Typically when principals plan for and schedule walkthroughs, they are looking at teachers and for best practices. Moss and Brookhart (2013), however, suggest that a better plan is that they begin to observe what’s happening in the classroom from the students’ perspective rather than just checking off what they see the teacher doing. In other words, what are students doing, saying, and learning?
The ultimate goal of walkthroughs is to improve student learning. To be effective, walkthroughs are planned, done on a regular basis, are brief, and have a clear focus or purpose.
Walkthrough teams may vary but usually include
- building administrators
- leadership team members
- and/or teachers.
They are not evaluative or threatening, nor should they be distracting. When walkthroughs are a part of the school culture, both students and teachers are comfortable with the presence of observers in the classroom, and there is little or no disruption.
The primary focus or goal of the walkthrough may initially be the implementation of one or more instructional practices or strategies, i.e. teachers begin the lesson with an Essential Question and students answer the question at the end of the lesson. Teachers are asked to begin using the research-based strategy and will be monitored for compliance. However, to get the most from walkthroughs, they should not be solely for the purpose of compliance monitoring. All stakeholders must have the same understanding about the purpose and outcome expected for walkthroughs.
Improvement of instruction is a top priority, but student learning is the most important thing. Asking students questions about what they are learning helps the walkthrough team have a better understanding of what is happening in the classroom. Do students know the target goal for the lesson? What are they doing to learn what they need to learn? Can they self-assess their progress toward the goal? With the focus on student learning, the walkthrough is just the first step. Walkthrough teams should take the time to reflect on what was observed and what evidence they saw of student learning. The resulting observation should then be used to engage teachers in conversation about student learning. Teachers want and value feedback. Making brief feedback available for teachers can start and continue the conversation about effective instruction and student learning.
One district began implementing the Learning-Focused Instructional Framework, one of the first expectations was that teachers would begin each lesson with an Essential Question and the question would be posted. On walkthroughs with the middle school principal, it was noted that most teachers were, in fact, posting the Essential Question. However, it became clear rather quickly that just because it was posted, it was not evident that teachers were using the question to focus instruction and guide student learning. The principal soon began to ask students what they knew now that would help them answer the essential question at the end of the lesson. If the student didn’t know what he was talking about, it was clear that the question was posted (compliance), but was not being used to focus the lesson. If the student responded with anything, i.e. “we’re working on this graphic organizer…,” “yesterday we…,” etc., there was evidence that they knew they had to answer the question at the end of the lesson. In this instance, the walkthrough focused on what students were doing or learning rather than only on what the teacher was saying or doing.