Step back and focus with Instructional Rounds

What you are about to read is nothing new, nor is it innovative. But, it is common sense and I find myself continually in conversations that discuss mandated professional learning as well the intrinsic motivation for faculty to seek out professional learning that supports their profession and the career path they chose. I am, as well as the education profession, is out of medical analogies to compare this to. The simple fact is why does this continually surface in a profession based on growth mindset, lifelong learning, and preparing young minds for an unpredictable future?

My short answer to my own question, which is a very egotistical way of speaking or writing, is that it begins and end with the culture of learning any given school defines. To clarify, this is not your mission statement, this is not your strategic plan, this is not your administrative goals, rather, this is your sense of community. When people set out to find a place to live, they don’t look at the sign when entering the community and read the town slogan. No, they walk down the streets, they talk to the people there, they research the schools. Most people set to move have a complete understanding of that given community before one box is even packed.

And, the same should be said about a school community. When I walk into a school, I can see mission statements on the wall, accolades given, and pertinent information about emergency evacuation procedures. What I don’t see immediately is people. Yes, I may be greeted by administrative staff or a student ambassador, but essentially all I see are words, not action. One does not get a sense of community or culture until you walk through the halls, enter a classroom, talk to a student, or listen to conversations during lunch.

The point I am trying to make is professional learning and a culture of motivated, engaged learners (this includes everyone in the school) begins with an understanding of community. Beyond the signs on the wall, what is your school about? Take a moment and see if you can answer this simple question?

What is great about  [INSERT THE NAME OF YOUR SCHOOL]?

What is your response? Did it come easy? Was there a sense of excitement in your voice? Please share in the comments section. The problem in a lot of our schools is that we spread ourselves too thin and don’t make time to focus on what’s happening around us and in front of us. Additionally, we don’t take the time to listen, observe, and take a mental snapshot of what learning looks like on a day to day basis.

One suggestion I am proposing is to make time. I have proposed instructional rounds (also known as learning walks) at my current school and have put together a plan for implementation. Even before you hold an EdCamp model professional development day, or a district-wide conference, ask yourself, what is great about our school? What does learning look like at our school? How are lessons reflecting multiculturalism, ensuring equity, and including all? Start with these questions before even trying to figure out what your next PD will look like and focus on.

And, these instructional rounds will not just include faculty, but be open to all staff and facilities personnel. Remember, this exercise is about the whole school community and not just the academic staff. When you’re looking to buy a house you don’t just reach out to the neighbors with the groomed lawns, you look at the entire community and get an understanding of why you want to be a part of it.

The most challenging skill to master we will all face in 2017 will be in our ability to focus. Technology has progressively changed our thinking, engagement, and sense of time as it has become more personal. Part of what I am trying, is scaling back my engagement with social media. I have deleted the Facebook app from my phone as well as snapchat. And, I found I am more focused on my work, my reading, and the people who are in front of me. Now, this is not a cure all for focusing and gaining a better understanding of your school community that will yield more intrinsically motivated education professionals, but it’s a good start. I encourage all school leaders to consider instructional rounds before you design the next PD day. Provide staff time to observe learning snapshots throughout the day and engage with the culture of learning.