Feedback is a critical piece in the learning process. When the Iowa Core's Characteristics of Effective Instruction outlined "Assessment for Learning," educators just received a head nod to the long standing belief that teachers need to check for student understanding along the way instead of just at the end.
It follows the same logic that walk-throughs, quick 2-3 minutes of classroom observation, would serve a very similar purpose in a system's learning process then. Often misunderstood as part of the evaluation process, walk throughs are snapshots and data points that help inform planning and professional development. It allows the observer to see what's being implemented in the classroom.
In Van Meter, walk throughs take place in various forms. They can be conducted by administrators, master teachers, teams of teachers, and individual collaborative team members. The focus of the walk through depends on it's purpose, and there are a few distinct purposes when conducting walk throughs.
- Giving Teacher Feedback: no real form used, often a sticky note to quick email to point out something positive and to leave the teacher with a reflection question. Observer looks for positive take aways. Leaves a non-judgmental question for further reflection.
- Measuring Implementation: a quick snap shot that looks for one piece of data such as, "Are learning targets posted?" This is data collection allows me to follow-up with specific teachers, if needed, and share the team results. Observer looks for implementation of a particular strategy or concept from a recent professional development opportunity.
- System Health: Using a locally developed template, this allows a survey of data to be collected and analyzed over time. "Are we getting better at...?" or "Have we seen a change in....?" This information can also inform professional development next steps. Observer looks for the characteristics necessary to attain the district/building vision and goals.
- Quality Instructional Practices: Using the Instructional Practices Inventory (IPI) or other researched-based protocols, these walk throughs can help teachers analyze their building's data over time and compare it to the research base levels. Collaborative teams or even the entire building can set short term goals for improving instructional practices. Observer looks for local implementation of research-based practices aligned to district vision and goals.
While teachers have various methods for collecting information about how students are progressing in their learning, so too should the leaders of the school. Having people observe instruction should become part of the routine. Students rarely give visitors a second look upon entering their classroom in Van Meter, because they expect people to be in their room looking at what's happening and asking, "What are you learning today?"
Walk throughs are all about the learning.