Today I had the opportunity to participate in a Learning Walk, or a version of Instructional Rounds, with my aspiring administrator students and inspiring colleagues. I’ve participated in Instructional Rounds in my previous roles as a coach, a principal, and as a district facilitator, and in my current role as a facilitator with coaches and as a district guest observing the process led by school leaders.
The day began with all of us (approximately 40 lead learners) gathered in a school’s library. The principal of the school, who had willingly offered up her school for use for this Learning Walk, greeted us with information about the school. We heard about culture, expectations, traditions, and so much excitement for teaching and learning.
We then broke up into two groups to follow a schedule of classroom visitations. Each of our large groups stayed in a classroom for anywhere from 12-20 minutes, observing what students were saying and doing, as well as the instructional moves the teacher was making. Upon leaving each classroom, we would debrief our noticings and wonderings. We tried to frame our conversation around the school’s learning cycle focus as our problem of practice.
Similar to my work with instructional coaches, we had to continue to reframe our conversations to avoid statements of judgement, and to focus on observational data and reflective questions to consider. This is a challenging skill for many leaders, and one that is important, as it fostering a more collaborative relationship and mutual respect. I will continue to work on my own questioning skills, as well as skills of those with whom I work.
As we continued to visit more classrooms, we began to ask the group to reflect on patterns and trends we were observing. When possible, we made connections to Common Core State Standards, as well as the integration of reading, writing, speaking and listening across content and classrooms. For some of our aspiring leaders, this was one of the first opportunities they have had to observe another teacher’s classroom. For our secondary practitioners, it was quite eye-opening to visit Kinder-fifth grade classrooms. To see 3rd grade students participate in a successful, student-centered Socratic Seminar was powerful!
I find learning walks and instructional rounds to be powerful for a number of reasons.
- Visiting classrooms together provides an opportunity for teams to develop shared language around common concepts.
- Walking rooms with a particular problem of practice can help narrow our focus and lead to new strategies to support student learning.
- Teachers often do not know or realize what their own best practices are. Great teachers do amazing things- sometimes these strategies are done seamlessly, unconsciously, or without forethought on the part of the teacher. This process helps label and name high quality teaching strategies that promote high levels of student learning.
- Similar to lesson study, a team of teachers can plan a lesson together and the application of that lesson can look completely different across the team. Visiting rooms allows for more common language, strategies, and routines.
- Celebrate the power of a team! There are great teachers in every school. Learning walks can help celebrate the amazing work happening within a school and can let others know that you do not always have to look to outside experts to make systematic changes.
I would like for all teachers and leaders to have the opportunity to participate in Learning Walks. How have you facilitated this process with your teams?