ILC D3: What’s Wrong with Walkthroughs

I was hoping to get to this conversation soon; this 21-day program is really good for any instructional leader – please check it out (it’s FREE). Walkthroughs have been a work in process over the last two years of my ed leadership career. They are not easily scheduled in a school with a rotating schedule, and the pre-brief/debrief process is often time consuming and handled poorly. But the walkthrough is essential for system-wide success. I have two key points in my discussion – take a look and respond as the spirit moves you.

The first point to consider is that you are probably doing a walkthrough wrong if you are trying to accomplish data collection or to complete a checklist. The fact of the matter is that a walkthrough is NOT for you or the district. A class observation or walkthrough is first and foremost for the teacher

Blows your mind, I know. But it’s not what think.

A teacher in your school should thrive on feedback; but, I find that many often are terrified of being observed. If there is a new tool or teaching strategy that I have asked teachers to try, reluctance is typically the initial response. I get it and can totally relate: no one wants to hear that he has been doing a bad job. But that is not the purpose for observations or walkthroughs; a teacher is observed in order to fill in gaps, together, as a team. After all, a master teacher isn’t developed via individual classroom ability but by sharing and receiving great ideas (and processing bad ones) with other intellectual minds. This is a sign of mutual respect in the workplace – and respect is vital to the improvement of a workforce. If we improve we do it together; a rising tide raises all boats. It is our job as administrators to inspire teachers to want this observation feedback from any place they can get it (like admin or other teachers). Just as we teach our students to identify their gaps in learning so that they can then fill those gaps, teachers should see a walkthrough as a means to discover areas of improvement for the purpose of improving every minute of a student’s educational experience.

A second point: your teaching staff needs to realize the fundamental purpose of teaching in your school, and a walkthrough is one of the only direct ways to ensure that they are doing so. 

Teachers are proud and protective of their ability to facilitate learning in my school…and they do incredible work; yet, we all have a one-year contracts to renew come springtime. In the words of my headmaster, “Charlie, we are all replaceable.” I could not agree more. As in any relationship with a greater good (spiritual or otherwise), we must recognize that all is fine in the world as long as we are doing our job to the best of our ability. If we lose sight of that goal, isn’t it fair for that greater good to come calling?

But I’m not saying a walkthrough is a means to validate dismissal…just the opposite. An administrator does not build trust or clarity without concrete expectations and a method of assistance for any faculty member to meet those expectations. As we tell students with regard to their success, a teacher should have the means to succeed inherent in his or her ability but (and, more importantly) also as a result of readily accessible mentoring and teamwork. This is where admin comes in – if a walkthrough warrants the discussion of mentoring or in further learning and development, my job would be to create this plan of action. In essence, the means to contract renewal should not be dependent on an observation or walkthrough; the walkthrough should confirm that a teacher is doing exactly what is expected. But if a need is evident, it’s on me to figure out how to do it.

Finally, the hope I have for every walkthrough is that I observe something great – perhaps unexpected, but ultimately mind-altering. Sometimes there are areas of polishing that become evident, but my debrief usually consists of a “have you thought about this” question that I can ask as a means to spool up new thoughts in a teacher’s brain. An administrator should be ready and excited about asking the tough questions or initializing those “next-step” thoughts after an observation. Post-walkthrough questions and thoughts should align with the concrete expectations for keeping a job; however, I would hope that the questions project from these expectations. A teacher should meet expectations regardless of being observed or not; yet, meeting expectations is merely a stepping stone to reinventing them. The observation, in keeping with its ideal purpose, should create questions or brainstorms that lead to new standards in teaching. I hope, when I enter a classroom, that a teacher is reinventing the baseline.

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