What to “Look-For” during classroom walkthroughs and teacher observations

As a school principal or instructional coach, you likely already know that classroom walkthroughs and teacher observations are important tools for assessing what's happening in your school. But what exactly should you be looking for during these visits? Here's a quick overview of "look-fors" in the classroom.

As a school principal or instructional coach, you likely already know that classroom walkthroughs and teacher observations are important tools for assessing what’s happening in your school. But what exactly should you be looking for during these visits? Here’s a quick overview of “look-fors” in the classroom.

What are “look-fors”?

“Look-fors” are specific indicators of effective teaching and learning that can be observed during a classroom visit. They usually fall into one of three categories: teaching behaviors, student engagement, or learning environment.

Why are they important?

Identifying “look-fors” helps you focus your observations and provides a common language for discussing instruction with teachers. Having a shared understanding of what effective instruction looks like makes it easier to provide targeted feedback that leads to improve student outcomes.

Here are the top 10 examples of “look-fors”

  1. Look for evidence of a positive learning environment. This includes student work on display, positive messages or quotes posted around the room, and students who seem engaged and happy.
  2. Look for evidence of effective classroom management. This includes things like a well-organized and tidy classroom, a clear schedule or lesson plan posted in the room, and students who are following directions and working quietly.
  3. Look for evidence of engaging and challenging instruction. This includes things like students working on complex tasks, teachers using a variety of instructional strategies, and students who appear to be deeply engaged in their learning.
  4. Look for evidence of student collaboration. This includes students working in small groups, students sharing ideas, and students who seem to be helping each other learn.
  5. Look for evidence of student creativity. This includes students working on projects that are not simply regurgitations of information, students using a variety of materials to create something new, and students who are taking risks with their learning.
  6. Look for engagement between the teacher and all the students. When you are observing the classroom, make sure to pay attention to how the teacher is interacting with the students. Are they speaking to all students equally? Are they making eye contact with everyone in the room? Do they seem to be engaging with all students, even those who are not participating actively in class?
  7. Look for students’ reactions to the lesson. In addition to observing the teacher, also take a look at the students and see how they are reacting to the lesson. Are they paying attention? Do they seem interested in what is being discussed? Are they asking questions or making comments? If you see that a majority of the students seem disengaged, that is something to note.
  8. Look for a well-organized lesson. As you observe the lesson, take note of how well-organized it is. Is there a clear objective or goals for the lesson? Is the material presented in a logical order? Are the activities structured in a way that makes sense? If you feel like the lesson is disorganized or chaotic, that is something to mention.
  9. Look for the lesson to be appropriate for the level of the class. When you are observing a lesson, be sure to consider whether or not it is appropriate for the level of the class. Is the material too easy or too difficult for them? Are the activities too simple or too complex? If it seems like the students are struggling or not being challenged enough, that is something worth mentioning.
  10. Look for a good balance of whole-group and small-group work. When you are observing a lesson, pay attention to how much time is spent on whole-group versus small-group work. There should be a good balance of both in order for all students to be engaged and supported. If you feel like there is too much whole-group work or too much small-group work, that is something to note.

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when observing a classroom! By focusing on instructional, social-emotional, and cultural look-fors, principals can get a well-rounded view of what is happening in their schools and identify areas needing improvement. So next time you’re on a walkthrough or observation, refer to this blog post and use the information to guide your conversations with your teachers!

For more on look-fors, check out 11 Things Coaches Should Look For in Classroom Observations and the infographic below.

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