When it comes to improving teaching and learning, classroom walkthroughs are one of the most effective tools at your disposal. However, conducting a successful walkthrough requires careful preparation and thoughtful execution.
Walkthroughs help schools and districts gauge their overall progress with targeted instructional practices, supporting organizational learning. It’s crucial to keep in mind that classroom walkthroughs are NOT for assessing individual teachers. Instead, they give educators a structured way to collect data and answer the question: To what extent do we see classroom examples of what we’re striving to achieve? This information can guide improvement efforts at the school or district level.
How to use this guide
If you are an instructional leader looking to establish a classroom walkthrough process in your school or district, this guide is for you. We have designed it to guide schools and districts with established cultures of collaboration and those just beginning their journey toward systemic improvement through observation of classrooms and discussion focused on teaching and learning.
This guide is divided into six sections:
- Section 1 provides a rationale for classroom walkthroughs, summarizes the steps in the process, and how to choose a digital classroom walkthrough app or teacher observation tool.
- Section 2 covers preparing for a walkthrough, including determining the focus of inquiry, building an effective walkthrough team, and communicating with stakeholders.
- Section 3 outlines the actual walkthrough process, including conducting observations and debriefing afterwards.
- Section 4 discusses analyzing and using data collected from classroom walkthroughs to inform decision-making at both the school and district level.
- Section 5 offers strategies for sustaining a successful classroom walkthrough process and addressing possible challenges.
- Section 6 includes resources to support the implementation.
By reading this guide, you will have a comprehensive plan to support your educators, establish walkthroughs in your classrooms and promote a school environment based on trust, where collaboration and growth are key principles. So whether you’re an experienced administrator or just getting started, this guide has something for you!
History of Classroom Walkthroughs (Learning Walks)
Before diving into how to conduct a classroom walkthrough, it’s important to understand the history and purpose behind these observations. The classroom walkthrough as we know it today is rooted in the work of Joyce and Showers in the 1980s and 1990s. They developed a model for classroom observation focused on improving teaching practices through trust-based collaboration and targeted data-driven feedback. This model has since been adopted by schools, districts, and even states across the country to improve student achievement.
Classroom walkthroughs have also been called “learning walks” or “walk-throughs,” and while the terms may be used interchangeably, they all refer to systematic classroom observations conducted by a team of educators with a specific focus in mind. The purpose is not to evaluate individual teachers but rather to gather data on the extent to which targeted instructional practices occur in classrooms throughout the school or district. This information can inform decision-making at both the school and district level, ultimately leading to improved teaching and learning for all students.
Classroom walkthroughs are designed to provide instructional leaders with a snapshot of what’s happening in classrooms within their school or district. This allows them to see firsthand where teachers may need support or professional development opportunities, identify common challenges and strengths across the district, and ensure instructional practices align with their school’s or district’s goals and vision.
Choosing the right classroom walkthrough app for your instructional leaders
In recent years, classroom walkthroughs have evolved to include digital tools, classroom walkthrough apps, and teacher observation software. These technologies can streamline the walkthrough process, providing instant feedback to teachers, data collection, and analysis capabilities to spot growth opportunities to improve instruction.
There are various classroom walkthrough apps and tools available on the market, each with its unique features. When choosing one for your school or district, it’s important to consider factors such as cost, ease of use, data storage capabilities, alignment with your specific needs and goals, and support resources available. It may also be helpful to get feedback from instructional leaders using the tool during classroom walkthroughs.
Features to consider when choosing a tool
- Does the tool allow for customizable walkthrough forms or checklists?
- How do teachers receive feedback from the walkthrough – is it immediate?
- Can walkthrough data be easily exported and analyzed?
- Can multiple instructional leaders input their classroom observations and store the completed reports in one place?
- Is there a mobile app option for conducting walkthroughs on the go?
- Can you do walkthroughs from your computer and a mobile app?
- Does the tool offer support resources such as training materials, tutorials, and customer support?
Consider the following classroom walkthrough apps
Tips to consider in choosing the right classroom walkthrough app partner
- Customer support options
- Age of the company
- The founding story, how did they start
- Experience in the education industry
- App store rating and reviews
- Who else in your school, district, or network is using the tool?
Regardless of the benefits of digital tools, some educators prefer the traditional pen-and-paper method for conducting classroom walkthroughs, while others prefer using a dedicated education walkthrough app. Whichever method you choose, it’s important to have a consistent system in place for recording observations and taking notes. This will make it easier to analyze the data and identify areas for improvement afterward.
Preparing for your first classroom walkthrough
Establishing a focus of inquiry
Before beginning your classroom walkthroughs, it’s important to establish a focus of inquiry that aligns with your school or district’s goals. This could be something like increasing overall student engagement or improving literacy skills in specific grade levels. By having a clear focus, your team will know what to look for during classroom observations and can track progress toward achieving your goals over time.
Building a team
To gain a well-rounded perspective during classroom observations, try to select instructional leaders from different grade levels and content areas. You may also find it helpful to have external stakeholders, like teachers from different schools or consultants, participate in some walkthroughs. It’s important to have a diverse team with varied perspectives to ensure all classroom needs are being addressed.
Communicating the classroom walkthrough process
Before conducting classroom walkthroughs, it’s vital to communicate the purpose and process with all stakeholders – from teachers and administrators to parents and students. This can help alleviate any concerns or apprehensions about the classroom walkthroughs and create a positive environment for growth and collaboration. Consider sharing information about the focus of inquiry, how often classroom walkthroughs will occur, who will be conducting them, how feedback will be provided to teachers, and any steps for follow-up support or professional development opportunities.
Conducting the classroom walkthrough
During classroom walkthroughs
It’s essential to focus on areas of inquiry that have already been established and look for evidence in both teacher actions and student engagement. Rather than making broad statements or assumptions, gathering specific data points is important. In addition, your feedback should be encouraging, positive, and empowering. It should also be actionable so your staff can use it to improve their performance.
Following up after classroom walkthroughs
After classroom walkthroughs, it’s important to provide timely and specific feedback so teachers can reflect on their performance and improve. Consider hosting debriefing sessions or one-on-one meetings with the instructional leaders and teachers to discuss observations, identify strengths and areas for growth, and develop a plan for follow-up support or professional development. Use classroom walkthrough data to track progress toward achieving your focus of inquiry and continually assess, modify, and improve the process as needed. This could involve providing targeted support or professional development opportunities for teachers in certain areas.
Getting to scale at your school and across the district
The expansion to all schools in the district, including leadership, set the context for moving classroom walkthroughs from a one-time event to an ongoing process. This data analysis will determine the next steps that impact teaching and learning at both the classroom and system levels. Consider sharing successful classroom walkthrough practices and providing support and training for other schools in the district to implement their own process. By creating a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement, classroom walkthroughs can lead to more effective teaching and improved student outcomes across the entire district. Overall, it’s important to make sure that your classroom walkthroughs are focused on improving teaching and learning. This involves establishing a clear focus of inquiry, building a diverse team, communicating the process with stakeholders, collecting specific data during classroom observations, providing encouraging feedback, and continually assessing and refining the process at the individual classroom level and throughout the district. With this approach, classroom walkthroughs can positively impact teacher performance and student achievement.
What success looks like for a school or district with classroom walkthroughs
If successful, you will have created an atmosphere of trust and collaboration in your school, district, environment, and culture where growth is accepted and encouraged. One were receiving feedback is as important as giving it. You will see improved teacher performance and student achievement, as well as an overall increase in the quality of education. Your classroom walkthroughs will become an integral part of your continuous improvement process, leading to long-term success for all stakeholders in the education system. Ultimately, classroom walkthroughs should be a tool for supporting and improving teaching and learning in your school or district. They should not be used as a means of punishment or evaluation but rather as an opportunity for growth and development. By taking this approach, classroom walkthroughs can have a positive impact on both teacher performance and student achievement.
Characteristics to look for to know you made it
- Classroom walkthroughs become part of the regular teacher observation and feedback process.
- Classroom observations are consistently focused on areas of inquiry
- There is a culture of continuous improvement, with teachers feeling supported in their growth
- The classroom walkthrough process is continually assessed and refined as necessary.
- New teachers feel confident and know what to expect regarding classroom observations.
- Overall improvement in teacher performance and student achievement is observed.
Final thoughts – Making it last.
Classroom Walkthroughs, though effective, require a lot of time and effort to implement. As with anything new, it’s easy for staff to see this as another fad that will eventually die out if we don’t put in the work to sustain it long-term. To make sure this doesn’t happen, schools and districts should:
- Make the school’s vision known to everyone and remind them as often as possible;
- Not trying to work on too many initiatives at once, but instead focus on a chosen few and see how the Classroom Walkthrough process can help with those specific goals;
- Encourage group discussions so that working together becomes commonplace and multiple people continuously improve teaching/learning;
- Get staff on board by being communicative and understanding
- After reviewing the progress monitoring evidence, develop a plan to communicate those findings with schools and faculty. To assist with comprehension, create visuals such as charts or graphs;
- Use data gathered during progress monitoring to direct future Learning Walkthroughs, then use evidence from subsequent Walkthroughs for planning purposes.
- Although it may be tough, keep in mind that everyone participating in the process is doing so to improve the school culture for students. This takes time and effort, but it will ultimately be worth it as we see changes taking shape. Remember too that some aspects of this transformation might require altering our long-held values or habits/routines;
- Leaders who have benefited from Classroom Walkthroughs can help others by sharing their experiences and explaining how the process has positively impacted their work.
Overall, student achievement improves. Establishing classroom walkthroughs as a regular process may take time and effort, but the result will be worth it as it leads to more effective teaching and improved student outcomes. Keep your focus on improving teaching and learning, communicate effectively with stakeholders, collect specific data during classroom observations, provide encouraging feedback, and continually assess and refine the process at individual and district levels. With this approach, classroom walkthroughs can positively impact teacher performance and student achievement. Good luck on your journey toward continuous improvement!
“We often don’t act on what we know simply because it’s difficult. If that were not the case, everyone would be in great shape. We all have the skills and training needed–what we need now is to work together and hold each other accountable as we put our knowledge into practice.”