Guest Post by Kevin Mabie, NSRF National Facilitator

When I was a new teacher in a department full of veterans, I remember being terrified to believe a piece of student work was really, really good. As an English teacher, I would sometimes read student work that made me think deeply, laugh, or even cry…and I would think, “this student really knows how to write!” Then I would often wonder if my colleagues would agree with me, or if I was missing something. I would then wander into a few of my favorite colleagues’ classrooms and ask them to review the work and give me their feedback. When I did this, I would always avoid telling them why I wanted the feedback, and fortunately, they didn’t press me to know why. Sometimes, my colleagues would confirm my thinking; other times they would open my mind to aspects of the work that I hadn’t considered.

The National School Reform Faculty Student Inquiry Rounds Protocol offers me a more formal opportunity to gather feedback without the pressure of explaining why.

This protocol invites the presenter to bring copies of a piece of student work to a trusted collaborative team, ideally a Critical Friends Group® community. The presenter is asked to say nothing about the work, but simply to distribute it for review. In rounds, individuals share what they see (observation without judgment or interpretation), what questions they have, and then what interpretations they can make. Only after time is devoted to each of these rounds does the presenter return to answer some of these questions and to reveal their purpose in bringing the work to the group. To finish the protocol, the group then discusses potential next steps the teacher may consider.

It may seem frustrating to participants new to the protocol that the true purpose of looking at the student work may not be revealed until the group is deep into the meeting. However, this condition allows the group to look at the materials without a specific window that could too tightly constrict their responses.

I can use this protocol in any of the following ways:

  • Bring only the student’s work.
  • Bring the student’s work along with the assignment instructions
  • Bring the student’s work with my own comments and corrections on it
  • Bring multiple pieces of work from one student
  • Bring multiple students’ responses to the same assignment

Note that I shape different outcomes of this protocol if participants are told or infer why I brought the work forward. If I present work with a low grade already written on it, it may be clear that I am wondering how to help the student; if I bring work with a high grade, I may be wondering how I can push this student. If I bring the student’s work without my own comments and corrections, my colleagues will more freely investigate why I brought the work and draw from their own perspectives and experience.

This protocol, like so many others from NSRF, helps me to step out of my own perspective and see a wider array of responses others have when viewing the same artifact. And because I learned in CFG Coaches’ Training how to trust my colleagues and ways to open my mind to these various perspectives, my students and I benefit from the wisdom in the room. If you have a chance to try the Student Inquiry Rounds Protocol, I hope you will try it sometime without giving your group more information than they need; I think their responses will pleasantly surprise you!

Guest blog post by Dr. Kevin Mabie, NSRF National Facilitator. Kevin is a past teacher and principal, utilizing his background to support efforts to build safe collaborative culture in schools, and to instill school environments that are mindful of the social and emotional needs of the students and staff within them. Nearly 800 people have found Dr. Mabie on Twitter (@callmedrmabie), seeking opportunities to learn from his professional endeavors and to see where he is training next.