Conducting classroom walkthroughs is a useful strategy for gaining an overall picture of instruction in the building. While brief in nature, walkthrough visits yield patterns of data in terms of the instructional strategies that teachers use, levels of student engagement, the kind of work students are producing, and opportunities for differentiation to meet the needs of a range of student interests and skills. These patterns of data can be shared with faculty as a basis for discussion about how to meet the needs of students and increase student achievement.
Depending on the stance school administrators take, visiting classrooms and providing teachers with feedback can contribute to building a professional culture of ongoing learning and development, or to creating a climate of resentment and suspicion. By this I mean, if school principals and others who conduct walkthroughs look for evidence of positive classroom practices and meaningful student learning and recognize those attributes when they see them, their feedback can spur teacher growth and confidence. As a principal and later as a district office administrator, I used walkthrough visits as a way of engaging teachers in professional dialogue and in acknowledging their good efforts. Often times I phrased my feedback in the form of inquiry, such as: “I was intrigued by your lesson and the approach you took. Tell me about your thinking in designing this lesson.” I found when I approached teachers as a learner and fellow colleague, is that it opened up discussion about classroom practice, my intent for collecting walkthrough data in the first place.
Questions can be a value-added form of feedback. For example, you might ask a teacher whose class you observed if there are additional strategies or approaches to ensure that all students are successful in learning and applying content. Your question might sound like this: “I noticed a few students in your class were struggling with the lesson. What are the ways you address the needs of students who may not understand a skill or concept? What have you tried before that has worked in helping students who struggle with this particular skill or concept?”
In any classroom there is room for improvement, and the walkthrough process is designed to help teachers and administrators do a better job in increasing learning opportunities for students. However, focusing on small criticisms or making assumptions without finding out more about what the teacher was intending and how s/he measured student success can really undermine the process. Walkthroughs are effective when administrators are respectful of the teacher’s role in the classroom and the environment s/he is trying to create.
Obviously, if there is an unsafe situation in a classroom it must be addressed immediately. For example, if student behavior causes a distraction from the learning or puts other students at risk of harm, or if you find students isolated in the classroom and excluded from learning by the teacher, these situations need to be corrected right away. For the first it is important to intervene to stop the student behavior that is a problem, and for the second, you would want to talk with the teacher as soon as class is over to ensure the practice of isolating students is eliminated. A follow-up visit the next day is important as well. But what I am talking about here is supporting good practice, helping teachers to be more reflective, and increasing the understanding of school leaders about what is taking place in the classroom. Collecting and sharing walkthrough data in a positive way can increase trust and a sense of common purpose, enhancing the professional culture of the school.