The Walkthrough, the Informal Observation, whatever you might call it, is an essential element to growing and coaching classroom teachers. I find many of the principals I work with struggle to make these happen on a consistent basis and to establish a culture where teachers find them a productive use of time. When I first began the walkthrough protocol, teachers would freeze when I entered the room. They were not used to seeing administrators in the room, unless a student needed to come to the office or we were begging to have them cover a class. Over time, however, the process became seamless. It became so routine that teaching and learning didn’t stop no matter who it was from our leadership team that entered a room. In fact, if I needed to talk with a teacher I would have to actually let them know, because they wouldn’t break stride when I opened the door.
So, how do you build that culture and ensure successful classroom visits? Here are FOUR quick tips to get you started:
- Schedule them: it might seem contrived or even ‘preplanned’, but putting the time and the locations on your calendar drastically increases the likelihood that you follow through on your plan. As a team, we divided the building into regions and each took a region for a month. Our goal was to visit every room in the region a minimum of three times that month. We would then rotate the regions. We also varied our times so that the office was always covered and so we didn’t end up in the same Chemistry class all three times.
- Engage in the classroom: don’t be a fly on the wall. Get up, talk to kids, visit with the teacher. Be Engaged!! Be a Learner!! (note: don’t interrupt a lecture or a test) If you are going to give feedback on the teaching and learning happening in the class, you have to actually know what is being taught and what is expected of students for learning. This goes well beyond noting what ‘learning target’ might be on the board or seeing if students are paying attention. I love to ask kids what is something new they learned today, or what is one thing they might be struggling to grasp with the content.
- Give feedback: make sure you are giving the teacher feedback within 24 hours. There is a great deal of trust and empowerment that can be gained by receiving quality, timely feedback from your principal. The opposite is also true. If feedback isn’t given, or given past a time it can be relevant, it may lead to distrust or apathy for walkthrough events. Also, make sure the feedback is more than ‘hey, you did a great job on that lesson.’ That tells your teacher absolutely nothing. Instead, find one potential area for some growth and embed that with several strong elements you saw in the lesson. Just like we build positive culture by catching them doing it right, recognizing and reinforcing the things we want to see in our teachers is a way to improve overall teaching and learning in our schools
- Ask questions: this goes beyond asking questions in the classroom. Here, my point is to ask questions of your teachers after the fact. If you saw a student struggling, ask how that student is now doing with the material. Did you see a teacher giving students and assessment? Ask how the students performed, how the teacher is adjusting or celebrating, and what their next steps might be. Questioning for your staff is a powerful tool that demonstrates your interest in their work, as well as helps to keep you informed of practices happening in your building.
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