Principals on patrol: ‘Instructional rounds’ come to District 205

Team of principals goes from classroom to classroom to build holistic picture of educational efforts

(Elmhurst Titan video by Dave Lemery)

ELMHURST – One of the best tools in health care is the practice of performing medical rounds, when doctors make their way daily through a hospital, checking on the status and wellbeing of their patients.

This long-established practice in the medical world is now making its way into the educational system in the form of “instructional rounds.”

Four District 205 principals who are taking part in instructional rounds talked Tuesday, Feb. 14, with the district’s Board of Education about what they are doing, what they are seeing, and how it can help to improve education across the district’s schools.

“Small groups, about four or five administrators, walk through a building going into classrooms, and gather info on current practices tied to a specific goal,” said Mary Baum, assistant superintendent of education and teaching. “Outside of the classroom, the administrators share what they saw, and then they document the evidence.”

At first glance, it might sound like a nightmare for teachers: A group of principals roving the halls, poking into classrooms and taking notes on how well the instruction going on that room matches with standards established by the districts.

“I would expect teachers to be a little wary of four administrators showing up in the back of their classroom,” suggested board member James Collins. “But it sounds like that’s not the case at all.”

“Once teachers have had the opportunity to see that data … that helps take the nerves down a little a bit.”

Such fears are allayed in a number of ways, Baum explained. The teachers’ names and classrooms are not recorded. The intent of the instructional rounds isn’t to identify or single out any particular teacher who may or may not be teaching the way the district desires. Instead, the principals are looking to collect a broad set of data that gives a holistic view of how things are going across the district.

“There were some people who were very tenuous, particularly when they couldn’t visualize how that data would be reported out,” Baum said. “[But there are] no room numbers, no teacher names, nothing’s identifiable. So once teachers have had the opportunity to see that data … that helps take the nerves down a little a bit.”

The administrators go into every classroom in a given school, looking for particular data points related to learning targets, rigor and engagement, Bryan Middle School Principal Jackie Discipio said.

“Our first rounds that we did, the four of us did, we looked at learning targets in buildings,” said Linda Fehrenbacher, principal at Sandberg Middle School. “Learning targets are kid-friendly language and are specific to the lesson for the day and directly connected to assessment. We use targets so then we can assess them at the end of the lesson, and figure out if the kids learned them or not.”

After conclusions are drawn from the data, teachers are then brought in to talk about best practices and opportunities to better serve students.

“Once we received the data, I first met with the school leadership team, and we reviewed it as a smaller group” said Churchville Middle School Principal Gina Pogue Reeder. “It was very exciting because we had been working on learning targets for quite a while.”

Pogue Reeder said that some conclusions almost jumped off the page during the first review.

“Was the learning target focused on student learning, or student doing?” Pogue Reeder said. “We were able to see that a lot of our learning targets, because of how we had introduced them, were set up as more of a ‘doing,’ because, a learning target may be about ‘students will be able to,’ or ‘I can,’ and it ends up being more of the production, versus, if we even just change one word, ‘I will be able to learn,’ it’s changing the mindset.”

York High School Principal Erin DeLuga talked about some of the beneficial side effects of the instructional rounds, such as increased visibility for school administrators.

“It’s very easy to lose sight of what’s going on in a classroom day-to-day,” DeLuga said. “When you’re an administrator, you’re not in it every day. So us coming together and seeing these snapshots of what’s going on across all of our buildings, it’s extremely powerful, and it also gives us an idea of what we need to work with staff on.

“It makes us visible, and there’s a lot of power in visibility.”

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