As I work with leaders across the globe, I am always careful with my words. There are rarely absolutes when it comes to educational leadership and ushering in meaningful change. The best course of action depends on the situation and context, which is rarely the same for different administrators. However, I am direct when it comes to what can be controlled. As a leader, you can control whether you make the time to visit classrooms to provide valuable feedback to your staff. So why does this matter in the larger scheme of things? I pulled the following from some research on the topic (Hardavella et al., 2017).
If we do not give feedback, this will come with a cost. The learner can assume that everything is fine and will continue practicing in the same way. This leads to a false assessment of their own skills and abilities and builds up a false perception.
It is hard to debate the value of learning walks when it comes to improving practice. In a previous post, I elaborated on the rationale for making them a consistent component of a leader’s day:
The process of learning walks, or walk-throughs as many schools refer to them, is to get a glimpse of what is happening in classrooms to then provide non-evaluative feedback for improvement. They serve an integral role as “soft” accountability mechanisms to spark conversations and reflections on practice. The more we observe and talk about practice, the better equipped we are to make and lead change. Another positive outcome of learning walks is the building of better relationships since the non-evaluative nature of the process focuses on meaningful growth around targeted look-fors.
When developing a learning walk protocol, consider the following:
Determine a realistic number of practices that you would like to see during visits. These should be identified in your strategic plan for the academic year. Keeping things more general is also a good idea, as you can flesh out specifics during feedback conversations. When I facilitate learning walks with leaders that I support, I keep my list to five (5). However, you might find more value in focusing on less. Another good idea is to elicit input from teachers on where they feel feedback and support is needed.
Try to align the look-fors to elements of the formal observation tool you use and expect to see routinely. We found that our teachers greatly appreciated that they would be receiving consistent support to prepare them for their three unannounced observations. My leadership team and I pulled specific elements that were core components of Tier 1 instruction.
Create an easy-to-use form based on the look-fors that you establish. Google Forms are great for this as they can be set up to instantly graph the data, which can be shared with staff. In my coaching work with leaders, I help them develop a coding system for the strategies they are targeting, as this helps to make qualitative data collection much more manageable.
Once you determine the focus for your learning walks, share the rationale and form with your staff. If educators are unclear or must guess what administrators are looking for, the process diminishes in value. Transparency helps to build trust and relationships in the process. Both will pay dividends during feedback conversations.
Everyone conducting learning walks must be on the same page. In addition to coming to a consensus on the areas of focus and co-developing the form, make the time to visit classrooms with a peer and then discuss what you saw and why. Regular leadership meetings can also be leveraged to ensure everyone is in lockstep.
Once all the items above are addressed, it is time to get into classrooms regularly. Develop a schedule and stick to it as best you can. My admin team and I had to conduct five walks a day. Between the four of us, this came out to 100 visits a week, which resulted in a wealth of data to unpack.
The entire purpose of learning walks is to help educators grow through non-evaluative feedback. If you visit classrooms and never engage in a dialogue about practices embedded in your strategic plan, then all you have accomplished is management by walking around. Determine how feedback will be provided to your staff. I suggest a two-pronged approach. First, curate the data collected and present during your faculty meetings, highlighting commendations and areas to consider for growth. Second, reach out to individuals where you have either seen outstanding practices in action or something that really needs attention from an improvement standpoint. Face-to-face conversations are typically the best, but you can also utilize phone calls, paper notes, or video conference tools. Try to limit feedback through email.
While I have found the elements above to be highly effective in my work with leaders to develop a learning walk process, keep in mind that you might find value in additional components. Regardless of what you settle on, flexibility is key. I shared the following in Digital Leadership:
With any learning walk form or tool, there must be a great deal of flexibility regarding how you use it. The most critical aspect of the learning walk process is what is done afterward to improve practice. Collaborative discussion as a leadership team about what can be improved as well as timely feedback to teachers are both crucial for success.
Getting into classrooms regularly was the best part of my day as a principal. It is also a highlight of the work I am blessed to engage in with leaders currently. Reflect on where you are with the learning walk process and how to make it a success. If I or my team at Aspire Change EDU can be of assistance, be sure to reach out (aspirechangeEDU@gmail.com)
Hardavella G, Aamli-Gaagnat A, Saad N, Rousalova I, Sreter KB. How to give and receive feedback effectively. Breathe (Sheff). 2017 Dec;13(4):327-333.