Out Of Isolation

By Learning Forward
December 2012
Vol. 33 No. 6
Administrative demands, crisis management, and political challenges often strand superintendents miles away from the day-to-day work of teachers and students in the classroom. Even when superintendents strive to focus their work on the instructional core — the interactions among student, teacher, and content (Cohen & Ball, 1999; Elmore, 2002) — those same commitments and crises conspire to keep them in their districts, unable to share what they are learning or get advice and assistance from like-minded peers in other districts. To combat this isolation, the New Jersey Network of Superintendents brings together a small group of superintendents one day each month to engage in instructional rounds and activities in which they identify and address problems of practice in their districts that focus on issues of

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Thomas Hatch and Rachel Roegman

Thomas Hatch ( is an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching. Rachel Roegman ( is a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Defining the Issues

Theories of action: The beliefs and assumptions, often implicit and unarticulated, that lead people and groups to act in certain ways. When made explicit, theories of action can be used to examine how plans and strategies are supposed to reach specific outcomes and to reflect on what can be done to improve the chances of reaching those outcomes.

Problems of practice: Issues of instructional and/or organizational practice that can be addressed in a meaningful period of time and set the stage for further work.

Instructional rounds: A practice in which groups of educators visit a series of classrooms in one school for short periods of time, make observations focused around a problem of practice, reflect together on what they observed, and offer feedback to the hosting principal (City, Elmore, Fiarman, & Teitel, 2009).

Red zones: Groups of students who are significantly underperforming their peers. These students may be concentrated in a particular geographic area or they may share other commonalities such as racial or cultural background, gender, age, etc. (Childress, Doyle, & Thomas, 2009).


Childress, S.M., Doyle, D.P., & Thomas, D.A. (2009). Leading for equity: The pursuit of excellence in Montgomery County Public Schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.


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 Education Press.


Cohen, D.K. & Ball, D.L. (1999, June). Instruction, capacity, and improvement (CPRE Research Report Series RR-43). Philadelphia, PA: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania.


Elmore, R. (2002). Bridging the gap between standards and achievement: The imperative for professional development in education. Washington, DC: Albert Shanker Institute.


Hatch, T. (2009). Managing to change: How schools can survive (and sometimes thrive) in turbulent times. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


Louis, K.S., Leithwood, K., Wahlstrom, K., & Anderson, S. (2010, July). Learning from leadership: Investigating the links to improved student learning. St. Paul, MN: Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, University of Minnesota & Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto.


Mendels, S. (2012, February). The effective principal: 5 pivotal practices that shape instructional leadership. JSD, 33(1), 54-58.

Spillane, J. & Diamond, J.B. (Eds.). (2007). Distributed leadership in practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. We help our members plan, implement, and measure high-quality professional learning so they can achieve success with their systems, schools, and students.

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