Walking the Walk
Cynthia Webb, Upper School Director at Lawrence Woodmore Academy, recently commented on this site, “Teachers want to share their ideas and when they do that, they can enrich the whole school and the entire profession. I really like this example of people who are ‘walking the walk by using a walk.’” She is referring to the process of a learning walk. Whether you call it a learning walk or a walkthrough or an instructional round, the essence is the same. It is an opportunity for teams of educators to visit a sampling of (or all) classrooms in a school briefly in order to gather evidence of teacher and student behavior around a specific area of instruction.
When it comes to learning about and improving the instruction that actually occurs in classrooms, there is no substitute for observing classrooms. Learning walks provide valuable feedback for school sites about the coherence of instruction across classrooms. Just as importantly, they allow educators to have conversations about instruction that are based on evidence, not just opinion.
In my experience, some teachers are initially reluctant to open up their classrooms to colleagues. In the past, they may have experienced that whenever someone visits their classroom, they are being evaluated punitively. On the contrary, the purpose of a learning walk is learning. If you follow a few guidelines and are consistent with your use of the process, however, most teachers become convinced of the value of learning walks.
Here are some things to keep in mind before you start a learning walk at your site:
- Be clear about the purpose of your learning walk. The focus of your learning walk should be consistent with your site’s instructional priorities. Critically, you must build shared understanding and agreement about what you expect to see and hear in a classroom. Here is an example of how the staff of Nogales High School in Rowland Heights, California, came together to describe what “invested cognition (student engagement)” would look like in their classrooms.
- Be transparent. Make sure everyone understands the process and knows exactly what is going to happen (and when) during the learning walk. A learning walk is not a surprise or a “gotcha” opportunity.
- Make sure there is time for conversation and reflection. Educators who are walking through classrooms need to resist the tendency to treat the process as just a checklist of things to find (or not find), although these data are valuable. Create space for comments, questions, and wondering.
- Complete the feedback loop. After the walkers have finished visiting the classrooms, make sure there is a way to communicate the findings with your entire staff. Create opportunities for collaborative conversations about these findings.
For additional resources, see the following:
- “Making the Most of Instructional Rounds,” an article by Robert Marzano
- “Focus on the Core: An Introduction to Instructional Rounds,” a free web seminar on September 27
- “Walkthroughs-The Next Generation,” an article by Amalia Cudeiro and Jeff Nelson published in Leadership (January/February 2009). There is a nice table that differentiates targeted learning walks from regular school walkthroughs (see image below).