When I am doing coaching training within a school district that is conducting walkthroughs, I am often asked if walkthroughs are a form of coaching. My usual response is,”It depends.”
It depends on the relationships and the conversations that occur between people doing the walkthroughs and the teachers whose classrooms are being observed. While working with a leadership team (teachers and administrators) in a large high school, we were discussing the value of coaching activities. The principal said,”Well, one coaching activity we have currently is our walkthroughs.” One of the teachers quickly added, “It still smells like evaluation to us.” That was hard for the principal to hear, but very important. If teachers at a leadership level had not experienced the difference, we can be sure that many other staff had not. This evaluation “feel” inhibits the self reflection that will create the greatest value from walkthroughs.
In an article titled, Making the Rounds, published in the American School Board Journal/ Dec 2007, Susan Black highlights walkthrough programs in place in several school districts and identifies criteria from Carolyn Downey’s book, The Three Minute Walk-Through- Changing School Supervisory Practice One Teacher at a Time.
Informal– avoid filling out checklist, and take notes only to help recall details later
Brief– observe classrooms frequently and keep the visits short
Unannounced– arrive without advanced notice to avoid a staged lesson
Focused– concentrate on the decisions teachers make about curriculum and instruction and how their decisions affect students’ learning. For teachers who need help suggest one or two things they can try.
Non-evaluative– keep visits collegial and cooperative. Assure teachers that the purpose of your visit is continuous improvement throughout the school.
Reflective- ask teachers to reflect on their instructional decisions and strategies. Occasionally invite teachers to a follow up conversation to discuss ways to improve practice.”
Here are some of my suggestions for increasing the “culture of coaching” with walkthroughs.
A preconference approach is critical for the walkthrough to feel like coaching. The teacher needs to play a role in focusing the walkthrough observation, to remove the evaluation feel. Either individually or as a team, department, or entire faculty, teachers should help focus the observer.
Conversation is critical for the observations to generate teacher reflection. When observed details are shared, time for conversation with groups of colleagues or with the observer is essential.
These coaching conversations and notes from observations should be outside any evaluation procedure.
Teachers should be engaged in conducting the walkthroughs. Administrators can take some of the time they would have spent doing walkthroughs and spend it covering a teachers class while that teacher conducts walkthrough observations and conversations.
Here are some coaching walkthrough activities:
One principal I met has teachers design the walkthrough observation tool that they want her to use to assist the teachers in focusing on their personal yearly growth plan. The principal pulls these request when she does her walkthroughs. Teachers know what data is being collected and can lead the conversation with the principal about what the data means.
School wide, teachers can use data collected from common focused walkthroughs. A school that has a focus of increasing student critical thinking through higher order questions could focus walkthroughs over an 8 week period on the questions teachers were heard asking. Questions collected each week could be collated and handed out to the faculty each Friday afternoon. Teachers could review the list of questions, identify ones that were theirs and compare with others.
After the 8th week, faculty groups could compare the questions from week one with week eight to see if a change was evident.
A middle school team interested in how they worked with ESOL students, asked an instructional coach to do walkthroughs in each of their classrooms and collect what she observed ESOL students doing whenever she could. The team then studied the data for clues about teacher and student behaviors that might be the focus of change.
Walkthroughs provide teachers with useable data only if the teacher is thinking critically about what the data means. Those providing the data need conscious conversations with teachers before and after the observations to set a collaborative climate for that critical thinking.