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Flipping the Script: What Happens When Students Lead Instructional Rounds?

Chelsea Opportunity Academy (COA) launched a new school model this fall to serve students who are off track to graduation. Springpoint supported them through a robust design year as part of the Engage New England initiative, funded by the Barr Foundation. Throughout the planning and launch of the school model—and now in the school’s first year—students are key stakeholders in the process, helping devise and implement many student-centered practices, including mastery-based learning, a primary person approach, and student-led instructional rounds—an innovative new practice they developed in partnership with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) and supported by Springpoint.

The school decided to adapt the practice of instructional rounds—a powerful learning tool from the medical field—for their school community, with students taking the lead. Two students were excited about the prospect of engaging in instructional rounds and went through a training led by Adam Aronson, COA’s founding lead teacher. This spring the students conducted the first ever series of student-led instructional rounds, visiting each classroom, debriefing the experience, and sharing observations with teachers.

In his recruitment efforts with students, Adam highlighted the intention of student-led instructional rounds, noting that the practice would make the school better and, in turn, would make their experience as students better. “Our school encourages student voice broadly and, as students have gotten more involved, the more empowered they are to share their voices,” said Adam. “They are increasingly involved and invested and, as a result, we have a better school. Student voice cannot stop at the climate and culture aspects of the school—they need to have a say in the academic realm, too.”

Ron Schmidt and Brittney Sampson working with Adam Aronson of Chelsea Opportunity Academy.

Brittney Sampson formerly of CCE works with Principal Ron Schmidt and founding lead teacher, Adam Aronson of Chelsea Opportunity Academy.

The training focused on how to engage in low-inference observations and devise from that higher inference statements and observations. Adam and the students reviewed and practiced mock scenarios. Watching a video with harsh and critical feedback helped them develop a deeper understanding of what feedback to avoid and how to be mindful of their phrasing. For example, the video showed behavioral management challenges in one classroom. Instead of saying: “the teacher should suggest that the student sits down” a more normative observation say: “the teacher is watching the student who is standing while not speaking.” Students also reviewed the observation tool with four guiding questions and key areas of focus pertaining to the school’s competencies.

Then it was time to get into classrooms. The observations were spread out over three days with one observation on the first day, two on the second, and a final one on the third. Adam employed this structured to allow students to balance their own class and school work.

Adam supported students on the first set of rounds, attending the observations to answer any questions and ensure a smooth process. Students filled out their observation tool over the 15-minute classroom observation, finding examples of competencies, recording low inference observations, and conducting brief interviews with students. Adam debriefed each observation with students, noting any highlights or lingering questions.

“The most interesting thing about the first set of student-led instructional rounds was that it did not differ dramatically from adult-led instructional rounds,” said Adam. “Students and teachers in each of the classrooms responded to observers in the same way as if it were an adult. Everyone respected the process. And most importantly, students had great ideas, observations, and noticings that I had not picked up on.” For example, one student observer suggested making every student’s Chromebook background an image of COA’s competency wheel.

COA's Competency Wheel

Adam reflected on the many strengths of the process, noting the ways in which COA’s strong school culture enabled the success of the student-led instructional pilot. With regard to teachers he notes, “everything in our school is presented as an idea. We want to try it, test it out and see how it worked.” This is how student-led instructional rounds were presented as well. “We framed it as a learning moment; something that would not be perfect on the first try and that is developmental instead of evaluative. The setting—our teacher working group meeting—helped reinforce that as it was all teachers who ran the meeting and looked at the data.”

Teachers debriefed findings during their weekly PLC meeting. Adam amalgamated the data and presented general trends. For example, it was clear from the data that students truly do see the importance of competencies and are increasingly using them to guide all learning experiences.

Adam was thrilled that his fellow teachers were “excited about the process, open to rich conversations, and helpful in thinking about iteration.” For example, someone suggested that teachers should help shape future guiding questions and someone else requested that student observers lead future debriefs (this was not possible due to scheduling and personal conflicts that arose).

“With teachers facilitating the meeting, it mitigated some of the power dynamics and pushed me thinking as a learner and a teacher leader,” said Adam. “Our coach from CCE, Brittney was especially helpful in supporting us as we thought through how to make this a truly impactful and purely developmental experience for both teachers and students.”

For future iterations, Adam plans to co-facilitate the debrief with a student observer, eventually equipping them to run discussions on their findings themselves. Teachers and students will also co-create the guiding questions and customize the areas of observations for each classroom.

“If I had made the questions more student-focused, or gotten input from students in advance, I probably could have gotten more useful data,” said Adam. He reflected on one of the questions he would change that asked observers where they saw the competencies in the class. Many examples included observations of locations in the physical classroom where competencies existed instead of where in the lesson or the work they appeared.

“In our first set of student-led instructional rounds, we learned a lot of lessons,” said Adam Aronson. “It was a really terrific experience for students and teachers alike. We are excited to explore ways to get more clarity and strengthen stakeholder engagement.”

This article originally appeared on Springpoint's blog.

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