ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Supporting Teacher Growth with Instructional Rounds

Post written by Robert J. Marzano and Michael D. Toth

In Teacher Evaluation That Makes a Difference, our recommendations for best practices are based on the assumption that teacher evaluation should have two purposes—development and measurement—but that development should be the more important of the two. If districts and schools share this perspective, then they must provide teachers with direct support in their efforts to improve.

Our recommendations are derived from three primary sources: Effective Supervision, Becoming a Reflective Teacher, and Coaching Classroom Instruction. We believe there are at least five direct actions that districts and schools can take to support teacher growth:

  1. Begin with a teacher self-audit.
  2. Keep track of progress.
  3. Use instructional rounds.
  4. Use online professional learning communities (PLCs).
  5. Provide coaching.

Here, we will take a closer look at how to use instructional rounds to support teacher growth.

Focusing on Problems of Practice

Instructional rounds are among the most valuable tools a school or district can employ to help teachers develop their pedagogical skills and cultivate a culture of collaboration. Administrators, teacher supervisors, and instructional coaches often use them "to focus on a common problem of practice that cuts across all levels of the system" (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009, p. 5). Here, we focus on instructional rounds as a tool for teacher development.

In general, instructional rounds are not intended to provide feedback to the teacher being observed (although this is an option if the observed teacher so desires, in which case the observing teachers may provide a summary of what they've noticed to the observed teacher). The primary purpose of instructional rounds is for the observing teachers to compare their instructional practices with those they observe. The discussion at the end of instructional rounds and the subsequent self-reflection by observing teachers are the chief benefits of rounds.

We recommend that teachers participate in instructional rounds at least once per semester. Rounds are usually facilitated by a lead teacher—someone who is respected and considered an exceptional teacher by his or her colleagues. Instructional coaches often meet these criteria.

Under no condition should a teacher be forced to be the subject of rounds. Ideally, selected teachers are drawn from the pool of master teachers—those veterans who have proven their ability to raise the achievement of all students in their classes—in a building or district. However, any teacher is free to offer his or her classroom as a venue for rounds.

Conducting Rounds

Observing groups are usually composed of three to five teachers. On the day on which rounds are scheduled, teachers being observed alert their classes that other teachers will be visiting the classroom. They might explain to their students that teachers try to learn from one another just as students learn from one another.

When the observing teachers enter a classroom, they knock at the door and quietly move to an area of the classroom where they won't disrupt the flow of instruction. There, they observe what is occurring and make notes regarding the use of specific instructional strategies that are of interest to them. At the end of the observation, the observers exit the classroom, making sure to thank the observed teacher and the students.

Debriefing Rounds

When the rounds are over, members of the observing group convene to reflect on their experiences. This is perhaps the most important part of rounds. Debriefing can be done in a "round robin" format, with each observer commenting on what he or she noted. The leader of the rounds facilitates this process and might start by reminding everyone that the purpose of the discussion is not to evaluate the observed teacher. Rules for sharing observations should be established prior to the debriefing. Useful rules include the following:

  • Comments made during the debriefing should not be shared with anyone outside the group.
  • Suggestions should not be offered to the observed teachers unless they explicitly ask for feedback.
  • Nothing observed within a lesson should be shared outside the rounds process.
  • Observed teachers should be thanked and acknowledged for their willingness to open their classrooms to others.

We recommend that observers take turns commenting using a "pluses-and-deltas" format. First, an observer comments on the positive things (pluses) he or she saw in the classroom. For example, an observer might comment on how responsive students were to the teacher's questions. For each positive observation, the observer speculates as to what might have produced the outcome.

In this case, the observer might postulate that students' response rates were high because the teacher used two response techniques—response cards and calling on students randomly—quite effectively. Next, the observer comments on questions or concerns (deltas) he or she has about the observed teacher's use of strategies. For example, the observer teacher might say, "I'm not sure why the teacher didn't move around the classroom more. It seems like she could have monitored students better if she had done so." Other observers might then add their thoughts about the issue. The pluses-and-deltas format is followed for each classroom observed.

Three Questions

After the debriefing, observers summarize their conclusions by answering the following three questions:

  1. As a result of what I saw today, which aspects of my teaching do I feel were validated?
  2. As a result of what I saw today, what questions do I have about my own teaching?
  3. As a result of what I saw today, what new ideas do I have?

Each of these questions is designed to elicit a certain type of self-reflection on the part of the teacher: The first question requires teachers to take note of the instructional strategies they currently use for which they now have evidence other teachers use as well, the second question requires teachers to examine the effectiveness of strategies they currently use, and the third question is designed to stimulate thinking about new strategies teachers might use in their classrooms.



City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Source: From Teacher Evaluation That Makes a Difference: A New Model for Teacher Growth and Student Achievement (pp. 111, 123–125), by R. J. Marzano and M. D. Toth, 2013, Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. Reprinted with permission. This article originally appeared in ASCD Express.

Robert J. MarzanoThe Art and Science of Teaching (ASCD, 2007).

Michael D. TothMichael D. Toth is founder and chief executive officer of Learning Sciences International, iObservation, and the Learning Sciences Marzano Center for Teacher and Leader Evaluation. Formerly the president of the National Center for the Profession of Teaching, a university faculty member, and director of research and development grants, Toth transformed his university research and development team into a company that is focused on leadership and teacher professional growth and instructional effectiveness correlated to student achievement gains. Toth is actively involved in research and development, gives public presentations, and advises education leaders on issues of leadership and teacher effectiveness.

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