Cultivate a culture that is hungry for feedback. When I met Tyler Thigpen, head of upper school, he encouraged me to do just that. I did not know how when I heard his phrase three years ago, but that did not stop me from trying. I tried the line, “May I give you some feedback?” Then I changed my wording to, “May we collaborate on something?” I tried group think, one-on-ones, and dedicated reflection assignments. I tried modeling by asking others for feedback on my work. Regardless of my intentions, however, feedback still became known to some as the “F” word in our community.
Today, however, I can share an approach to feedback that has excited a small group of educators that we at Mount Vernon call Heads of Grade. After studying the process of Instructional Rounds through the work and coaching of Bo Adams, we attempted our first round two weeks ago. Four of us, three administrators and a current teacher/head of grade set out with our laptops. Our objective was to record dialogue of learners, space configurations, student roles, student engagement levels, instructional methods, and demonstrations of Mount Vernon Mindsets (21st century skills). Observation forms were shared with the teacher immediately after the completion of the round. The observational notes were meant to be clinical in nature, not evaluative. Observers could add questions in parenthesis around their comments, however, to promote future conversation.
The morning following the rounds, we met before school in the Teacher Collab to debrief these notes. We found this article helpful to prepare for the debrief.
With the opening question posed, “How was this for you?”, we set the timer for 10 minutes per teacher. Sherri spoke first using a scan and respond method. “This was good feedback for me because it helps me know what to look for next time. I love that you all noticed my one student, John Smith. Does anyone have any ideas for how I can serve him better?” One idea that Sherri realized included not assessing work students were doing in centers other than the teacher-facilitated center. I am excited to see how she responds to this realization.
Andrea shared next by digging deep into one area of her observation. After being asked, “How was this for you?” She shared with the others that her lesson was about feedback in her second-grade classroom. Students were in control of peer feedback and she removed herself as the expert in the room. After reading the reflection, Andrea asked, “Should I have had my students write the feedback down?” Together, the team brainstormed a before and after chart that could serve as a visual to help students see how their writing improves after collaborating with another on it.
Lastly, Jenny answered the question, “How was this for you?” She shared that she was glad one observer caught the point of the lesson. She realized how long she spent going over the directions. She also realized her use of the word “perfect” and thought aloud, “Is that a word I ever want to come out of my mount?” We brainstormed some words that would better articulate the message of encouragement she attempted to convey.
Overall the team commented that they appreciated the clinical nature of the observations. It required time for reflection, a discipline we all too often preclude from our practice.
After the teachers returned to their classrooms, the admin team remained to meta-debrief. We explored questions like: How do we really measure engagement? Are we looking at desk or body arrangement when marking space configuration? We also asked questions about comments we made in the document and in person to make improvements for next time. This was a great learning experience for the observers and those observed. Feel free to review the observational notes attached.
Instructional Round Observation Notes