Learning Rounds: Watch and Learn

I work as a K-5 math interventionist in two rural Maine schools. Last week I helped to facilitate a staff meeting at one of the two schools I work in. Both schools have implemented Learning Rounds or Instructional Rounds as part of their professional development. This staff meeting was meant to be a time of reflection for this staff as they concluded their first year of learning rounds in their school.

This was quite an accomplishment for both staff and administrators in this building. Learning rounds have not been met with open arms in all of the buildings in our district. In fact this is only the third of four elementary schools to adopt them for math. In order to facilitate the discussion and reflection at this staff meeting, our district math coach and I decided to revisit concerns voiced by this staff at the beginning of the year. We rephrased statements they had placed on a pro/con chart at a September staff meeting into belief statements and gave them back.

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Teachers found that many of their concerns were outweighed by the benefits reaped from the learning rounds. Teachers had the opportunity to observe and to be observed at least twice over the course of the year. One of the things that surprised many teachers in this building was that they learned more from observing their peers (even if they were a 5th grade teacher observing a Kindergarten teacher), than they did from being observed.

The focus of our learning rounds are the 8 Mathematical Practices. We had chosen two practices on which to focus at the beginning of the year. This staff had chosen to look at MP#1 Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, and MP#3 Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. For each round in which they were observed, teachers worked hard to consider these practices and how the tasks they chose  and planned would provide an opportunity for their students to engage in them. They also participated as observers and had a chance to look for evidence of one of the practices in their colleague’s classrooms using a “Look For” sheet similar to the one below.

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This “scavenger hunt” has resulted in a much deeper understanding of the practices for the teachers that have taken part.

Learning rounds have proven to be a powerful tool used to  improve mathematics instruction in our district. As facilitators, we have learned important lessons about how to keep them positive. For instance, setting and reviewing norms such as confidentiality and active listening before each round, providing teachers with PD on the practices we have chosen, and ensuring there is plenty of time to debrief in small observation groups and as a whole staff when possible, are all extremely important.

Personally, my favorite part about them is seeing lightbulbs come on for teachers as they take ownership of their own teaching and learning.  The process requires teachers to take risks in their teaching, and in their learning of new mathematical ideas. Through these risks, we are growing as teachers and learners.

2 thoughts on “Learning Rounds: Watch and Learn

  1. Thanks for sharing this. There are some interesting similarities here including:
    – general fear of being observed by others
    – focusing on the math practices and specifically 1 and 3. We do 1, 3, & 6 in my district.

    I’m curious about the pros and cons of your observation tool. We have used two versions including one that was similar to yours and one that was less specific. We found that when we used the more specific sheet, it tended to get used as a checklist and sometimes people couldn’t see the forest for the trees. The less specific sheet (in terms of describing what the math practice looked like) enabled better conversations but required more upfront explanation as to what the math practice looked like.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write this up. I’ve got to think about it more.


    1. Thanks for your comment Robert. We have had a lot of discussion around our observation tool actually. We have been very explicit with teachers about recording evidence of a look for, and not just checking it off. In fact, in our most recent versions, there is no place to check, only lines for evidence. This has encouraged much more discourse about what we saw, and whether or not it speaks to a particular look for. I believe using more detailed observation sheets, and encouraging evidence instead of checks, has allowed for deeper understanding of the practices in our experience.


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