Lead with Instructional Rounds to Advance Equity Work in Schools
Every year, as July comes to an end, my mind starts shifting from reflecting on the moments of pride, challenges, and lessons learned from the last school year to the excitement, hope, and vision for the upcoming school year. One of the things I feel is special and unique about being an educator, it that it is the only job that we get to have an exciting beginning and end to every year. No other field has the excitement of these two milestones – EVERY SINGLE YEAR. This July, however, it feels different. It feels heavier. The “beginnings” and the “ends” of last year were complicated. Next year I will begin my fifteenth year as a school principal, and I believe it will be the most important year that I will ever lead.
This summer, I am not simply looking back on one school year, I am looking back on a year that began in September 2019 and finally closed in June 2021. March 2020 schools across the nation closed in response to the pandemic. The world seemed to stop and we didn’t know what to do. People lost loved ones and friends. Two months later, the murder of George Floyd prompted worldwide protests and deep sadness. Finally, the Presidential election of November 2020 divided our nation and prompted hate, anger, and alienation. Our sense of safety, our beliefs, and our priorities where constantly challenged. Our nation and its people were hurt. It is often said that in times of despair and difficulty, we learn and grow the most. That gives me hope. That is why I believe the upcoming school year will be the most important school year educational leaders will ever have to lead. The time is now for our schools to learn and grow into something better than they were before these tremendous challenges. It is time now for us to transform education so that ALL students have a deep passion and excitement for learning with equitable learning practices and environments where they feel personally connected and valued. Wow - That is a big and very exciting charge! There is a lot to unpack in that statement, but today I am thinking about equity part.
Schools across the nation understand the compelling need to effectively change educational practices to bring about more equitable experiences and outcomes for students. We need to promise and deliver an equitable curriculum in an equitable learning environment with equitable instructional practices. We need to move beyond policies to action in the classrooms – ALL classrooms. We know we are a solution to a problem.
So how do we bring about authentic and lasting change and improvement in our classrooms around this critically important topic?
We start by learning. Professional development around equity is happening all over. We are listening, reading, talking, and planning. In August/September teachers will enter their classroom and do their very best to move beyond the information they have learned about equity to developing their skills and strategies through classroom application. But, they are in a silo. Each teacher is in their own space doing the best they can to improve this problem - alone. Some of our teachers will do amazing work around equitable practices. Some have already been doing amazing work. Others may still be unclear about what it looks and sounds like. Still others may have a false sense about their progress with equity work. Some may lack confidence and are hesitant to start. District and community leaders can write all the policies they want. They can rewrite a new vision and mission in their schools, but impact and true positive change happens with teachers in their classrooms. To make it happen, teachers need to regularly step out of their classroom silo to see, hear, and talk about what equity best practice looks like in their school.
In Lead with Instructional Rounds - Creating a Culture of Professional Learning, I define instructional rounds as a process for educators, in small collaborative groups, to observe their colleagues teaching while reflecting on their own practices, followed by dialogue about effective instruction and the impact on learning. As I consider advancing equity work in my school, I can adjust this definition to wear an equity lens….
Instructional rounds for improving equity is a process for educators, in small collaborative groups, to observe their colleagues teaching effective practices, techniques, and strategies around equity while reflecting on their own practices, followed by dialogue about ‘equity best practices’ and the impact on learning for ALL our students.
If we intend to truly transform schools into something better than ever before, we need to move from vision and policy to teachers. I think too often we provide development for our teachers then expect them to go to their silo and apply it well with their students. If we think that is the end of our work as leaders and expect effective positive change to happen, we are mistaken. Development with teacher voice and modeling must continue through the application of practice. Achieving equity is a never-ending process that deserves never ending work in our schools. Our teachers deserve to be supported and developed during their application of the work. Our students and communities deserve our diligence in creating and prioritizing continuous growth through the application of our practice that refines the work our teachers do in the change process.
As I consider leading to advance equity in our schools, I am drawn to a three-step progression of professional development and effective change for advancing equity in schools.
Build individual capacity of our staff to advance equity through expert professional development such as workshops, speakers, literature, etc. Determine what ‘equity best practice’ looks like in your school.
Apply learning in classrooms and engage staff in frequent and ongoing instructional rounds through an equity lens to grow practices, build teacher confidence, and develop collective capacity across your school. Refine, clarify, and model what ‘equity best practice’ looks like in your school.
Elevate teacher voice from the classroom practice level in district priorities and decisions for advancing equity in your district and community.
Regardless of the lens you are looking and leading through, instructional rounds is an authentic and metacognitive process for individual, collective, and system development. Changes in individual effective practices begin to spread across a school for schoolwide change and greater impact on students – ALL students.