My First Tuning Protocol

This quarter in the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University I am working on creating an Action Plan to help address a particular challenge that may be preventing a school from realizing their ideal learning environment. In an earlier post, I share the obstacles a school is currently facing in the aftermath of a speedy 1-to-1 laptop rollout. As I formulate the action plan, I have sought feedback from my classmates and professors, working towards a document that can eventually be presented to the school. Part of that feedback took place in a Tuning Protocol, a reflective tool often used by educators seeking constructive criticism. This criticism can be used to “increase student achievement and establish a learning community” (Dearman, et. al, 2005, pg. 636). First developed by Joseph McDonald and David Allen in 1992, the Tuning Protocol was created in order to improve student assessment practices (Blythe, et. al, 1999, pg. 27). The format allows educators to “receive direct and respectful feedback on the problems they present, as well as the opportunity to reflect on the feedback” (McDonald, et. al, 2003).

If you’ve never participated in a Tuning Protocol, it can be a frightening and enlightening experience. To present your work and then sit back for 15 minutes while fellow educators provide you with “warm and cool” feedback, it takes courage. But it’s worth it. And once you’re actually the one in the “hot seat,” it’s not nearly as intimidating as I anticipated. It was actually a wonderful experience. I felt heard and supported and the criticism I received really helped me to see the areas of my work that needed further clarification. In a nutshell, the presenter shares a lesson and accompanying student artifacts and articulates a specific area of focus they are interested in receiving feedback. This time is uninterrupted, no questions, no discussions. The participants (fellow teachers, professors, classmates) are then given a short time to ask clarifying questions, followed by 15 minutes of silence for the participants to review the student work. Here comes the gulp! part of the experience, the participants are given 15 minutes to talk amongst one another, sharing warm and cool feedback, while the presenter sits quietly and takes notes. Next, the presenter has a short time to reflect on what they heard, without any interruptions from the group. Last, the entire group, presenter included, reflects on the experience in a short debrief and viola!, on to the next presenter.

I came away from my first Tuning Protocol experience with a far greater understanding of the direction I wanted to take my Action Plan than I had when I first entered the room. Not only was I able to feverishly scribble a page full of notes:


I was also able to look back on feedback provided by my classmates and professors regarding specific sections of my Action Plan, via Google Docs:

Screen Shot 2015-07-27 at 7.03.18 PM

If you’re interested in participating in your first Tuning Protocol, I highly recommend it! A great place place is start is by reading this short expert from the Harmony Education Center. You can also read the more in-depth guide by Tina Blythe, David Allen, and Barbara Schieffelin Powell in Looking Together at Student Work: A Companion Guide to Assessing Student Learning (1999), pay particular attention to the fourth chapter, “Two Ways of Looking Together at Student Work.” I also put together a graphic overview of the Tuning Protocol, because, well, I love Piktochart:
Tuning Protocol (2)


Blythe, T., Allen, D., & Schieffelin Powell, B. (1999). Two ways of looking together at student work. In Looking together at student work: a companion guide to assessing student learning (pp. 26-36). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Dearman, C. C., & Alber, S. A. (2005). The changing face of education: teachers cope with challenges through collaboration and reflective study. The Reading Teacher, 58(7), 634-640.

McDonald, J.P., Mohr, N., Dichter, A., McDonald, E.C. (2003). The power of protocols; an educator’s guide to better practice. New York: Teachers College Press. 63-66. Retrieved from


3 thoughts on “My First Tuning Protocol

  1. Thanks for having the courage to share your work and request feedback on it! It was really powerful and I know that your plan and leadership will be stronger because of it. I also really appreciate the visuals you’ve included to help describe that experience.

  2. Great infographic Becky! I think we should use it in the future if we return to this process. I’m sure others would be highly interested in this visual aid as well! I will echo your sentiments. It wasn’t scary to hear feedback at all. It was actually nice to just sit, listen, write, and process. Often times we are at the ready to respond and explain ourselves. Not having to do was kind of liberating. I’m glad you thought this too. I enjoyed engaging in your round of the Tuning Protocol the most; I think we were ready to engage in a deeper and more authentic way after a bit of practice. Finally, did our collegial relationships make this so successful? We have talked a lot about and community this year and I think the power of ours is significant. What do you think?

  3. You did a wonderful job explaining the Tuning Protocol tool! And then you explained to the readers, how it influenced the next steps in your action plan. I am planning to share this process with a team of teachers because of the collaborative reflection piece. But I was wondering how effective it would be to shave the time, so that a couple of teachers could share, for example, students’ writing pieces. Usually, when teachers share writing pieces with a grade level, they bring three pieces each. So if you have four teachers sharing, that is at least 12 writing samples. From my experiences, we never have time to discuss all the writing samples or fine-tune any concerns. Therefore, the reflection on the teacher’s practice is missing and I believe that is an important piece in the Tuning Protocol tool. Thanks for your thoughts on the tool and the wonderful infographic!

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