The following is a guest post by JoAnne Colacurcio and Dr. Pamela Moore from Millville Public Schools in New Jersey.
In Millville Public Schools, we’ve been conducting informal classroom walkthroughs for more than 10 years to gather meaningful data about what’s going on in our nine schools. We use McREL’s Power Walkthrough app to record our notes and collect data on the instructional strategies we see (or don’t see) being used in classrooms. This gives us great, actionable information we can use in conversations with teachers and school leadership teams about needed professional development supports related to our instructional and professional goals. These walkthroughs are definitely not about evaluating teacher performance—they’re truly about instructional collaboration and professional learning.
Getting into a long-term habit of routinely conducting and reflecting on our walkthroughs has helped us set and achieve a variety of key goals: determining a clear focus, developing a common language for instructional and leadership conversations, creating greater visibility for our principals and administrators throughout their schools, and establishing an open-door culture in all our schools. We want to share a little more about each of our results related to the goals we set, in case it sparks ideas for how walkthroughs can be used in your own school or district.
Establishing a clear instructional focus
Conducting the walkthroughs and gathering data helped us focus on specific Classroom Instruction That Works (CITW) instructional strategies, for which all of our teachers and administrators have received ongoing training. (Side note: the “Classroom Instruction That Works Video Series” produced by ASCD and McREL features our Millville educators). Both new and experienced educators in our district continue to focus on the CITW strategies, recommendations, and resources which have helped us create an engaging and collaborative classroom environment for all students.
Developing a common instructional language
It’s especially important and helpful for all stakeholders to agree on and use a common, district-wide (or at least school-wide) language around instruction and leadership. When our educators talk to each other about students working in collaborative groups, for example, we all share an understanding of what we mean by “positive interdependence” and “individual accountability”. For us:
- Positive interdependence ensures that success by an individual student promotes success among the other group members.
- Individual accountability happens when each student is responsible for their own learning and the learning of those in their group. Students must also be able to demonstrate what they know, understand, and are able to do independently.
Establishing common definitions helps avoid misunderstandings or confusion during our team meetings, professional learning communities, and even in our informal peer-to-peer conversations that happen every day. And as our shared understanding and use of a common instructional language continues to grow among our educators, it spreads beneficially to our students. First, it means their teachers aren’t using different terminology for similar procedures, which can cause confusion as students move from one classroom to another. Second, the students themselves have a shared understanding of what is expected of them as, for example, they work in cooperative groups.
Creating greater visibility for school leaders
To conduct walkthroughs, principals and other school leaders must regularly get out of their offices and into classrooms. This offers several benefits for our schools: Not only are our administrators seeing first-hand the dynamics and atmosphere in various classrooms, which helps inform better leadership decisions, their frequent presence and interactions in classrooms help break down any real or perceived barriers between administrators and teachers, or between administrators and students. Principals who show a clear interest in what’s happening inside classrooms build a level of trust and respect that’s harder to earn when they spend most of their day sequestered in the main office.
Establishing a healthier climate and culture
Regularly conducting informal walkthroughs creates a schoolwide, open-door culture. Teachers and students become accustomed to having visitors walk in and out of the classroom, to the point that these visits and observations no longer disrupt the learning activities. Our school culture has encouraged open communication and feedback among staff members, which enhances an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
After 10 years, you’d think that some of our stakeholders might feel like there’s no longer a need to keep conducting walkthroughs. After all, we might ask, don’t we already know everything we need to know? Our administrators would give that question a resounding chorus of no’s! Each day, each classroom, each teacher is unique. Why stop now when we know we all still have much to learn and share?
Dr. Pamela Moore is the assistant superintendent and JoAnne Colacurcio is the supervisor of instructional technology at Millville Public Schools in New Jersey. For more information about Power Walkthrough, please visit mcrel.org/pwt, or contact Lisa Maxfield at McREL at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303.632.5561.