Want to be Inspired? Go on a Safari. by Barbara Noel, Yau-Jau Ku, Tony Bellew Asociación Escuelas Lincoln
A few weeks ago the Learning Coaches team here at Lincoln in Buenos Aires wrote a blog entry that captured our experiences of shadowing students for the day. Additionally, one of our major goals this year as coaches is to open doors, both in a literal and figurative sense. We decided that our next step was to seek out good teaching. The maverick Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn once said, “Your focus determines your reality.” Roland Barth in Learning by Heart provided a slightly more educationcentric perspective when he wrote, “To reflect on practice we must first observe practice.”
It is clear that closed classroom doors will not help us educate all students to high levels. It is also clear that what happens in classrooms matters for student learning and that we can do more together than we can do individually to improve learning and teaching. John Hattie (2009), in his seminal work Visible Learning for Teachers ranked microteaching as the fourth most effective professional learning activity as far as impact on student achievement is concerned. At Lincoln we want to move from the image of the teacher behind the closed classroom door. The question arose though for us as learning coaches about what to look for when we opened the door and what to do with what we saw.
Initially we wanted to seek out good teaching and we framed our visit as an Inspiration Safari (the term actually belongs to Stephen Taylor of Canadian Academy, Kobe and was developed during a PLC at that school). We wanted to be invited into the classrooms of teachers. As part of the Inspiration Safari framework we leaned heavily on Robert Marzano’s Instructional Rounds Protocol spending fifteen minutes in the classroom looking for strengths and then posing some reflective questions for the teacher. As learning coaches we then spent the next fifteen minutes discussing what we had seen based on the following questions.
What does the teacher do to…
Establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success?
Help students effectively interact with new knowledge?
Help students practice and deepen their understanding of new knowledge?
Help students generate and test hypotheses about new knowledge?
Establish or maintain classroom rules and procedures?
Recognize and acknowledge adherence and lack of adherence to classroom rules and procedures?
Establish and maintain effective relationships with students?
Communicate high expectations for all students?
Develop effective lessons organized into a cohesive unit?
We then provided immediate feedback for the teachers in the form of postcards and offered further feedback in either a 15-20 minute reflective conversation or in a more detailed written response. The key learning outcome we wanted from the process was to encourage enhanced instructional pedagogy through reflective dialogue.
Not all forms of professional development and collaboration are created equal. Often we are told that one of the greatest barriers to school improvement is the lack of an agreed upon definition of what high quality instruction looks like. We have created a database that records teachers’ strengths so that we know how to pair those seeking certain strategies with those more experienced with them. This also helps us establish what great instruction at Lincoln actually looks like. Our first round of Inspiration Safari included only the three Learning Coaches, as we began documenting the many instructional ‘bright spots’ we already have. Teachers throughout the school graciously volunteered to have us come in. As we tweeted, met, discussed and documented great teaching, we found a natural curiosity for our work turn into eager sign-ups from colleagues who wanted their work to become more visible. Our second round, has included divisional principals to build a wider shared vision. Our next round will include teachers interested in the instructional rounds. To date we have visited just over 50% of the classrooms in the school.
The Inspiration Safari/ Instructional Rounds process is an explicit practice that is designed to bring discussions of instruction directly into the process of growth and of school improvement. The use of a set of protocols and processes for observing, analyzing, discussing, and understanding instruction can be used to improve student learning at a school-wide scale. The practice opens doors throughout the school. It creates a common discipline and focus among practitioners with a common purpose at the same time.