In a climate where teachers’ response to traditional continuous professional development (CPD) and feedback from formal observations is often ‘passive’ (Danielson, 2009), Teacher Rounds (Del Prete, 2013) are an innovative form of professional learning, which take place in the context of the classroom. The Teacher Round protocols ensure a safe environment for teachers to work together in a collaborative way. Teachers participate as equals and there are no experts, allowing professional learning to take place in the ‘authentic world’ (Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin, 2011) of the classroom.

After retiring from 17 years as head of an inner-city secondary school, I was lucky to be given the opportunity to complete my PhD at Brunel University. My research topic, ‘what happens when teachers participate in Teacher Rounds’, involved working alongside 16 teachers across two secondary schools and one primary school for over a year as they participated in Teacher Rounds.

What are Teacher Rounds?

Teacher Rounds are based on the work of Del Prete (2013). There are many variations but I chose to concentrate on Teacher Rounds that are a more intimate experience for teachers in one school and do not involve an ‘expert’ or ‘consultant’ teacher.

Rounds operate with strict protocols that ensure that authentic professional conversations happen, and teachers are able to reflect on their own practice and make changes as they see fit. It is important to note that Rounds are not about ‘best practice’ but are about learning from all ‘practice’. A Teacher Round occurs in a real, everyday context in the classroom.

A Teacher Round is a collaborative process – a way to bring extra eyes and ears to the task of learning what students are thinking and doing, and what is engaging them and to what end. Teacher Rounds are done with teachers and not done to teachers – this is an important principle and puts teachers in charge of their own learning.

Introducing Teacher Rounds into your school is easy (but will have cover implications) and it is important to note that teachers must volunteer to participate – they cannot be coerced. Once the process and protocols are explained, teachers are (in my experience) keen to get involved. Once they know that confidentiality is agreed and no judgments are made, they volunteer in droves! A Rounds group is made up of between three and seven teachers of various experience and subject specialisms. The groups I facilitated were between five and seven teachers. Teaching experience will be varied but an important point is that everybody comes together as equals.

The Teacher Round protocols

  • First is a group training session (about an hour), where the groups agree a Contract for Working Together and where they learn about the protocols.
  • The host teacher (everyone takes a turn to host a lesson) decides on their own problem of practice and what they particularly want feedback on. They prepare a Round Sheet, outlining the context of the lesson, the lesson objectives and their problem of practice. This is used as a guide for the Round Group, who will visit the lesson.
  • A short pre-Round meeting is held on the morning (usually before school) of the Round, where the host teacher goes through the Round Sheet with the group and together they decide where they will place themselves in the classroom. The host teacher tells them whether she wants them to interact with the pupils, and they discuss any particular pupils or groups that the teacher wants them to observe more closely.
  • The teacher prepares the class for the influx of teachers and they turn up on time and stay for the whole lesson.
  • Teachers are asked to describe what they see, hear and feel but must not interpret it. They are asked not to use jargon or ‘Ofsted’ speak.
  • Following the lesson – usually at the end of the day – the group meet for a post-Round This is where they talk through the lesson and what they have seen and heard. Everybody feeds back to the host teacher, particularly around the problem of practice.
  • Once everyone has fed back, they pull the discussion together by asking probing questions in the form of ‘wonderings’. I wonder what might have happened if… This should be something that the teacher asking the question does not know the answer to but is designed to get the group to reflect on what they have seen and heard.
  • They end by identifying their own ‘learnings’ and what they will try in their own classrooms.
  • The Round discussion needs to be facilitated or chaired. Ideally, this is done by one of the participants and they should not be a senior manager. The role of the facilitator is to chair the discussion and to stop the conversation if teachers drift into evaluation mode.

I acted as facilitator for all the Rounds groups involved in my research and subsequently in Rounds groups that I run in different schools. However, those who have been through the Rounds process now facilitate Rounds in their schools and help to create new groups of teachers to continue the learning process.

For Teacher Rounds to be successfully introduced, teachers will need the full support of the headteacher and senior leadership team.

Professional conversations

All Round members are expected to learn from the post-Round discussion and to reflect on what is being said and apply it to their own practice. The language used in this discussion is very important. The difference is due mostly to the fact that there is no power dynamic or judgment at play. Timperley (2010) says that teachers find it difficult to talk about teaching and I found this to be true. As facilitator, I had to work hard to get teachers to avoid jargon and to get them to be explicit in describing what they had seen and heard and not attempt to evaluate the lesson or the teacher. Professional conversations started to flow and it was difficult to get teachers to stop talking once they started. Whilst the discussions were overwhelmingly positive, the protocol of using wonderings’ to ask searching questions proved an effective way of exploring different approaches (that might otherwise be seen as critical) – but in a positive way.

Conclusion

The clear protocols and lack of judgment associated with Teacher Rounds allowed teachers to be open and honest with each other. The trust (Bryk and Schneider, 2002) that group members had in each other allowed them to express their innermost thoughts and doubts, and many said that they felt they ‘would never be good enough’. Teachers (even the most experienced) were full of self-doubt and full of guilt about not doing enough for their students. Teacher Rounds provided positive feedback without any judgment.

The impact of participating in Teacher Rounds on individual teachers was impossible to measure in terms of pupil achievement or even in terms of improvement to the quality of teaching, because to do this would have involved making arbitrary judgments and evaluations of teachers before and after participation in Teacher Rounds.

This was a qualitative research project involving 16 teachers in three schools. I attended every pre-Round meeting, participated in every Round (32), transcribed and analysed every post-Round and focus group discussion (at the end of the research), to track what individual teachers were saying, and collected and analysed a vast amount of data.

All 16 teachers reported greater confidence in their teaching, and moreover, they reported that the support and trust they had developed in their Rounds groups made them less afraid of formal observations. I saw for myself that they started to take risks when they were hosting a Round. They were able to have detailed discussions about the teaching and learning process without fear of being seen as ‘difficult’ or ‘resistant to change’. The extra eyes and ears in the classroom meant that they had a better handle on what individuals and groups of children were doing during the lesson and were able to identify barriers to their learning. Teachers were open and respected the feedback from their colleagues, who did the same job as they did on a daily basis.

Trust (or lack of it)

Lack of trust in schools emerges as a major factor in the way in which teachers engage in their work. Surveillance, constant monitoring and checking on teachers need to be urgently addressed, and accountability measures need to be rationalised and made more humane. The compliance culture is about control, and heads seem to be afraid of what will happen if they let go of this control. Giving teachers a voice in what and how they teach will help them to take ownership of the teaching and learning process and allow them to develop their own agency and professionalism (Biesta et al., 2015). This might help to keep them in the profession.

Everybody is looking for the ‘silver bullet’ to bring about change and to improve pupil standards. Yet standards will only improve if the quality of teaching continues to improve. We must invest in teachers, and leaders must question why they are imposing structures and policies that do not bring about long-term improvement.

References

Biesta G, Priestly M and Robinson S (2015) The role of beliefs in teacher agency. Teachers and Teaching 21(6): 624–640.

Bryk A and Schneider B (2002) Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for Improvement. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Danielson C (2009) Talk About Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Darling-Hammond L and McLoughlin MW (2011) Policies that support professional development in an era of reform. Phi Delta Kappan 92(6): 82.

Del Prete T (2013) Teacher Rounds: A Guide to Collaborative Learning in and from Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Timperley H (2010) Using evidence in the classroom for professional learning. Paper presented to the Ontario Research Symposium. Toronto, Canada.