Instructional Rounds

I’ve always loved medical dramas and perhaps embarrassingly, those helped frame Cameron Paterson’s (@cpaterso) call for participation in Instructional Rounds at his school.

Fast forward to today when I was able to actually participate in one.  Like many there, I knew nothing of Instructional Rounds.  Cam did a brilliant job to brief us on what it was, what it was for and what we had to do.  This post will roughly follow that line though, by no means, should be taken as an IR reference.  Besides, I have yet to read the IR book Cam has generously given.

What are Instructional Rounds

IR is a structured way of “getting the pulse of the school”.  It is meant to pick up the general teaching and learning culture of a school – including problems.  It is  not meant to be an evaluation of individual teachers.  It is a “process of inquiry” rather than an evaluation tool.

It involves classroom observation by a team of educators, forming a network with other teams.

Describe/Debrief –> Analyze –> Predict –> Evaluate

Data is derived through classroom observations wherein teams visit several classrooms, staying briefly and noting down objective observations.

Purpose of IR in Cam’s school

(as I understood it; note that I don’t actually work at Cam’s school)

True to IR principles, the plan is to use IRs to identify professional learning targets the following year.  IRs are made up of volunteers who will conduct 2 IRs each this year; there will be 6 IRs altogether.  At the end of the year, there will be a fair amount of data to help inform focus for next year.

It must be noted that the school is far along the path of having open classrooms; teachers and students are typically okay to have observers pop in.  IR leverages such openness.

What we had to do

Cam briefly explained what IR was and the plan for the day.

We were grouped into teams of 4 or 5.  There were 2 other ‘outsiders’ apart from me.  Each group member was assigned a role: team leader/timekeeper, look at student work, question some students, record classroom structures and monitor what the teacher says and does.  At all times, we had to remain objective in our observations.

We had to visit 4 classrooms for 10-15 minutes and then have a quick de-brief to share our observations.  Given it was a very short time, Cam gave us a focus (again true to IR principles): “To what extent is the teacher doing the thinking and talking?”

After the classroom observations, we gathered as a big group for the De-brief part of the IR process. Cam facilitated the discussion that culminated with recommendations for next year (as mentioned, data from all planned 6 IRs will be used to inform professional learning focus for next year).


what follows is my own Product and Process review based on this experience.  One biggest constraint today was time – we had less than 2 hours to do the IR that would normally take a day or 2.  I will consider this constraint in my review.

“Product” Review

As an article by Elizabeth City (one of the book authors) mentioned, educators struggle with ingrained habits when observing, i.e. supervision and evaluation.  I know I definitely struggled to just capture objective observation, sans judgements, and I noticed so did my team.  I could record, for example, “the teacher used students names and said please consistently” but not “the teacher is polite and caring towards his students”.  Due to this, our data was not as objective as it could have been.

The focus question was designed to help us focus.  It did just that so the scope of our observation and data was duly focused.

The recommendations, derived from collated observations, were good and showed an abstraction that echoed appreciation of the process itself and an understanding of the school’s culture of professional learning.

Without being told, IR participants echoed the IR outcome as professional development for observers: Learning by observing is one of the benefits/principles of IRs.

“Process” Review

IR is an easy process in theory.  It is harder in practice due to the challenge of objectivity.

Cam did well to walk us through the process and what we had to do in just 10 minutes.  Even without prior training, I thought we did okay following the process.

Assigning roles and focus question definitely helped with the collaborative work we had to do; an essential part of meaningful collaboration as mentioned in this PBL-related post.  Debrief after each class observation helped each team member appreciate the value of assigned roles and the ‘big picture’ painted as a sum of our observations.

Visiting 3 9Science classes was interesting with teachers having different topics and approaches.  The other classes were 12Geography and 10Maths.  Process-wise, it was good to have such a selection, ie. compare “same” subjects as well as look at others.  This helped teachers see the parallels/overlaps in terms of subject content and pedagogical approaches…..which then led to personal learning.  Cam did well in finding these classes in the timetable.

As mentioned, we did not have much time as big group for the rest of the IR process.  That we came up with reasonable recommendations was testament to the commitment of the team and certainly, the effectivity of Cam’s guidance throughout the process.

Some suggestions

  1. Provide each team member with an observation sheet/s.  This can be used to “remind” the member of the role and need for objectivity as well as to facilitate data collection.  As my Science teacher ingrained in me, you lose something in transcription.  If we want raw data, let’s capture raw data.
  2. Acknowledge the challenge of objectivity.  It’s a known risk. Let us mitigate it through awareness and conscious monitoring individually and collectively.
  3. Mix future teams with newbies and experienced IR members.  This will go some ways in facilitating learning the process and doing it more efficiently.
  4. Mix in “outsiders”, non-school staff.  These people could be part of the IR network – a roving network?
  5. In reviewing the process, specifically identify elements for review, e.g. number of classes visited, time for classroom observation, teamwork, big group work.


I can’t praise enough the work Cam is doing at his school with regards to professional learning.  He said it has taken years to develop such a culture and involve a plethora of initiatives including 2+2 Collaborative Peer Coaching.  He is implementing his plan to use IR to inform future professional learning initiatives.  Participants are seeing the value of IR at an individual and collective level.

IR, as I know it via Cam, is an amazing professional learning process.  It strikes at the very culture of the school, at the instructional core: teacher, student, content.  It is happening now.  If you don’t know of it, read up, especially if you are responsible for professional learning at your school.  Better yet, contact Cam and get involved.

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6 thoughts on “Instructional Rounds

  1. Steve Collis says:

    Hey Malyn, Cameron was telling me about this the other day but I didn’t know you were involved. What a wonderful initiative, implemented with careful thought. It’s very in keeping with your generous heart to be involved. Good on you!

    And good on Shore, too!

    I’ve come more and more to see schooling as a mix between goodness (community, connection, hope, love, etc) and poison (machinery, territoriality, alienation). The village versus the factory, to invoke some frames! Arguments, bitterness, can indeed occur in a village, but a factory alienates in its very nature.

    Anyway to break open the territoriality of classroom like Shore have for many years now is a fine achievement. Good on you Shore! Taking openness and humilty to a whole new level with this program just sounds so damn ‘wise’! Yay!

  2. Cameron says:

    Ha! Malyn wants help deciphering Steve’s comment!

    While we work in different environments, Steve and I share somewhat similar ideas. Schooling in its current form is a factory, leading inevitably to the alienation that Steve refers to. While I may be doing some good things in terms of staff professional learning at my school, the question remains whether this is just tinkering around the edges of a damaged system.

    I really appreciate the strong support from both of you – people I really admire, but I keep asking myself the deeper question: is this enough?

  3. Steve Collis says:

    Woops sorry Malyn, and yes Cameron’s explained me well. I have in mind that a school (any school) can simultaneously be a caring community and yet the factory elements are in the ‘DNA’ and have damaging effects. Compartmentalisation is a factory element so it’s great for any school to have pushed out of that.

  4. malyn says:

    Thanks both. You are such inspirational thinkers and visionaries who I admire because you’re right in there trying to make things happen.

    I get it now. 🙂

    Is the factory mentality here to stay (or throughout our lifetime, at least)? If so, can we have a combination of village and factory – a community within? Will there be a cataclysmic change or will the tinkering around the edges make its way to the core?

    What do you guys think of a roving network? A pool of teachers who can be called upon to be part of IRs? Sometimes, it is easier to be objective when one is an outsider.

  5. Steve Collis says:

    The factory/community dichotomy is just a theory – but yes I think they co-exist all the time. I don’t think our industrial wealth would have been possible without it. I have no idea what will develop. There is plenty of pre-industrial language being used in blogs, like Seth Godin, talk of tribes. We talk of campfires, watering holes, caves and mountaintops as organisational metaphors for our school spaces. And the social media has enabled bottom-up community that stands in contrast to top-down organisations. I don’t know what will happen, and I can see the benefits of factory configurations, but I wonder if, due to many different changes, we can have the efficiency benefits of factory thinking without having the actual factory technologies (repetition, standardisation, rigid authority structures, etc)

    A roving network sounds great!

  6. malyn says:

    Thanks Steve. I think something it’s more than theory; more like fact.

    Who knows what will develop. In fact, I’m dreaming of writing a book along these lines….not that I’m much of a narrative writer. haha. I appreciate that narratives can go multiple pathways – and my creative mind can cope – but that a chosen pathway needs to be told in a way that makes sense (the linear-ity of it) is my biggest challenge.

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