Walkthrough observations take many forms in the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. This practice typically involves the principal or other supervisor spending a few minutes observing a classroom to take a quick pulse of the teaching and learning occurring. Some districts tie walkthrough reports into the formal teacher evaluation system. Others use walkthrough forms to provide informal feedback to teachers. No matter what system is used, there are several characteristics of walkthroughs that in my experience have made them more effective in changing teacher practice.
1. Decide on your “look-fors,” and be sure teachers are well-versed in this content.
Our district utilizes the iObservation system for walkthrough observations. iObservation provides a variety of comprehensive walkthrough forms based on the works of Marzano and Danielson. Many of the qualities of Learning Focused Schools are also represented on the forms, and since our teachers are expected to utilize these strategies in their instruction, the iObservation system provides us with many look-for options in the classroom. The forms I used most frequently last year were the Research-Based Instructional Strategies K-12, Research-Based Classroom Management K-12, and Teaching Authentic forms. Our district also has the option of accessing our state’s formal evaluation forms through this system. We use tablet PCs to visit classrooms, complete the checklist forms of the strategies we see in, and can add narratives when needed. iObservation includes banks of coaching questions to help lead discussions with teachers, as well as rubrics that identify teachers as Beginning through Innovating on specific strategies. The rubrics are probably the most powerful aspect of the program, as teachers can identify where they are on the rubric, and using the descriptors provided, work to improve to the Innovating level. For many strategies, there are embedded “Best Practices” videos that teachers can watch to see a master teacher execute the strategy in the classroom. It’s a comprehensive program that we have not yet used to its fullest potential.
The article Classroom walkthroughs: Learning to see the trees and the forest by Howard Pitler with Bryan Goodwin provides solid examples of look-fors in the classroom. They suggest principals ask these six questions to guide their classroom observations: Are teachers using research-based teaching strategies? Do student grouping patterns support learning? Are teachers and students using technology to support student learning? Do students understand their learning goals? Are students learning both basic and higher order levels of knowledge? Do student achievement data correlate with walkthrough data? The authors conclude with their thoughts that walkthrough observations should be used for coaching, not evaluation. Walkthroughs can be used to measure the school’s staff development efforts as well.
iObservation is an instructional and leadership improvement system. It collects, manages and reports longitudinal data from classroom walkthroughs and teacher observations. Teacher growth and leadership practices inform professional development differentiated to individual learning needs for every teacher and leader to increase his/her effectiveness each year.
Another tool I’m looking forward to using this year is ISTE’s Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT). This is a free online tool that helps administrators and observers look for key components of technology integration in the classroom. What I appreciate about this tool is that it does not focus strictly on technology use, but also on student grouping practices, varied learning activities, and NETS Teachers Standards observed.
Look-fors will vary from school to school, but it is imperative that teachers are knowledgeable about what supervisors will be observing on their visits, and that they are supported in using these strategies in the classroom.
2. Follow-up conversations are crucial.
Our teachers truly desire constructive feedback about their practice. Though it might not always be easy to hear, a teacher cannot possibly seek to improve without input from a supervisor or colleague. A walkthrough observation is not complete without some type of follow-up conversation. This can be as informal as making sure you drop into the teacher’s room after school to comment on the positive practices you saw, to offer suggestions for improvements, and to share your walkthrough paperwork. In our iObservation system, our teachers log in to access their completed forms. They can start an online conference in a confidential message-board-type-forum with the observer to answer any questions that were posed, or interactions can occur via the iObservation email system. The reflective practice component of walkthroughs is vital.
3. Talk to students!
I do not complete a walkthrough without talking to at least one student in the classroom. Questions I typically ask include, What is your essential question for this lesson? What do you think your teacher wants you to learn as a result of completing this activity? How will you know that you have learned (insert objective here). How do you know your work meets the standards set for you? I also enjoy when students read their writing to me or show me their latest project work. If I am observing learning centers, I like to join in the fun!
Walkthrough observations were recently the topic of discussion on the #cpchat and #edadmin hashtag on Twitter, so be sure to check out the meaningful discussions to learn more. This year, I hope to expand the use of iObservation for peer-peer learning walks and observations. Administrators and teachers, please consider commenting on this post with walkthrough practices you’ve found to be most effective, or most ineffective.