In the round……Instructional Rounds, Learning Rounds and a little bit more…..

MArgaretMargaret Alcorn, SELMAS convenor  reflects on Learning Rounds: The story so far

In 2006 and 2007, two groups of Scottish educators were sponsored to attend the Harvard Summer School as part of the Scottish Government’s International Thought-Leaders’ Programme. Their mission was to engage with leading American educationalists and to soak up ideas, perceptions, strategies and innovative practice.

As a direct result of this initiative, Professor Richard Elmore was invited to Scotland in 2007 to share his work in the area of System-Wide Improvement, and specifically to demonstrate and illustrate the Instructional Rounds Programme which he was then trialling in the Boston and Philadelphia areas. Throughout his visit Professor Elmore led a number of presentations and workshops across Scotland, in which he focused on his central message of the need to develop the teaching profession through a core practice, with a clear and shared core language. He described Instructional Rounds as a way to ensure and develop accountability as teachers select courses of action by adopting common norms, and by making claims and taking action based on evidence. He concluded his visit by leading an Instructional Rounds in a high school in Fife.Richard_Elmore_2

The response to this visit was extraordinarily positive, and the Scottish Government commissioned the National CPD Team and SCSSA to take forward the development of a Scottish model, based on Elmore’s key theories, and which became known locally as Learning Rounds. This development was intended to support schools and authorities in developing internal accountability, and to create a powerful form of professional learning aimed at helping schools and systems develop the capacity to educate all children to high levels.

In developing the Scottish model, the team was careful to maintain a focus on the key characteristics that had led to the success of the Instructional Rounds model in the States. These included a commitment to observation in groups, clear and established protocols for observation, analysis of the observations on site, and a focus on the key question, “What is the next level of work?”

Several years later, and it is clear that the Instructional Rounds model continues to deliver in the States. A veritable flurry of publications by the Harvard Education Press have explored the protocols, practice and impact of the model. It is perhaps a good time to reflect on the experience across Scotland in the last few years.

There is little doubt that Learning Rounds is popular with educators, who like the personal ownership of their learning offered by the programme. Many talk positively about the opportunity it offers to talk to colleagues about pupil learning in a structured and non-judgmental group, and of the powerful insights and new understanding which can emerge as a consequence.

There is however some evidence that we have yet to see the full potential of the programme realized. A group of three Edinburgh schools worked together over the Spring term, in partnership with a team of local authority officers and consultants, to try to identify how the positive outcomes of the Learning Rounds programme could become more firmly embedded in practice, in order to achieve a more significant improvement in the impact of the experience. This was Learning Rounds+. Although the programme has not yet been fully evaluated, key issues emerged which are of some significance for those establishments planning Learning Rounds in the year ahead.

Where the impact of involvement in Learning Rounds had been less clear, it seemed to be related to a pick ‘n’ mix approach to the protocols. The programme is best when it is followed as a whole. While each individual element can offer a valuable learning experience (lesson observation, table mat discussion, non-judgmental discussion, etc.) it is the totality of the programme that delivers success.  For this reason, the Learning Rounds + team agreed that it was helpful to have an experienced facilitator for the first go at Learning Rounds in any school.

The Harvard publications mentioned to above also refer to the need to see Learning Rounds (or Instructional Rounds) as a process, part of the way the school develops and improves rather than an event. In the most recent publication the author Thomas Fowler-Finn says:

It will be two to three years before what participants learn from rounds shows up in the classroom.” 

This time scale seems equally appropriate for the Scottish version.  In the Learning Rounds + programme, the establishment of a Learning Circle by the school leadership teams was a very positive way to co-coach and build inter-school collaboration.

The third significant theme to emerge from the Learning Rounds + programme was the need to link the discussion on next steps with other school improvement processes such as Professional Review and Development, school improvement planning, in-school in-service, etc. This helped to build the Learning Rounds culture within the school, and ensured that there was a sustained commitment to next steps of learning.

Finally, and importantly, Learning Rounds + taught us that the programme has the greatest chance of making a real difference in those which have created a culture of shared learning and trust. As with all the very best CPD, the best outcomes emerge when teachers are positive and engaged.

#brainstrust – Rowena Arshad on interdisciplinarity and silo thinking

Here Rowena talks about the importance of the report for the School of Education at Moray House and highlights the need for more international collaboration and practice based research

Rowena Arshad at #brainstrust

SELMAS 2012: No school is an island

SELMAS conference – No school is an island

In January 2012, members of the SELMAS network got together at Tynecastle High in Edinburgh to talk about collaborative and partnership working.

Margaret’s introduction

Mick Waters’ talk

Mick Waters at SELMAS from National CPD Team on Vimeo.

Colin Graham

Eric Summers on International Links

Susan Deacon summing up

SELMAS 2011: Donaldson and me

Catriona May 25th 2011

The theme of the recent SELMAS dinner on May 24th at the St George’s Centre, Edinburgh was Donaldson and Me and a succession of impressive speakers shared their personal responses to the Teaching Scotland’s Future review.

The themes picked up by the various speakers didn’t hugely surprise: Linda McTavish, Principal of Anniesland College was enthused by the prominence of partnership working in the review, and talked about how this was a functional necessity in her setting – without their partnerships with business, industry, schools etc the college really couldn’t operate. This addressed the issue of providing a bit of the “how” that was identified in discussion as missing from the report – bearing this in mind, sharing the Anniesland experience in partnership building and working might be a useful thing to do.

Jaqueline Scott, HT at Trinity Prmary School Edinburgh mentioned improving quality and entry selection as priorities, and also called for greater flexibility with time commitments for probationers, suggesting greater flexibility with time management and allocations for probationers. She suggested longer continuous stretches in class, then concentrated, focussed periods out of class to really reflect, share, consolidate and build on their experience. The weekly 0.7/0.3 split is sometimes seen as rigid and disruptive, and it stands to reason that a more flexible system would be more user friendly. Something for further discussion at the Probationer Support event we’re organising next week at SMC.

Gillian Hamilton was on her favourite subject – leadership; and asking what difference Donaldson will make to this theme. Looking to the future, the role of HTs will no doubt change, as it already has since Gillian was in the role and not necessarily in a positive way, with more attention to risk assessment, budgeting, behaviour and grievances tending to sometimes eclipse the HTs role as lead learner in a school. The virtual college, as suggested by Donaldson via the national CPD team, will provide a focus for CPD and connecting school leaders and should also help shape and support the various leadership roles a forward-thinking profession for the future might require.

The most contentious discussion of the evening came during the panel discussion at the end when Cara Aitchison Head of School at Moray House, Edniburgh saw Donaldson’s recommendations as an invitation to the TEIs in Scotland to diversify and offer specialisms, but suggested that the “traditional” model of teacher education ( research and university based) is best suited to an institution like Edinburgh, and more “vocational” approaches might be better if left to ” institutions in the west.” Not surprisingly, there was quite a reaction to this Interesting! No matter how teachers enter the profession, there is some merit in what Stephen Heppell says: “if they can’t make schools spectacularly good, what are they doing training teachers?” It makes sense – TEIs should be modelling the best in education and for a profession fit for our times, is that best done through lectures, essays and seminars? This relates tangentially to the discussion but is relevant none the less.

Other memorable moments: HT from Govan said his best teacher was his granny because

she knew him
she loved him
she knew how to get the best out of him. Simple, really.
And another HT from Edinburgh expressed some concern at the homogeneity of students coming into the profession; regretting the demise of the outlyers, the mavericks, the independent thinkers (and operators) who took risks, often defied authority and still commanded respect, made big impressions and like the aforementioned granny, got the best out of young people.

Sadly the discussion was just beginning to get interesting when the evening was brought to a close. SELMAS is a loosely constituted, open organisation which provides a forum for leadership – I hope we continue the conversations.

Comments on this post:

Margaret Alcorn May 26th, 2011 at 7:13 am
It was a fascinating evening. If you’d like to know more about SELMAS or are interested in being added to our contact list for future events then please email me.

Catriona May 26th, 2011 at 4:04 pm
Jacqueline Scott spoke of the challenge of encouraging all staff to engage in CPD – this article might be of interest: “School professionals’ attitudes to professional development in a networked context: developing the model of believers’ seekers, and sceptics.”
Available in the Professional Development in Education journal

Lindsay Paterson May 31st, 2011 at 3:09 pm
The discussion sounds interesting, and the responses intriguing. If Donaldson is to get us anywhere it will have to recognise that amongst the many problems with the way in which we have understood teaching is the untenable distinction between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ expertise. The vocational needs the theoretical, not only empirically grounded theories of learning, child development, cognitive functioning and psychology, but also – in many instances – the scientific, technological and social scientific theories which are indispensable to the effective use of applied knowledge. That is as true of, let us say, Anniesland College as of Edinburgh University. The ‘academic’, on the other hand, is never merely that, because all knowledge, however theoretical, is also at some point applied because it is about how our minds work and how they seek to understand each other and the world around us: to draw a distinction between science and technology, or between literary studies and human discourse, or between social science and the everyday understandings that we all seek to have of how our society works is not only untenable intellectually, but also utterly unhelpful to the teacher in the classroom.
The most admirable feature of Donaldson’s report is its recognition that teaching needs better theory – theories of knowledge, and theories of learning and teaching – and also that those theories which are adduced in support of teaching must not only be more rigorously developed than they are at present, but also must be more consistently applicable. If my own university (Edinburgh) has anything to contribute here, it might be in the range of disciplines through which it seeks to develop knowledge that is part of the school curriculum, and knowledge also that is about how people learn; but, if that university does have a role to play, it can only do so by recognising that such knowledge is developed in many other places right across Scotland, and that, in particular, the understanding of how to make the knowledge useful to pedagogical practice is the monopoly of no-one.

Margaret Alcorn June 6th, 2011 at 12:38 pm
Thanks for this, Lindsay. The issue you raise regarding the need for academic and practical expertise to be seen as individually necessary and together sufficient formed much of the discussion at my table at SELMAS. A couple of colleagues expressed the view that the Donaldson Review had somewhat flinched from exploring how the challenge implicit in this might be taken forward. However from the discussion at this and other recent events, it seems there is a shared commitment among many educators to finding opportunities for university staff and teaching staff to work together in new and innovative ways, and it seems clear that this process will require more recognition of and respect for the expertise and knowledge that already exists across the educational community.

SELMAS Leadership Forum : Collaboration, COPs, Sculpting and Skills


Margaret March 29th, 2010

SELMAS blob“Shoogled out of our comfort zone”


Last Tuesday colleagues from across Scotland and from a diverse range of professional interests came together at St George’s for SELMAS Leadership Forum 2010. The theme was COLLABORATION IN A CHANGING WORLD.

We had three speakers. Don Ledingham, Executive Director for Education and Children’s Services, East Lothian Council talked about the East Lothian proposal to consider community-based management of its schools. Don explained the process of debate which has now been set in motion by using the metaphor of sculpting: views of all involved will be heard and any change to the system. For more about the developing East Lothian Question, see Don’s learning log:

Our second speaker was Gillian Hunt, Workforce Learning and Development Manager for the City of Edinburgh Children and Families Department. Gillian described a Scottish Government programme called COPS: ‘Collaborating for Outcomes in the Public Sector’ involving colleagues from a range of public sector organisations, such as local authorities, NHS, Police, Prison Service, Care Commission, and Scottish Government. She encouraged all the SELMAS guests to get out of our boxes and think creatively about partnership working.

Finally Iain White, Headteacher of Govan High School in Glasgow, spoke. HMI have commended Ian’s success in developing partnership working with a range of organisations, through the Govan initiative, the Glasgow-Hunter Partnership, Columba 1400 and with primary schools in the New Learning Community. Iain described how the school has built a growing number of valuable partnerships with businesses, helping young people to develop important skills and increase their knowledge of the world of work