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Maximize the power of walkthroughs

By May 13, 2014June 13th, 20162 Comments

During those critical hours between bell times, school leaders are continually challenged to find the time to conduct classroom observations—let alone, the time to take all the data they collect and use it effectively. For principals and assistant principals who have figured this out, we wondered how the tools they use to collect data help them be more effective, efficient leaders.

I had the opportunity recently to ask long-time users (six or more years) of McREL’s Power Walkthrough® observation software this question. Their answers highlighted the challenges school leaders face with conducting observations and how technology can help them maximize the experience for themselves and their teachers.

It makes the task of observing simpler but more meaningful. Administrators are more motivated to leave the office, visit classrooms, conduct brief walkthroughs, and collect data when they can use it immediately and meaningfully. With software loaded right onto their digital device, they save time and effort by not having to hand-write observations and reports. The time they save allows them to conduct more walkthroughs more frequently, which creates higher visibility for them in the school and ends up causing less disruption. The technology also allows them to give teachers formative feedback more quickly, by e-mailing data to them soon after an observation.

The data collected helps administrators and their teachers “zoom in” on what matters most. The software helps principals and assistant principals collect data that can be shared with teachers to heighten their awareness of school initiatives and progress. This opens lines of communication about what professional needs are and should be. Further, the data can help administrators determine the value of specific professional development and provide documentation needed for grant proposals and district reports.

In addition, the ability to customize templates to measure initiatives taking place allows school leaders to “inspect what they expect,” as one district administrator put it. “If you expect teachers to use 21st century skills, then you need to go into their classrooms and inspect [for 21st century skills],” she said. Similarly, one leader said his district started using a template based on the instructional strategies from Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd ed.), and then added to it their own “look-fors” related to the Common Core.

The reports generated help administrators “zoom out” and use the data at many levels. Power Walkthrough software can create more than 15 kinds or reports based on the data collected. These reports can be used to share information with colleagues and staff at the individual, grade, department, school, and district levels. The reports also can be used as an accountability measure on a larger scale for money spent on technology and other investments.      

Conducting walkthroughs and gathering data is vital to identifying what individual teachers are doing well and the areas in which they need support, as well as ensuring high-quality instruction across classrooms. Technology can help simplify this process and, in short, maximize the power of walkthroughs.

Lisa Maxfield is managing consultant in McREL’s Center for Educator Effectiveness. To learn more about Power Walkthrough, contact her at or 303.632.5561.

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Anthony says:

    I have experienced PWTs first-hand and I know they are a very useful tool in getting a larger picture of the success and fidelity of integration of CITW strategies within a school or even district. One thing I am always curious about with this type of data though is what negatives did the long-term users of this program find? I know this process is a cornerstone of McREL programs, but we also know that constant evaluation and improvement is something to strive for every day. I think examining general areas of need for the Power Walkthrough program could be a valuable conversation to have. Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading through this and other posts on your blog.

  • Lisa Maxfield says:

    Hello Anthony,
    Thank you for your wonderful feedback. My initial reason for interviewing all of these people was to see where we could improve with our training and software. To be totally honest, I couldn’t get any of them to say anything negative about conducting walkthroughs, gathering data, or the software. Each person I spoke with talked about the importance of continuing to do walkthroughs and gathering the data to help them with all of the items stated in the blog. They all made it very clear that conducting walkthroughs in their schools is a big priority and the benefits of doing this help them learn and grow.
    Thank you, Lisa

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