What Learning Walks Reveal About Teaching
Leadership Insights

Principal as Instructional Coach: What Teacher Leaders Add to Learning Walks

By Terry Wilhelm March 1, 2016
What Learning Walks Reveal About Teaching

In my last post on this topic, I discussed the use of Learning Walks. This is a way for teacher leaders on the leadership team to begin to grow their awareness of how widely and how well a new strategy is being implemented school-wide. Strong teachers, who typically make up the leadership team, generally assume that their colleagues possess the same degree of expertise as they do. They may also be unaware of next steps to continue improving their own classroom practice.

Learning Walk data: Don’t miss the opportunity to help teachers grow

As data is collected from Learning Walks, how should it be used? A common complaint about principal walk-throughs is, “She or he does walk-throughs all the time, but we never hear anything about them afterward.” This not only sends a confusing message about their purpose, but represents a significant, missed opportunity for helping teachers grow. Avoid this mistake with Learning Walks where teachers participate by providing feedback each and every time they take place.

Group feedback is the most appropriate way to accomplish this. As discussed before, a quick email noting the number of classrooms visited, and in how many of them the strategy was observed is an easy beginning step. As the teacher leaders increase their expertise in Learning Walks, they will naturally see the need for more detail.

A rubric to measure the effectiveness of a new instructional practice

Simple rubrics can be developed to capture the degree of effectiveness of the strategy. Questions might include:

  • What specific student behaviors demonstrated learning, and how many students in each class demonstrated them?
  • How closely did the teacher’s use of the strategy align to the model presented during professional learning?
  • If the strategy is not seen in a particular classroom, did the visitors simply arrive at the wrong time, or was there a missed opportunity for the strategy to be used?
  • If they missed that part of the lesson, is there student work that demonstrates that it was used?

As rubrics or anecdotal records are introduced to capture more detail, this detail can also be shared through group feedback, while continuing to keep teachers’ names and classrooms confidential.

Classroom walk-throughs may identify the need for professional learning or clarification on teaching strategies

As more detail is collected in the data, the teacher leaders — always accompanied by the principal — will often notice that more professional learning is needed to take some or many colleagues (and often themselves) to the next level. This is an important turning point, because the leadership team has begun to take ownership of the improvement process.

Sometimes there is confusion about how to implement a new strategy, and collecting data from classroom to classroom will quickly bring this to light. As principal, you can provide clarification at staff meetings, through group emails, or individually. Leadership team members who lead teacher collaborations can also provide this in their individual teams.

If a site or district coach is available, data on individual classrooms and teachers can be shared with them confidentially so that personalized assistance can be provided. This coaching will fall to the principal if no coaches are available.

Insight and feedback from teacher leaders helps principals become more effective

Having the eyes and ears of teacher leaders, and especially their insights, greatly augments a principal’s effectiveness. Principal walk-throughs may continue to be important, or even required by the district, but broadening the practice to Learning Walks and including teacher leaders will greatly accelerate the implementation of the new strategy, and with it, improved student outcomes.

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