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. At CTL, we use walkthrough visits as a way of engaging teachers in professional dialogue and in acknowledging their good efforts.
We differentiate a walkthrough from an observation very intentionally. As mentioned above, the walkthrough is used to gather data on instructional patterns rather than individual classroom practice. However, teachers often want to know ‘how they did’. Acknowledging this, we phrase 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.” We find that teachers often come up with better reflections on their practice when we take an inquiry approach as opposed to being provided with our direct feedback. This provides the teacher to identify areas of both opportunity and growth. 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. 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.