One of my best parts of my job is visiting classrooms to see the amazing work our teachers and students are doing. In the month of December, I was able observe in seventeen different classrooms and what struck me was how I could see our Rochester Public Schools (RPS) graduate profile, our vision for what skills we want our students to possess when they leave us, exemplified in our schools.
My visits to classrooms in Rochester Public Schools affirmed my beliefs that we are moving in the right direction and that our students are engaging in opportunities that will allow them to be success-ready individuals. The Graduate Profile is not just a piece of paper that defines where we want our students to be, it is lived out in our classrooms every day.
This post brought to you by Heather Willman, POSA overseeing Secondary Curriculum, Instructional Coaching, & Staff Development
What are Instructional Rounds? Elizabeth A. City says, in her 2011 article “Learning from Instructional Rounds,” that this model, which “was developed to improve instructional practice, is based on medical rounds, the primary way that doctors learn and improve their practice.” She goes on to note that, “Instructional Rounds are a disciplined way for educators to work together to improve instruction. The practice combines three common elements of improvement: classroom observation, an improvement strategy, and a network of educators.”
Instructional Rounds are all about the learning of the observer. They are meant to improve the school by focusing on a problem of practice or instructional core and coming to a shared understanding on identifying the next level of work to be done. By defining a problem of practice, we developed a common focus for our observations and discussion.
As a teacher, Instructional Rounds opened my eyes to the other things teachers were doing in their classrooms. Instructional Rounds helped me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of my peers as professionals, and improve my own practices to better meet my students’ needs. Having the opportunity within the instructional day to learn with my peers was some of the most powerful Professional development I had been involved in. People in my building who rarely pass each other in the hall were able to have rich discussions reflecting on their own practices and share ideas on how to most successfully implement practices within their classrooms. They had the time and space to share new learning or a deeper understanding based on observations from a round that they were excited to try in their own classrooms. Teachers were able to act on the excitement that came when they observed something new or gained a deeper understanding of based on the round.
So, why do Instructional Rounds?
The first time I went on an instructional round as a teacher it was mostly because my principal said it was something all staff needed to do. I was looking forward to seeing what other teachers were doing in their classrooms but also had some trepidation about losing instructional time with my students and disrupting our regular routine by being away from the classroom. Of course, I also had mixed emotions on the reciprocal side of Instructional Rounds, my fellow teachers coming to observe me.
When I got to the meeting space to learn about rounds before heading off to the first classroom, my instructional coaches shared this quote: “The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration, our growth is limited to our own perspectives” (Robert John Meehan). It resonated with me because—while I met as a PLC on a regular basis—it was very seldom that my colleagues and I had the opportunity to see each other in action practicing our crafts. My instructional coaches also explained that another big purpose of Instructional Rounds was to come to a shared understanding of what high-quality instruction looks like and what we need to do to support it.
The observers on my round included two other teachers, an instructional coach, and me. We went to three different classrooms and took notes around the practice using non-evaluative language.
We met back together to debrief and describe what we saw in each classroom. It was hard not to inject evaluative words such as “amazing” as I reflected on the instructional practices I had seen in other classrooms, but we had agreed that if we did that, it would change the focus of the round to being evaluative instead of keeping the focus on our own learning. My group members and I analyzed the patterns that we had seen and predicted what students were doing as a result of the teachers’ instructional practices. This conversation guided us to develop our own personal calls to action, which we wrote on a brightly-colored piece of paper that we hung up in our classrooms to spur us into taking action on our goals.
Lastly, we brainstormed the possible next level of work school-wide around the problem of practice that had framed our observation and our discussion.
Later that same year, an optional instructional round at my building was offered around a different problem of practice. That time I signed up even though it wasn’t something my principal said I needed to do. Since then, I have had the honor of collaborating with other teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators to develop and facilitate Instructional Rounds, and the feedback we collected from teachers about participating in Instructional Rounds has been overwhelmingly positive.
Although the idea of Instructional Rounds was originally a bit foreign and scary to me, they have become an incredibly powerful way for me to learn. Having the honor of seeing the incredible work that my colleagues do and learning from them has made lasting change in my decision-making as an educator.
This post brought to you by Katie Schieve, Instructional Coach & Spanish Immersion Support Teacher at Gage Elementary
Feel free to connect with Schieve via email or Twitter
To explore further, consider the book Instructional Rounds in education: A network approach to improving learning and teaching (2009), which is often mentioned in City’s article.
My best friends when I was growing up—the ones that I kept going back to again and again for support, reassurance, and comfort—were all fictional. It wasn’t so much that I was a nerd or a bookworm per se (although I did grow up to become both), but rather that my day to day world didn’t have in it anyone who looked or acted like me: so I sought them out in books.
You see, as a kid I didn’t have any tangible women in my life with whom I really identified—at least not holistically. My day to day life was filled with men—my father, my older brothers, and most of my friends. And then there was my mom: my mom, who was 100% sugar, and spice, and everything nice—while I, on the other hand, was mainly spice. Unlike my mother, I enjoyed changing the oil with my dad, going fishing with my brothers, and shingling roofs with my guy friends. However, I wasn’t ‘one of the guys’ either: I had a Caboodle full of banana clips and Bonne Bell, Yankee Candle was my favorite store in the mall, and I wore Love’s Baby Soft every day of junior high. So, instead, I found kinship in Mallory from The Baby-Sitter’s Club series, in Jo from Little Women, and in June Osborn [Offred] in The Handmaid’s Tale.
The thing is, each of these friends were introduced to me by teachers. I met Mallory at Jefferson Elementary when Mr. Vanort pointed out the series to me one day in the Library. I met Jo at Kellogg when Mrs. Ollenberg noted in the margin of one of my journal entries that I might enjoy it. And, I met June at Mayo when Ms. Evans set her own personal copy on my desk and said I should read it over winter break (I still have that copy, by the way: if you’re reading this Ms. Evans, let me know if you want it back).
But the other thing is: I’m white and cisgender. I was also born in the United States and raised middle class. These factors made it easier for me to see myself in the books I read growing up. It also made it easier for teachers to put the right books in my hands.
Unfortunately, for many of our students, it’s uncommon for them to see themselves reflected in the books they read, and while the diversity we are seeing in children’s and young adult literature is on the rise, it still doesn’t match our student population. It only takes one look at the numbers to realize how true this is:
As BJ Epstein, Ph.D., noted in The Conversation, “we know that children’s books can act like both mirrors and windows on the world. Mirrors in that they can reflect on children’s own lives, and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life.” Knowing this to be true, then as educators it’s important we ensure students have opportunities to see characters who look like them, share similar backgrounds, and have comparable personality traits. Simultaneously, it important to ensure students are reading books that provide insight into worlds different from their own.
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her 2009 Ted Talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” sheds light on how her personal view of how she saw herself and who she could aspire to become someday was inaccurate and thin because of the limited types of novels she’d had access to. In other words, the mirror she had access to—the one she was able to hold in her hands—didn’t give her a clear picture of herself.
Adichie goes on to talk about how the books one reads can also create windows into the lives and worlds different from one’s own. In fact, reading literary fiction helps build empathy.
For me, this was certainly true. My world view expanded greatly through literature. Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of being black, poor, and female in America. Cisneros' The House on Mango Street helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of poverty and immigration. Dorris's A Yellow Raft in Blue Water helped me begin to comprehend the challenges of holding on to one's heritage when one is Native American and/or biracial.
No matter our cultural backgrounds and experiences, reading fiction “can usher us into other worlds—it can make us step into other realities” (Elemans).
When it comes to surrounding students with literary mirrors and windows, one of the first steps is accessing the right titles and then getting those titles into students’ hands. Below are a wide variety of resources that can help you find texts to then share with students.
Book List Resources:
Reading Challenges that Honor Diversity in Literature:
No matter what your role in education, you could be that staff member who hands out mirrors to and opens windows for our students. It’s important that we all work together to guarantee our students are able to see themselves reflected in the books they read and ensure that they’re able to build empathy for those who are different from them.
My childhood would have been rough without characters like Mallory, Jo, and June. My worldview would have been much thinner without authors like Hurston, Cisneros, or Dorris. To this day, I am grateful for those teachers who introduced me to these close friends and who showed me more of the world.
These protagonists taught me that being smart and outspoken, being strong-willed and brash was admirable—even if I was a woman. These authors taught me to empathize with others different from myself. Now, imagine what lessons our students will learn if we just introduce each of them to a wider array of books.
This post brought to you by Heather Lyke, Secondary Implementation Associate
Earlier this week, an article from EdWeek came across my desktop, titled “Learning Styles Aren’t a Reliable Way to Categorize Students, Study Says.” As someone who has lived in the world of education research, I giggled a little to myself and mumbled something along the lines of, File that in the ‘old news’ folder. Researchers have long suspected that grouping students into “learning styles” and tailoring our instruction to their particular strengths is not as effective as we once believed. I mused on how I used to survey my students and their parents to get an idea of how I should group my young learners into Gardner’s multiple intelligences and how I planned all sorts of learning activities so each group of students could shine in their particular “intelligence.” I smiled and felt a wave of nostalgia for early-career-Kim and prepared to move on to the next thing on my to do list for the day.
And then I had an AHA! moment: perhaps learning styles are not completely bogus, but more likely, we haven’t looked at them through a cultural lens.
When it comes to students like Fazia, how often do we ask ourselves why a particular student is a verbal learner?
Furthermore, critiques of a hyper-focus on learning styles point out that we tend to focus on what a student is good at and rarely push them to develop other skills. How do we, instead, intentionally teach students to practice those styles that are perhaps out of their comfort zone, but necessary for academic and real-world success? In the case of Fazia, what skills does she need to grow to be successful in settings where verbality isn’t appreciated, like in her second hour class?
As I wandered into the rabbit hole of research on this topic, I found so many articles and studies. (If you want to have a few cups of coffee and talk about it all, give me a call! This stuff is my jam!) But, then I came back to the foundations of the work we are doing with Dr. Hollie. He explains, “Notably, the teacher has to know what is cultural and what is not. Fortunately, research provides ample data…about the commonly accepted cultural behaviors of many underserved students” (103). The chart below helps illustrate those particular behaviors.**
The roots of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching (CLR) lie in the recognition and validation of our cultural behaviors and how they impact our learning and teaching. Sure, we are learning all sorts of protocols and skills so we can be intentional and proactive in our responsiveness. But, as Hollie states in the intro to his book, Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching and Learning (2018), “CLR is not something you do but something that you have in all that you do.” CLR calls on us to recognize our students as cultural beings and to provide instructional strategies that meet those cultural needs.
Yet, we don’t stop there. This work recognizes the importance of teaching all students in all styles so they can practice modes of learning that may not be as comfortable for them, but that they will need to be successful in both the classroom and the world beyond the classroom walls. The power of this work lies in our intentionality and the moments when we see our students as bearers of cultures that may not be validated in traditional school culture. When we come up against those moments of struggles and can say to our students, “I see you and I honor you, and I care about you enough to give you the tools you need to be successful.”
And so, as we continue on our CLR journey, we continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
If you have any questions or want to talk more about how culture impacts students’ learning, give me call or email me!
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
* This student is a fictionalized version of students we might see in our classrooms each day.
** I want to acknowledge that culture is much more fluid than this particular chart shows, and there is a mountain of research on various ways to consider this fluidity, but for our purposes here, it is helpful to consider cultural behavior in this simplified way.
I was reading an article recently that talked about the power of partnerships and why sometimes businesses are better together. One particular sentence really struck a chord with my experience over the past year and a half working with Career Pathways and CTECH. Paul Parisi, the President of PayPal Canada, said the greatest success comes when “opportunity drives collaboration.” Where we experience this the most is in our business and industry relationships. Here are a few specific instances that highlight the positive collaborations that have come about from chance opportunities.
Sometime last winter Superintendent Munoz bumped into a gentleman by the name of Ed from McKinstry Engineering at a conference. They began talking about how to engage students in hands-on, real-life engineering and exchanged contact information. This led to a meeting between Ed and myself during which he explained his story as a student and why he was interested in creating this partnership. He also mentioned that his hope was to create a partnership template that his company could use in other areas of the country. Fast forward six months and Ed’s willingness to drive from the Twin Cities every Thursday for a 70-minute class and his ability to secure guest instructors from all over the area have created an unprecedented opportunity for twelve Rochester students, four from each comprehensive high school. These students come to CTECH once a week and learn directly from Engineers in all different areas of the profession.
Every year our district partners with the Rochester Fire Department on fire prevention education at the elementary level. This year a spin-off conversation started about a possible collaboration at the high school level that would prepare interested students for the statewide firefighter certification exam. Over the course of several conversations we were able to create an opportunity through our existing mentorship program that will allow students to complete the bulk of the learning online and combine that with five days of onsite skills training with the Fire Department. As a result of this collaboration we are able to provide this opportunity to our students at minimal cost.
Just over a month ago one of the owner/operators of the Chick-fil-A Ear of Corn quick serve restaurant accidentally stopped into CTECH as she was looking for the Workforce Development Center located next door at the Heintz Center. We informed her that we were a public high school facility and that we don’t post flyers, etc. for job openings. As we chatted and exchanged niceties as typical Minnesotans do, it became clear that an opportunity to collaborate existed. We ended up scheduling a follow-up and, after a quick email introduction, our Business Education instructors were able to have these franchise owners speak to their students. Within a month, this chance opportunity provided a learning opportunity for each of our three high school Business programs and even resulted in, at last count, two students receiving job offers from Chick-fil-A.
These represent just a few of the many collaborations we have within RPS and there are more in the works!
Paul Parisi does a great job outlining the parameters that surround a solid business collaboration and it is my belief that these can be directly applied to the business and industry collaborations we continue to seek as a district. I encourage all educators to keep your eyes and ears open for possible partnerships and when you recognize an opportunity remember the following:
And always remember that strategic partnerships benefit everyone involved!
This post brought to you by Brandon Macrafic, POSA focusing on Career & College Readiness and administrator at CTECH
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