American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten visited King College Prep on Tuesday to learn about the school’s unique approach to professional development for teachers and to meet with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.  

King—the school where Lewis taught chemistry before becoming CTU president—uses what it calls “instructional rounds,” a strategy based on the use of “grand rounds” to train doctors. Teachers told Weingarten that the focus is on observing a classroom – particularly, how students are reacting to teaching – and debriefing those observations in a group.

“We had to learn not to judge. We are simply there to observe first, and then learn from that observation,” said English teacher Samantha Sims. “We come back together, we debrief, we share and we might be able to come up with solutions to issues in our own classroom.”

“So you’re trying to see how instruction has landed, and how kids are relating and engaging [with it],” Weingarten noted. She said that teacher-led reflection, like at King, is a way to improve classroom practice without having to hire outside experts.

“You are guiding yourselves through the work others are doing in the building,” Weingarten said. “It’s a lot of trust. If we don’t both trust each other and work with each other on our practice, it’s not going to change.”

Principal Jeff Wright says he’s only set schedules for the “instructional rounds” groups, which began this school year, through winter break. After that, he hopes each group will decide for itself what would be the best use of its time.

Weingarten also quizzed teachers on their use of reflection to improve teaching. She said that for some teachers, it might be the first time since graduate school that they had engaged in a similar process and said it was probably “really freaky” at first for teachers to get regular visits from their colleagues.  

“Every night, when I go home, I go through my day,” noted special education teacher Barbara McCoy.

“Not everyone does,” responded Spanish and astronomy teacher Ashlea Monti. “This almost forces us to. What it teaches you is [that] you should plan every class day as if someone’s going to observe you.”

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