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.