Saturday, January 16, 2010

Using Learning Walks As A Tool For School Improvement

BHS students go about their business during a recent walkthrough.

We are breaking a lot of old traditions here at BHS with our new Look 2 Learning classroom walkthroughs. For starters, administrators and department heads have been an ongoing presence in the BHS classrooms since the start of the year. I know in some of the high schools I have been at and many others I have heard about teachers do not see administrators or department heads in their classrooms during the course of a day, week, month, etc.

A New Focus For 2010

Now as we hit January, administrators and department heads are combining forces and doing walkthroughs together. We will be walking twice weekly together in groups of 3 or 4 to look at learning in the classrooms at BHS in an effort to collect data and create an ongoing conversation about what different aspects of learning look like.

During the course of these walks we are specifically looking at three things:
  1. Is the objective of the lesson clear to the students?
  2. What is the level of critical thinking? (Low, Middle, or High on Bloom's Taxonomy)
  3. What is the level of student engagement? (Engaged, Compliant, or off-task)
A Different Point of View

Another thing that makes this format different is the lens that we look through as guests in the classroom. Most of the other trainings that I have read about for walkthroughs call for the observers to look at the teacher. In the Look 2 Learning model we look at the students and speak to the students about what they are doing during class. The walkthrough team stays in the classroom for 2-4 minutes to gather a snapshot of what is happening before moving onto the next class.

This is also a different experience for teachers who are used to getting specific feedback after having someone visit their class. The goal of this process however is to gather data to present to the entire staff. For instance, based on the focal points above we could present staff with some interesting data after we do walks through 50 classrooms. For instance, in what percentage of these classes are we seeing engagement and higher level critical thinking?

Getting Comfortable

Having groups of individuals enter a class is something new for both staff and students. While we have been talking to staff about this since the beginning of the year, there are sometimes a few raised eyebrows on the part of students when they see a team of adults walk into their class. The surprise grows in some cases when students find themselves being asked questions by these visitors. But through a few open-ended questions (i.e. what are you doing? why do you need to know this?), we learn a lot about the learning in the classroom.

Next Steps

I am eagerly anticipating the addition of teachers to the walkthrough groups in March. Having been involved with teachers on walkthrough teams at some of our monthly Administrative Council Meetings, I have witnessed first hand the rich conversations about student learning that take place when teachers have a chance to see the classrooms of colleagues. As I said in a previous post - I guess it shouldn't be surprising that the staff members who are actually doing the teaching would add significantly to the conversations about student learning.

Final Hope

The goal of all of this is for our staff to model the fact that we are a community of learners who value the process of learning and continue to grow by sharing our experiences with one another and engaging in meaningful discussions about what quality learning looks like.


  1. Good evening Patrick, from a Greek-Canadian EFL teacher in Switzerland!
    This is a fantastic idea! I love it so much that the kids have walkthroughs in the school and go from class to class. The amount of knowledge they gain while doing this must be amazing and the engagement and communication amongst themselves is creative and highly productive.
    Congratulations to all the teachers and kids in your school and to you of course, for being such an enthusiastic principal and educator!
    I wish everyone at BHS all the best!
    Kindest regards,
    Vicky Loras

  2. Interesting reading.

    I've been engaged in what we call 'learning walks' before and they are very powerful for ascertaining certain things about whole school issues. Its good that you have specific points to focus on. It seems as though you have the tone of your walkthroughs right: supportive. I really like:
    "we are a community of learners who value the process of learning" This provides a non-threatening atmosphere where thought provoking discussions are had about CURRENT practice - leading on to potentially showcasing particular strenghts or going about school improvement. Your final paragraph is excellent for summing up this process.

    @jamieportman (twitter) - Assistant Headteacher in the UK

  3. Our high school in Denver, Colorado has been implementing learning walks modeled after the book Instructional Rounds. They are opt-in on the part of the instructor and observers and I'm happy to report that so many teachers signed up for the first round that they had to schedule 2 of them. My principal has sold the staff on the idea that a lot of Best Practices already exist with the experts in our building and that a PD focus should be on us sharing these practices. The rounds are not to evaluate the teacher but to learn & share.

    Also, administrators are intentional about doing a "fly by" to several classrooms a week. The fly by is unannounced and they are only there for a few minutes. I really like them b/c later that day I'll have a note in my box telling box telling me "I observed x, y & z...keep up the great work!" I imagine some teachers receive a "we need to chat" message but that's probably what's best for students.

  4. Great idea! I think it is very important that administrators communicate with the students and find out what is really going on in the school first-hand. My principal used to drag anyone who entered our school into my classroom to see my lessons.

    The key is to share what you have seen and learned and promote excellent teaching lessons and techniques.

    My favorite ploy was to hand the chalk (I am showing my age!) to the superintendent or principal whenever he/she visited my class. They enjoyed getting back to their roots as a teacher.

    P.S. Your excellent blog is on my Educational Blogs page:

  5. Great timing. I have just been thinking about taking my walkthroughs to another level. My leadership team has been talking about group walkthroughs for a while. I will ask them to read this post and then we'll go for it.

    I have been trying to split my time during walkthroughs this year between watching the teaching and watching the learning. I aften find that I am in the classroom during reading time. So, I wander the room and talk about books with the students (grade 3-6). Sometimes, I will even write down the title of a book that sounds interesting to me. I figure a little modeling of being interested in books is a good thing.

    Anyway, glad to hear that someone close by is doing such good work.


    fliegs (twitter)

  6. although it sounds simple, this is cutting edge stuff. . nice job.

    how do you capture the data?

  7. We have a pretty simple form we use based on pre-selected focal points(i.e. thinking level, engagement level of classroom).

  8. Our faculty summer read is "The Global Achievement Gap" and Tony Wagner discusses learning walks. We are very interested in utilizing this learning practice. Would you be willing to share your form?

  9. Michelle,

    Please e-mail at and I would be happy to send you the form.

    Enjoy your summer!

  10. Precisely! Many people have different ideas about what the best learning takes place in space. As with everything else you learn, there are many different methods that you choose. This option is ideal for people who have already left high school but still want to learn a foreign language. The advantages to taking an online foreign language class if you have a speech impediment are that the activities and learning are more visual and reading based as opposed to being verbal based.

  11. an interesting concept, will make an interesting discussion at our next few executive meetings