Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Walkthroughs And Observations: There Is A Difference

As a former Director of Instructional Technology I was tasked with training all district and school leadership on the process of walkthroughs. We’d spend 2 days reviewing protocols, analyzing data and how to lead conversations. Afterwards they would go out and conduct their walks. When I would visit schools and talk to teachers about walkthroughs, their purpose or how they were using the data they were often confused with observations. Even during our trainings Leadership would consider walkthroughs as observations.

Walkthroughs are not observations!

There is a difference.

Most teachers are familiar with the observation process. Many states have Teacher Educator Standards that they use to evaluate the job performance of their educators. These standards look at everything from lesson planning to instructional delivery to classroom management. The observation(s) that takes place as part of the Teacher Evaluation process allows for the principal, assistant principal or other Educational Leader to see the individual teacher in action, in their classroom and evaluate them against the given set of standards.

Walkthroughs are entirely different. Everything from their purpose, their duration, and how they are used differ greatly from observations. Walkthroughs are daily opportunities for Educational Leaders and Instructional Staff (Coaches, Curriculum Coordinators, Instructional Technology Facilitators, etc.) to examine specific parts of the instructional process or review how professional development practices are being implemented. Normally there is a set of agreed upon protocols that are used. The data gathered is as anonymous as possible and shared with the PLC, grade level or other group.

Walkthroughs and Observations can be broken down even further.

Purpose: Walkthroughs serve several purposes. Education leaders and Instructional staff are looking at a snapshot of classroom instruction to determine instructional effectiveness. Walkthroughs are also used to determine the efficacy of the implementation of professional development and program initiatives. Walkthroughs are also a great way to gage school culture.

Observations are a formal process whereby teachers are evaluated against a set of given standards, either local, district or state. Education Leadership conduct observations to determine teacher effectiveness, areas for individual improvement and overall job performance.

Frequency: Observations typically take place only a few times year. In contrast walkthroughs take place several times a day, every day.

Length: Walkthroughs are designed to only last between 5-10 minutes. This allows for Education Leadership and Instructional Staff to visit several classrooms to gather as much data as possible. Observations, on the other hand, will last 30-60 minutes, sometimes more. This allows for the the evaluator to examine the teacher during the entirety of a lesson or class period.

Data: The data gathered during a walkthrough can be beyond valuable. Depending on what is asked in the protocol one can determine the awareness to students of what they are learning or what high-impact instructional methodologies are being utilized. Walkthrough data is almost always anonymous, yet is pooled by grade level or subject area or some other similarity. This allows for the analysis and comparison in similar situations. For example if the purpose of our walks in for a given week is to look at formative assessment in 9th grade math classes we are going visit those classes and look for the formative assessment strategies being used. Then we can pool that data from that week to get a better picture of what is happening.

In an observation the data gathered is on one specific educator related to the Professional Educator Standards. Notes of what is taking place in that classroom during that time are taken and the only comparison that is made is between one teacher against the standards. Historical data from that one educator may be used to look at patterns or growth but comparisons to other educators are rarely made.

Follow-up: The Post-Observation Conference takes place between the individual educator and the evaluator/observer. This is a 1-on-1 conversation that breaks down the observation and the greater evaluation process to look at educator effectiveness related to the professional standards. This is an opportunity for the educator and evaluator to talk about the individual practices of the educator and determine areas of strength and opportunities for growth.

The follow-up for Walkthroughs should be an entirely different process. The data gathered over several walks (weeks or months) is pooled to be analyzed. Since the process is anonymous we can have a more open conversation about what was seen and the opportunities for growth. The educator team can begin to ask themselves about patterns they see, how the professional development they have received has been implemented across their team and what support they need going forward. And since the data set should be extensive there is a greater opportunity to look back and forward in time to make better instructional decisions.

Part of the reason many educators don’t understand walkthroughs and see them as observations is because of the lack of transparency, either intentional or unintentional. When an administrator walks in the room, especially unannounced, it can cause anxiety and stress because the teacher doesn’t know what is happening. Just like we spend a great deal of time reviewing the Professional Educator Standards and how to meet them, we should spend time, perhaps more, talking about what is being looked for on walkthroughs. Educators and Teachers should know the protocols and even have an opportunity to contribute to the data by conducting walkthroughs themselves.

Tips For Better Walkthroughs

  • Always Walk With A Purpose-We never want to walk haphazardly and just do walks to say they are done. Since we are walking several times a day, every day we can gain vast insight into what is happening in the classroom. Look at areas for growth either from a school improvement plan or as decided as a team. 
  • Lead Meaningful Conversations-The most valuable part of the walkthrough process is the conversations that take place after the data is gathered. What does the data tell you, related to your purpose? What strengths do you see in instruction? What opportunities for growth are there? 
  • Make Walkthroughs An Ongoing and "On-growing" Process-The walkthrough process is a circular. Conduct your walks and gather the data. Then use that data and the conversations that follow to determine how you are meeting your goals, what professional development do you need. After the professional development go back, conduct more walks, gather more data and see if you are meeting your goals. Sometimes you may need more professional development or you will determine new areas of growth. Walkthroughs and data are never looked at in isolation, always as part of an overall plan. 

More Resources To Help With Walkthroughs

Are you or your team looking to better understand walkthroughs and how you can get the most out of them? Partner with Web20Classroom to improve instructional practices and get more out of the data you collect. Visit our website to learn more.