Do Walkthroughs Make a Difference?

During last night's #edchat, educators from around the world discussed how teachers are observed by their administrators. The chat led to a discussion on walkthroughs. I have been a principal for seven years now, and each year I have tried to design a walkthrough template that was meaningful to me as an administrator,

but more importantly meaningful to the teacher. It has been a challenge. Finding the right balance between collecting data and providing feedback to

teachers is difficult.

Last year at Van Meter, we used the whole year to design a template that allowed us to focus on the 5 Characteristics of Effective Instruction found in the Iowa Core. Teachers and administrators had input in its design. The template we came up with is used to collect data for us to determine how often each characteristic is observed. The program we use is called ewalk. Our walkthrough data is collected on this template by using our iPod touches. The data is then used to analyze what we are doing as a building. The results of our first couple of weeks of walkthroughs are here. The data is great for analyzing our building data, but does little for feedback to individual teachers.

I really wanted to come up with something that is more meaningful for teachers than the 5 Characteristics of Effective Instruction template. One of the challenges of walkthroughs is that they are so short in nature, so I wanted a template that would

be easy to use, but also provide feedback to our teachers in a hybrid walkthrough model. Teachers that on our evaluation schedule are required to have  a formal observation. We will still do the formal observations using the documents established by the district.  But now I am also doing 10-15 minute walkthroughs using a template I designed similar to Chris Lehmann's from SLA in Philadelphia. This template allows for more meaningful feedback to teachers and enable us to have a more open dialogue about what effective instruction looks like.

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To further enhance the discussion, in early October, we did group walkthroughs that included an administrator, a secondary teacher, an elementary teacher, and students. Yes, I said students.  We want to  empower our teachers and our students to have a voice in what takes place in our classes. I would have to say the discussions that followed the walkthroughs were as powerful and meaningful to the teachers involved as almost any conversation I have ever had with them. Listening to their peers is meaningful, but listening to students talk about what works for them in classes is priceless. We plan on doing these types of walkthroughs monthly to help increase the learning of our students by improving the quality of instruction they receive.

It will be our first year of using these walkthrough templates.  I believe the process we have in place will allow us to collect a lot of data which will help us improve as a building.  However, more importantly, using the 10 minute walkthrough, we will be able to have meaningful conversations on how to improve the quality of instruction for each of our teachers. I look forward to the journey in helping our teachers be the best they can be, because I for one believe walkthroughs do make a difference.

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8 Comments

  1. Chris Wejr said:

    Thanks for the informative post which helps me to learn what other districts are doing for supervision. In BC, we had to really work to differentiate between formal observation, which contractually must follow a set process and happen every 5 years or as needed, and supervision for learning (walk throughs). The best analogy that we use is the comparison of assessment OF learning (summative) to assessment FOR learning (formative). Supervision for learning is more about ongoing dialogue around student learning and pedagogy. A key difference that we have had to make to ensure teachers felt comfortable with administrators in the classroom is to avoid any note-taking or formal documentation. This builds trust with the teachers and makes it more of a learning process/conversation. What we want to avoid is the teacher changing the methods when the admin walk through. My predecessor was constantly in classroom and that has made it easier for me be in classes; although some classes still stop and look when I enter the room – but that is slowly changing as they realize I am there to just check things out.

    I much prefer the idea of walk throughs over formal evaluation as the teaching and conversations are less contrived/more authentic. Difficult conversations do happen in response to concerning issues and we can move to formal evaluations if needed. Walk throughs create a much better learning environment for the teachers and less of one that they feel they are being ‘surveiled’ (to steal a term from Foucault).

    I love the idea of having more people involved in walk throughs! I know it has made me a better educator by ‘stealing’ great ideas and strategies from teachers and applying them when I teach. We have to move forward slowly as teachers have spent so many years compartmentalized in their classrooms – encouraging teachers, parents, and students is a fantastic idea but I know in my school, teachers are very apprehensive about this (they need to showcase the great things they are doing but instead often feel like they are just going to be judged). I guess it all comes down to trust and feeling safe with others in the classroom. I look forward to reaching the tipping point with our staff so we can expand our comfort zone to include walk throughs at a level you have presented.

    Thanks for the learning and sharing the links!

    October 6, 2010
    • Chris wrote:
      A key difference that we have had to make to ensure teachers felt comfortable with administrators in the classroom is to avoid any note-taking or formal documentation. This builds trust with the teachers and makes it more of a learning process/conversation. What we want to avoid is the teacher changing the methods when the admin walk through

      Here’s the thing, Chris: I ALWAYS change the way that I teach when my administrators walk in the door. Always. And it’s rarely intentional—it’s almost an involuntary reaction to the fact that you have evaluative power over me.

      That makes me wonder whether it’s truly possible for teachers to feel comfortable with administrators in the classroom. Even when you say that your visit is informal in nature, you are still making judgments about teacher performance that will become a part of your perceptions—and eventually your evaluations—of your teachers.

      I wonder if supervision for learning should be something led by classroom teachers instead of school administrators?

      Bill

      October 10, 2010
      • Chris Wejr said:

        Great points Bill. I guess I should have said that the teacher does not change “as much”. As a teacher, I actually enjoyed when my principal came into my class and asked him to observe a number of times; I did, however, change how I taught when he entered. The conversations we had around learning were always powerful that helped me move in a positive direction.

        I think supervision for learning needs to include admin but should also include teachers. I have offered release time to teachers to go and walk through other classes but nobody has taken me up on this in 2 years. As administrators, it is very important that we understand what is happening in the school and walk throughs help with this. As teachers, it is also important that we understand the same thing – so how do we get teachers more willing to observe, question, and push each other in a positive direction?

        I much prefer walk throughs over evaluation/formal observations as it is more natural (not completely natural, but more natural). I am not sure if this can be a truly comfortable situation can be but I do know that the better the relationship the admin or teacher that is doing the walk through has, the more effective the follow up conversation will be.

        October 12, 2010
  2. Deron,

    After using a form to collect data and then speak with teachers about what I saw that day, I decided to drop most of the formal data collection. Instead, I recorded enough information so that I would be able to remember the visit and anything glaring/dangerous/to be repaired.

    I changed my focus from gathering data to talking with teachers. I walked the building later in the day, found the teacher and asked a question. If the lesson was great and the learning obvious, I often asked a question designed so that the teacher could explain how she got there. If there was an obvious problem with the lesson or if I was unsure, I would ask a more pointed question.

    Teachers were pleased with the change from being points of data to having conversations about learning. What do plan to do with the data that you collect?

    Your inclusion of students is very exciting, and I would love to hear more about that as the year goes on.

    Thank you.

    October 7, 2010
  3. Mark McBeth said:

    Walk-through purpose: To engage teachers in dialogue and reflection about teaching practices and school-wide goals that lead to enhanced student performance.
    -McBeth 2008
    I have established a walk-through rubric I use as my foundation as a walk-through administrator and a Trainer of the Walk-through Plus training. Chris I thought this might be of some value for your perspectives, as you reflect, on the teachers trust level. If you would like the full rubric e-mail me.

    A Distributed Leadership Mindset to Walk-Through Practices

    Leadership Aspect: Limited noticeable leadership
    Leader Walk-Through Behavior/Introductory stage

    Walk-through observation methodologies deployed. Key is for formal leaders to be highly visible and to get teachers and student use to their presence. Use praise notes and laser conversations to support positive observations. Checklists are for formal leaders’ personal growth.

    Teacher Growth Characteristics/Initial Awkwardness/Tension

    Teachers react defensively to classroom intrusions as they try to protect the status quo and their own classroom cultures. Teachers comfort levels are challenged by the frequency of observations of formal leaders with limited feedback. In some rare cases teachers may file grievances as a means of self protection.

    Leadership Aspect: Leader Superhero aspect
    Leader Walk-Through Behavior/Preliminary Comfort stage

    Focus on positive observations for feedback to teachers in the form of reflective questioning. Share with whole faculty generalities of methodologies and observations. Formal leaders use coaching and support methodologies to enhance and change classroom practices…without corrective behaviors. Corrective behavior follows non-compliance to coaching and support efforts.

    Teacher Growth Characteristics/Growing Awareness and Acceptance
    Teachers increase their awareness and acceptance to classroom observations. Their curiosity of the formal leaders’ observation leads to questions of what was observed.

    Leadership Aspect: Leader-Plus aspect
    Leader Walk-Through Behavior/Climate Change stage

    Introduce contextual focus to observations in direct relationship to school goals. Maintain reflective practices. De-privatize classroom practices by introducing teachers to peer reflection methodologies. Introduce informal leaders and teachers to team walk-through and peer-teacher protocols.

    Teacher Growth Characteristics/Wider Conversations and Discussions
    Teachers except and expect walk-through practices and begin to seek additional ways to grow within their profession. Teachers seek opportunities for shared responsibilities and insist on clarifications of why walk-through exists, thus driving protocols to be aligned with agreed upon school goals and professional development.

    This is part of the rubric. The key is to measure where you are within each of the aspects on a scale of 1 to 5. Work within the aspect identified with intentional design to move to the next aspect and then to the next. Practice jumping leads to unintentional consequences and dysfunctional practices.

    Just thoughts for reflection.

    October 10, 2010
  4. […] One post that I found particularly interesting was an article on walkthroughs and possible approaches to make them more meaningful to teachers. The concept of using students as a part of the observation team is a very new concept but also an obvious one. I will be considering using this article with my faculty to look at ways in which we can improve the walkthrough process to maximize use of time and quality of feedback. This article can be found at the following link: Do Walkthroughs Make a Difference. […]

    November 4, 2010

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