As schools seek effective avenues to build professional learning communities that lead to significant and positive student learning outcomes, there has been increasing interest in job-embedded professional learning, including the strategy of classroom walkthroughs, sometimes referred to as learning walks, instructional rounds, classroom focus walks, or professional learning visits. Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs (2013) written by Donald Kachur, Judith Stout, and Claudia Edwards, outlines lessons learned from a 2-year study conducted in 40 schools from 17 states and 6 schools from one district in Canada. The authors believe there is strong evidence that student learning can be positively impacted when schools become “…learning communities in which all its educators continually engage in inquiry, sharing, problem solving and reflection.” They conclude that “ … classroom walkthroughs are a powerful tool to add to your school’s professional development repertoire. When teachers are an integral part of the process, walkthroughs are even more effective in supporting student achievement. Reflective dialogues following walkthroughs provide opportunities for professional colleagues to encourage and support learning and growth among their peers.”
The authors interpret classroom walkthroughs as “brief, frequent, informal, and focused visits in classrooms by observers for the purposes of gathering data on educational practices and engaging in some type of follow-up.” They describe the schools involved in the study as recognizing “that improving teaching and learning does not occur by mandates, policies, edicts, or other outside demands.”
The book cites benefits of classroom walkthroughs including: teachers taking responsibility for their own professional learning; opportunities for teachers to observe best practices, reflect and conduct professional conversations with one another; and development of a school culture the exhibits communication, trust and collaboration, hallmarks of a learning community. The authors argue that walkthroughs will be a valuable tool to further development of teachers’ knowledge and skills of teaching strategies for the Common Core State Standards.
Thoughtful planning is strongly encouraged and several conditions were identified as necessary to set the stage for effective walkthroughs: supportive principals as “lead learners”; teacher leadership and involvement throughout the process; clarity of vision and purpose; a trusting and safe environment; a student-focused staff; and a focus on collaborative inquiry. The book outlines the importance of protocols and provides multiple examples. It provides suggestions for before, during and after the walks to set them up for success. The authors emphasize thoughtful planning about who, what, when and how the walkthroughs will be conducted, with transparency about the process and purpose (non-evaluative, focus on professional learning aimed at student outcomes). They also encourage gradual introduction of walkthroughs, including first visiting other schools that have successfully implemented them. Their research suggests that teams of teachers leading teachers is the best recipe for success. They also encourage voluntary involvement and provide suggestions for engaging reluctant staff.
Data gathering, reflection and follow-up are emphasized as a vital part of the reflective inquiry process leading to impact on instruction and learning. Considerations and examples of ways to gather data are shared. Avenues for providing feedback and developing actionable next steps are discussed. Focusing on continuous improvement, the authors encourage schools to incorporate ongoing reflection and revision of their walkthrough protocols to insure relevance and effectiveness.
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