Instructional Rounds at Thetford Academy

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Kristen Downey

How a Faculty Seeks to Improve Their Practice

Last Monday a group of Upper Valley educators gathered in the Alumni room at Thetford Academy to assist the faculty with an opportunity to enhance their practice. With an increasingly diverse population of students, how can teachers best meet students’ individual needs and differentiate their instruction for the wide spectrum of learning modalities and abilities of their students? Both experience and common sense suggest that all individuals are unique and learn in ways that are particular to them. Research indicates that effective learning environments are responsive to these differences, both by building on the unique experiences and understandings of each student, and by continuously tailoring learning opportunities. But differentiated instruction is challenging, and it’s something teachers work their entire careers to master.

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The method chosen to better understand how Thetford Academy teachers are accommodating learner differences was instructional rounds, an idea adapted from the medical rounds model that doctors use. A small group of education professionals and peer teachers observe classroom activities, gathering specific examples of differentiated instruction in action. It’s a systematic approach to look closely at what students experience in a school’s classrooms, and improve teacher and student learning. It’s not the only way to foster deep, collective work that guides instruction, but after I first experienced instructional rounds in the spring of 2015 at Hartland Elementary School, I was fascinated by the process.

Why do instructional rounds appeal to Thetford Academy? Dean of Academics and science teacher, Marc Chabot, explains, "My former teacher and colleague, Faith Dunne, regularly used the expression about examining practice: ‘We don't know who discovered water, but it wasn't a fish!’ We hope that Instructional Rounds will help us learn more about the water - our teaching practice - that we're swimming in.”

Sitting in a room filled with Thetford Academy ephemera- blue and white tokens of the rich institutional history- the group included a former TA student, a special educator and colleague coach, Upper Valley educators, myself, and current TA teachers. Throughout the day we collected a trove of observations- specific examples, situations, or events that can be further examined in a larger group setting.  With further synthesis, the faculty will better understand the ways in which they are currently teaching to learner differences, and some actionable feedback about how to get even better.
At the end of the day, we presented initial findings to a small group of the faculty, and it’s clear that teachers are doing a lot to differentiate instruction. In a few weeks, the faculty will meet to discuss the findings on a deeper level.

Head of School, Bill Bugg sums up the importance of this work: "Students receive feedback every day about their work, but those providing the feedback -- their teachers -- too seldom have the opportunity to examine the practice of teaching, including how well they are meeting the individual academic needs of each student in their charge. Instructional rounds afford teachers a non-judgmental, non-evaluative opportunity to better understand and improve their craft."

TA’s work has just begun, though. The rounds team had a number of findings, but it’s the faculty that must ask themselves, What’s relevant, meaningful and actionable for us as a group? That’s a question that only the faculty can answer.


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