Classroom Walkthroughs that Hit the Target

While classroom walkthroughs are a popular way for school and district leaders to monitor and even evaluate instruction, they are not always effective (David, 2007).  One of the main reasons that leaders do not always achieve the desired result is because the purpose for the walkthrough and the desired outcomes are nebulous.  Walkthroughs often fall short of hitting the desired target because leaders have not taken the time to define the targets or how they will get there. 

For more meaningful classroom walkthroughs that have the power to impact instruction in positive ways, leaders should take time to reflect on a few key components of the walkthrough process. 

  • Why are we conducting walkthroughs?  What is it that we hope to accomplish?
  • How will we conduct these walkthroughs?  Length of time?  Method to document?
  • For what purpose will we use the results of these walkthroughs?

Answering these questions before the first walkthrough is conducted is essential.  Leaders should be able to articulate a clear vision for why they are conducting walkthroughs, what teachers should expect when leaders enter their classrooms, and how the results of the walkthroughs will be used. It is when leaders cannot answer these questions that problems arise.  Teachers may feel that they are being “watched” and results will be used in a punitive manner.  Teachers may also resent the intrusion or interruption of instructional time if they do not understand why a leader is entering the room.  Let’s take a deeper look at each of these components of the process.

Define the Target

There are many reasons why leaders may conduct classroom walkthroughs.  Some state evaluation systems require that leaders conduct walkthroughs as part of a formal evaluation process.  District and school leaders may implement walkthroughs as a method to monitor instruction in an informal way as well.  Requirements for leaders to conduct walkthroughs ensures that leaders in a building are held accountable for instructional leadership and visiting classrooms on a regular basis.  Leaders may want to monitor a specific instructional initiative.  For example, if the district has a personalized learning initiative, walkthroughs may focus on looking for evidence that teachers are implementing instructional technology to meet the individual needs of students.  

Regardless of the reason for the walkthroughs, it is critical that leaders define why they are conducting walkthroughs and what they or the district hope to accomplish.  This will help leaders to remain focused, but teachers also need to understand the purpose of the walkthroughs.  When teachers know why leaders are visiting classrooms and the purpose for the visit, they feel less anxious and are able to focus instruction based on priorities targeted by walkthrough observations. 

Plan the Process

Walkthroughs can be as informal or formal as a leader chooses.  However, if a walkthrough consists of just walking around the school, popping into a classroom, and then moving on to the next administrative task; leaders are unlikely to hit the target.  

Even an informal walkthrough should have a pre-defined structure.  How long will you spend in the room?  How will you document the visit?  Informal walkthroughs that are conducted just to “keep a pulse” on instruction in the school can be documented with a running record or a matrix where a leader puts the date, time, and classroom visited.  Walkthroughs that are conducted to monitor a specific instructional initiative are more effective when the leader has a checklist or rubric to document and provide feedback to the teacher.  For example, walkthroughs conducted to look for differentiated instruction would be more beneficial to the teacher if the leader is able to provide specific feedback using a rubric or checklist after the observation.  The most formal walkthroughs—those done as part of a formal evaluation process—are often documented with rubrics and evaluation scores, and there is a formal feedback process built in for the teacher. 

How the walkthroughs are conducted will depend on the target—the purpose and goals.  When leaders have a clearly defined target, then the questions related to how walkthroughs will look and how they will be documented are easier to answer. 

Use the Results

Remember setting the target or purpose for walkthroughs?  Are you monitoring instruction in general?  Are you monitoring a specific initiative?  The target isn’t just to conduct walkthroughs and gather data.  The idea is that leaders would usethe information gained in walkthroughs to impact instruction, and thus impact student achievement.  When leaders have designed a walkthrough process that uses feedback to teachers—in the form of rubrics or checklists—they have also created a process that makes using the results much easier.  These rubrics and checklists can let a leader know to what extent an instructional initiative is being implemented.  They can let a leader know which teachers might be struggling with specific instructional components so that professional learning and support can be targeted.  They can also let leaders know which teachers could serve as role models or open their classrooms as model classrooms.  You can conduct walkthroughs every day, all year and if you don’t use the results to impact instruction in a positive way, you have failed to hit your target. 

School leaders have many responsibilities and only so many hours in the day.  Monitoring instruction is one of the most important tasks that we have, and classroom walkthroughs can be an efficient way to do this, if they are designed to hit the target.  Take some time before conducting walkthroughs to think about the target for the walkthroughs, to design a walkthrough process that will hit that target, and make sure that you use the results on the backend to improve instruction.  Planning ahead ensures that your walkthroughs are not aimless, and you can better target improved instruction and student achievement. 

David, J. L (2007). What research says about . . . /Classroom walkthroughs. Educational Leadership, 65(4), 81-82.  Available:http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec07/vol65/num04/Classroom_Walk-Throughs.aspx