expected rate of return: they have begun implementing instructional rounds, or Learning Walks.
This collaborative practice is based on the medical model or rounds. The practice has been further developed for school administrators to observe and discuss best practices in the classroom, and modified to enable educators to conduct their own instructional rounds focused on self reflection and growth designed to begin discussions of instruction directly into the process of school improvement. In other words, this simple process creates a common language, common discipline, common focus, common purpose, and common problems.
You can talk about Learning Walks, but to truly understand this experience and it’s associated benefits, you have to experience it – you have to ‘walk the walk’. It is important that all involved understand the purpose of the walks and that they are introduced in a non-threatening way. Although schools and districts will initiate learning walks in various ways, several strategies are critical to gain buy-in: In this case, Alamance Burlington committed all it’s leadership to experience a full day of learning walks spanning schools across their district. Leaders had the opportunity to sign up for one of four days of instructional rounds, each with their own area of focus aligned with district expectations for digital learning and teaching – Management of a Digital Learning Classroom, Content & Instruction, Using Technology to Differentiate Learning, and The 4 C’s.
Along with these focus areas, each with criteria and questions, Leadership was also asked to observe student engagement, learning goals and progress tracking, student understanding of new knowledge practices and /or deepened, and how expectations are communicated to all students, etc..
During instructional rounds, small groups of three to five people make relatively brief observations of educators in action. These observations are longer than a typical “walkthrough” (i.e., longer than a few minutes), but usually shorter than an entire class period. When engaged in rounds, groups conduct as many substantive observations of classrooms as possible within part of a day or the entire day.
These rounds are a non-evaluative, structured approach to get educators into each other’s classrooms to see the teaching and learning that is taking place. Cultivating a meaningful professional learning process for improving teaching and learning, and promoting a truly collaborative learning community, requires ongoing effort from all stakeholders involved.
The primary purpose is for those making the observations to compare their practices with those observed in the classrooms they visit, and it is the discussion at the end of a set of instructional rounds and the subsequent self‐reflection by observers that is their chief benefit.
PROTOCOL | How it works
Remember, during an instructional round rotation you are only going to get a snapshot of teachers and students in action, the goal is focusing on what you observe during a specific interval of time. Consider the context of the environment, content, pedagogical practices, and the decision to use digital tools and resources to enhance student-centered learning.
Before Entering: Briefly check in as a group and redress the key focus of the Instructional round observation and purpose. Knock at the door and then quietly move to an area of the room that does not disrupt the flow of instruction.
In the Classroom: Observe. Participants actively observe both the educator(s) and students in action: noting not only the focus of the learning walks that day, but also engagement, progress tracking, collaboration, how expectations are communicated, etc. Participants are not just a fly on the wall, however, and are encouraged to ask students questions and clarify understanding.
Exiting Classroom: IMMEDIATELY take a moment in the hallway to synthesise your observation into learning notes.
Debrief: As a group we will convene to reflect, synthesize on our experiences through collaborative activities to answer the following: what did you see? What could this mean for your schools? How will you bring it back to your schools? What are key components you gained insights on based on the day’s specific focus area?
Below is a sampling of principals’ comments made during post-walk conversations:
With adequate professional capacity building in instructional rounds and proper implementation, this process can positively impact collaboration and team decision making concerning instructional design, classroom management, the implementation of digital tools and resources to support curriculum and instruction, as well as support data-driven decision making. The reaction and energy shared in Alamance-Burlington in these first few instructional round experiences was one of overwhelming success with plans to make learning walks an expectational norm in every school!
Kachur, D., Stout, J., & Edwards, C. (2013). Engaging teachers in classroom walkthroughs. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Feeney, E. (2014). Design Principles for Learning to Guide Teacher Walk Throughs. Clearing House, 87(1), 21-29.
Allen, A. S., & Topolka-Jorissen, K. (2014). Using teacher learning walks to build capacity in a rural elementary school: repurposing a supervisory tool. Professional Development In Education, 40(5), 822-837
This is a great question and there are just so many ways I could answer, but this is a tremendously important reflective process to do on a regular basis because your answer will, obviously, change over time.
I am a people person, though I have not always considered myself one. I am an 'introverted extrovert' and I find that many of the instructional coaches I meet define themselves the same way. It's the relationship building, the creation of trust and collaboration, and inspiring and empowering others that I find is not only a strength, but what makes this work so rewarding.
The fastest way I have found success fostering relationships is to meet people where they are in their capacity, knowledge, skills, and even emotionally. I tap into their level of concern and THAT is my starting point. Furthermore, I don't package any of the professional learning I deliver - everything is customized for the needs and strengths of a given educator or district. Just today I had an educator share with me that they appreciated that I "get them" and the job they do everyday. And it helps to be both professional and playful - you just gotta laugh and have fun sometimes, and my capacity building sessions are a combination of these two. Everything I do as a coach centers around relationships and trust and I am so thankful I have this strength.
However, it is also a challenge when that relationship does not develop in a way that enables me to quickly support and build capacity. It may be the culture of a school or district I am working within - the need for collaboration and sharing are not commonplace and thus a struggle even to get started - but this can't be a deterrent. If I can't make the connection, I find someone who can, a colleague, a student, someone to open that door so the coaching can happen.
I am always striving to improve myself and my skills, being open to learn from others, reading everything I can get my hands on, and staying connected to my professional learning network, both in the office and online. I learn SO much from my colleagues in the field and together we strive to improve together.
But no matter what, we must remember to celebrate - celebrate the big successes and the small. We even need to celebrate when we 'Fail Forward' and things don't work out like we planned. It is in failing that we learn, and the sooner we embrace it, learn from it, and try again, the stronger we will all be.
A while back I posted about the 4Rs of effective Coaching - Relationships, Relevance, Rigor and Reflection: all elements that can be found in the Coaching Digital Learning Massive Open Online Course for Educators (MOOC-Ed), a free course for instructional technology coaches and individuals who are instrumental in cultivating a digital learning culture within their school, district and/or state. The feedback accumulated from the first installment of the Coaching Digital Learning (CDL) MOOC-Ed highlights not only the importance of the 4Rs, but how this course, grounded in practice and research, can support and assist coaches in developing strategies in each area. As I am making revisions to our sixth iteration of this course, I felt the urge to share its awesomeness....
There is nothing new about expressing the importance of fostering relationships and trust with those you support as a coach - but what are new ways to encourage the open and collaborative culture you are striving to see in your school/district. Thanks to the CDL MOOC-Ed, participants shared that they had a new understanding of their role as a coach, not just as technical support, but as a leader to guide their peers through a digital transition that empowered educators and focused on student-centered learning.
“Developing a better understanding that a technology coach isn't just someone who finds resources for teachers to use- it is someone who teaches educators how to transform their pedagogy to incorporate 21st century skills using technology integration as the vehicle.”
“I have been a technology integration coach for the past two years, but only now [after the CDL MOOC-Ed] have a strong grasp of that what that is supposed to mean. I can evolve with this new information. I had heard of most of these topics before, but they hadn't been put into a clear coaching framework for me. I am grateful.”- CDL MOOC-Ed participants, (from Course Evaluation)
The CDL MOOC-Ed course is designed around authentic and meaningful content building participants personal learning network (PLN) and aligning resources and rigorous activities to 21st Century Skills and the 4Cs, targeting real world applications and standards. Keeping relevant for today’s on the ground educators is crucial - offering strategies and best practices applicable for all coaches and those they support - meeting educators where they are in their own unique learning environments.
“At my site, I often feel like I am isolated from others...the [CDL MOOC-Ed] made it easy for me to communicate and collaborate with others on my own time. “
“[Coaching Digital Learning] really allowed me to focus and think about where I wanted to go and how I was going to get there.” - CDL MOOC-Ed participants, (from Course Evaluation)
The reflective practices of the CDL MOOC-Ed provides participants the opportunity to create, upon completion of the course, a complete Instructional Technology Coaching Action Plan. Regular assessment of coaching plans and the feedback of those coaches work with is pivotal.
“Coaching Digital Learning helped me have better conversations with teachers and clarify my own thought process in preparing for those conversations. Before the course, I was on the right track. Now, I feel very confident in speaking, teaching and coaching teachers how to effectively reach their idea of an optimal learning environment.” - CDL MOOC-Ed participants, (from Course Evaluation)
Rigorous and relevant expectations set by coaches to support their colleagues, combined with building strong relationships and continuous reflection, can make all the difference for your digital transition. The Coaching Digital Learning MOOC-Ed can aid coaches and those who are instrumental in cultivating a digital learning culture within their school, district and/or state, to build their own capacity. CEUs are offered along with a Certificate of Completion. For more information go to www.mooc-ed.org or Learn More about Coaching Digital Learning MOOC-Ed | #CDL_MOOCEd.▢
My work with the SAMR model and my graphics and video are getting a lot of attention of late, so much so I decided to share with the EdTech Coaches Network on their monthly synchronous Twitter Chats #ETCoaches.
The Educational Technology Coaches Network promotes the development and collaboration of educational technology coaches who support the professional growth of educators as they use technology to enhance learning.
What made it extra special was that it was my birthday! And the outpouring of love and well wishes from my digital coaching community was overwhelming and awesome. Thank you so much folks, for all the learning and knowledge I gain from you, but that you are so dedicated to your craft and supporting learning and teaching for the betterment of our kids!
Check out the Storify of our conversation.
Jaclyn coaches and assists K-12 educators, ITFs, and Administrators to adapt, not adopt – fostering digital initiatives to transform professional learning through changes in pedagogical shifts and meeting the needs of all learners to champion creativity and innovation. @jaclynbstevens