McDonald et al The Power of Protocols

McDonald, J.P., Mohr, N., Dichter, A., & McDonald, E.C. (2003). The power of protocols: An educator’s guide to better practice. New York: NY, Teachers College Press.



            The book begins with a rationale for using protocols and engaging in facilitative leadership. The last three chapters (Ch. 3-5) list and describe a variety of protocols for the reader’s use.


  • The purpose of protocols is to provide structure to the conversation in order for all to act as equal participants. Participation includes engagement in observing, listening, and speaking. It helps the conversation move beyond talk to purposeful dialogue.
  • Change Theory

    “Whenever talk has important consequences, we deserve a chance to think through what we want to say, and an environment where what we choose to say can be heard and respective (p. xv).”  (CHANGE THEORY)


Chapter 1: The Basic Ideas

  • “Protocols help them imagine alternatives to ordinary habits of working together, learning, and leading (p. 1).”
  • Educating Ourselves (PD)

    • PD

      Lifelong learning is essential. We, as professionals, must educate ourselves and be commander-in-chief of our own education.

    • Because professionals must educate themselves, “professional development activities for educators that are designed and conducted without benefit of inside perspectives are not worth the time and money they cost (p.2).”
    • Because educators’ practice is tacit, they may remain transparent unless educators dare to inquire into their own practice with the assistance of colleagues.
  • Exploring Student Work
  • “Students’ work is the text we read in order to understand our own work (p. 3).”
  • Talking needs structure in order for it to be meaningful. It requires careful planning and scaffolding. Without such details, it remains just talk.
  • “Protocols force transparency. By specifying, for example, who speaks when and who listens when protocols segment elements of a conversation whose boundaries otherwise blur. They make clear the crucial differences between talking and listening, between describing and judging, or between proposing and giving feedback. In the process, they call attention to the role and value of each of these in learning, and make the steps of our learning visible and replicable (p. 5).”
  • Protocols “disturb the privacy and certainty by interrupting the ordinary flow of conversation. Some of them force the raising of questions, the suspension of judgment, and the withholding of response (p. 6).”
  • Change Theory

    A new workplace “is one where the power to assess outcomes and to take action to improve them is distributed throughout the organization, and where the people who do the work are able, willing, and even eager…to make changes as needed in order to make the work more effective (p. 7).”

  • Another requirement of success required communities that had the “right structural and cultural conditions to exert continual leadership (p. 10).”
  • PD

    Crucial components of professional communities of practice (Louise, et al., 1996):

    • Focus on student learning
    • Deprivatization of practice
    • Collaboration
    • Shared norms and values
    • Reflective dialogue
  • PD

    Developing facilitative leadership requires ensuring that within the organization, there are people who can (Schwartz, 1994) (p.12): (PD, CHANGE THEORY)

  • Change Theory

    Gather colleagues together with a purpose

  • Establish effective ground rules for the gatherings
  • Enforce the ground rules by identifying behaviors consistent and inconsistent with them
  • Enable the colleagues to share information freely with each other
  • Help them attend fully to each other’s perspectives
  • Help them make a collective commitment to the choices the group may make
  • The aforementioned characteristics are qualities of a facilitator
  • Protocols provide facilitators with devices to make required decisions and reflect upon the impact of such decisions during a conversation.
  • Protocol-Based Learning
  • A New Workplace for Educators (CHANGE THEORY)
  • Facilitative Leadership (PD)


Chapter 2: Facilitating (PD, CHANGE THEORY)

  • “Facilitating is about promoting participation, ensuring equity, and building trust (p. 15).”
  • PD

    Facilitators must be “appointed” either formally or informally.

  • The Facilitator’s Core Tasks

    • Change Theory

      Promoting participation

    • Ensuring equity

      • Facilitators must “make room for dissidence, (sic) and may even stretch colleagues’ capacity for learning from it (p.17).”
    • Building Trust
    • “Educators educating themselves rely on each other’s honesty, insight, and experience (p.17).”
    • “They invite the collective experience of the group to serve as the arbiter of their own growth (p.18).”
  • The Facilitator’s Moves
  • Opening

    • “Preparing educators to give and get sensitive feedback is not a lightweight distraction or lure (p.18).”
    • Just like with teaching, a little initial investment can pay off in the end, saving the extra time spent in the beginning.
    • Should always consist of, at the bare minimum: introductions, context review, and norm-setting.
    • Introductions serve to get everyone to speak and for everyone to learn something about someone else.
  • Intervening and Closing
  • Facilitators’ participation varies and usually depends on the requirements of the individual protocol as well as the nature of each individual session.
  • “Intervening moves try to preserve or revise the learning process, while closing moves try to ensure the learning itself carries over into the educators’ ordinary work life (p. 21).”
  • Three very helpful questions (p. 21):

    • What? What have I learned about the topic that brought this group together?
    • So what? What difference does it seem to make?
    • Now what? What steps can I take tomake the most of what I have learned?
  • Postcards
  • Reflection on a Word
  • Pair-Share
  • Clearing
  • All-Purpose Go-Round
  • Fears and Hopes
  • Setting Norms
  • Diversity Rounds
  • Marvin’s Model
  • Types of Brief Protocols
  • Types of Longer Openers


Chapter 3: Tapping Outside Resources (Types of Protocols)

  • Final Word
  • Learning from Speakers Protocol
  • Panel Protocol
  • Provocative Prompts
  • Mars/Venus Protocol
  • Rich Text Protocol


Chapter 4: Working on Problems of Practice (Types of Protocols)

  • Descriptive Consultancy
  • Issaquah Coaching Protocol
  • Constructivist Learning Groups Protocol
  • Success Analysis Protocol
  • Tuning Protocol
  • Peeling the Onion
  • Japanese Lesson Study


Chapter 5: Exploring Student Work (Types of Protocols)

  • What Comes Up
  • Collaborative Assessment Conference
  • New York Peer Review Protocol
  • Minnesota Slice
  • Shadow Protocol
  • ESP Protocol
  • Equity Protocol


“Remembering that (teaching) is like any sport, art form, or game: you learn by doing. If you try to understand all of the rules first, you’ll never get started (p. 102).”


Appendix A lists two charts that list which protocols are recommended or suggested for different situations. **VERY HELPFUL!!!**



for protocols…


References Cited:

  • Louis, K.S., Kruse, S.D., & Marks, H.M. (1996). Schoolwide professional community. In F.M. Newmann & Associates, Authentic achievement: Restructuring schools for intellectual quality (pp. 179-203). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Schwartz, R.M. (1994). The skilled facilitator. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.