Classroom walkthroughs are a key component of improving and sustaining excellence in schools. The reason is simple: according to Dr. Sean Kelly, Principal of Chapel Hill High School in Douglasville, GA:
“Research for years has said that the single biggest contributing factor to student success is an effective teacher.”
With that in mind, let’s look at the five keys for ensuring your next classroom walkthrough makes a tangible, positive difference in your teacher’s effectiveness.
1. Focus on learning instead of teaching.
Too often, administrators observe for teaching when they could be observing for learning. The difference is subtle, but it affects the way you approach giving feedback and, more importantly, the way your feedback is received by your teachers.
Here’s the difference:
Observing for Teaching
When you focus your observations on teaching (you teaching the educator, and your educator teaching the students), you’re thinking more of your own abilities instead of the teacher’s needs, and of your teacher’s abilities instead of the students’ needs.
Observing for Learning
On the other hand, when you focus on learning, you’re thinking about how the teacher will receive your feedback, and how well the students are processing what the educator is teaching them.
Again, it’s a subtle difference, but by shifting your perspective you may be surprised at the impact your feedback has on your teachers.
2. Establish a genuine rapport.
By establishing a genuine rapport with your teachers, they will be more likely to positively engage in the observation process.
Remember, it’s difficult to listen to someone tell you how you might improve if you don’t believe that person genuinely cares about you, personally. But if you build real relationships with your teachers and regularly work to maintain those relationships throughout the school year, your teachers will be far more likely to make the changes you suggest.
3. Promote objectivity and personal reflection without negative criticism.
It’s important to promote objectivity and personal reflection. Here is what we mean by these terms:
Objectivity — explaining exactly what you saw and providing examples
Personal Reflection — asking, “what changes do you think you might be able make in order to overcome this challenge you’re facing?”
By keeping these two concepts in mind, your teachers will achieve more positive professional development than if your feedback is vague or subjective, or if you provide the feedback in a way that comes across as dictating instead of collaborating.
You also should avoid negative criticism. Focus on framing your feedback in a positive light. If you need to tell a teacher, for example, “Stop focusing so heavily on the left side of the classroom,” word it as a positive instead: “Keep in mind the importance of spreading your attention from side to side. You may find it helpful for getting more of your students involved and engaged.”
By giving feedback in this way, you will encourage a sense of introspection and capacity-building in your teachers, rather than disheartening them by listing their mistakes.
4. Effective feedback shows the full picture in a timely manner.
As mentioned above, under “Objectivity,” it’s important to give examples in an effort to keep your feedback specific and concrete.
Simply saying, “Good job” is not feedback at all.
Instead, feedback to teachers should be constructive and understandable. Show them the full picture, from exactly what you’re seeing in your observations (with concrete examples to bolster your points), to which specific, actionable steps they can take to grow professionally and how those action items will affect their progress toward the overall professional development goals.
The sooner the teacher receives the feedback, the better — sending an email of your observations to the teacher right after your walkthrough is ideal.
Just like with building rapport, there should be continuous follow-up with teachers about the progress they’re making in order to ensure and re-enforce that the teacher is growing positively.
Remember that students, too, want feedback with regard to your observations, so making even small comments like “You are very lucky to have a teacher like Mr. Jones” will go over well with both the students and your staff.
5. Balance specific feedback with reflective questions.
In addition to objectivity and specificity, remember that it’s essential to balance that specific feedback with reflective questions. Any question that causes teachers to reflect and has the potential to result in improved classroom learning is a good question to ask.
When reviewing the lesson plan you are going to observe, be sure to look for the objectives of the lesson, and how the content will be relevant and practical to the students. That way, after the walkthrough, you can include a post-lesson reflection with your feedback. The teacher can note whether she or he met the objectives of the lesson and what they might do differently next time.
Then, later in the school year, you can review these post-lesson reflections and get a strong sense of how a teacher is growing. This will lead to more meaningful feedback in future observations and the asking of appropriate reflection questions.
In this way, you’re keeping the big picture in mind instead of just seeing each observation in a silo. Each walkthrough builds on the previous ones, and teachers have a strong foundation for tangible professional development.