More on Classroom Walkthroughs and Teacher Evaluation

After I wrote my recent bit on classroom walkthroughs and checklist leadership last week, I turned my computer off and headed out of town for a mini-vacation with my family.  The post obviously struck a bit of a chord, though, as a bunch of Radical readers took the time to leave comments. 

I wanted to take a minute to follow-up on some of the thoughts y’all have been sharing:

Parry wrote:

I am the person ultimately responsible and accountable for the quality of teaching and learning in my building, and I therefore think that I should know what that teaching and learning looks like.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, Parry, but how sad is it that we’ve created a system where the building principal is “the person ultimately responsible and accountable for the quality of teaching and learning” in a building. 

If we were serious about professionalizing teaching, wouldn’t we work to design a system that encouraged and enabled teachers to take over this responsibility? 

What consequences does lifting that burden completely off of the classroom teachers have on staff motivation and innovation in our buildings? 

If you’re selling yourself as “the person ultimately responsible,” aren’t you inadvertently telling your staff that they bear no real responsibility themselves for ensuring that quality teaching and learning is happening on their hallways?

And if so, is that a burden you really want to bear alone?  Wouldn’t you be more effective as a leader if you empowered your teachers to hold one another accountable for the kinds of outcomes expected of your school?


George wrote:

Curious if walkthroughs are not the answer, what is the alternative for teacher supervision?

While the word ‘supervision’ makes me cringe a bit here—it reminds me of my duty to police the hallways and bathrooms during class changes—I get your point, George.  There has to be some kind of quality monitoring in a building.

If it were up to me, the bulk of teacher observations of any kind would be done by other members of a teacher’s collaborative team.  Doing so would make evaluations less judgmental and threatening.

Doing so would also encourage cross-pollination of good practices in a building.  Teachers observing their peers become both coaches and learners—offering suggestions and guidance all while picking up strategies that they can bring back to their own classrooms.

Most importantly, though, getting teachers into classrooms create the conditions necessary for real collaboration to actually occur:  Shared experiences. 

Until teachers spend time with one another—something that happens infrequently in most buildings—they’ll never develop the kind of trust necessary for leveraging real change. 

Sure, there’s got to be administrative observations in schools.  It’s a contractual thing, right?

But when administrative observations are the primary tool for quality control in a building, schools are missing an opportunity to build the kinds of collaborative cultures that we all claim to believe in.


Rob wrote:

Most principals know that after doing a dozen or so walkthroughs they can accurately predict what the classroom will look like (for better or worse) on ensuing walkthroughs.

In a way, Rob is making my point here:  When principals get to the point where they can accurately predict what they’re going to see on a classroom walkthrough, what’s the point of doing any more walkthroughs?

And what consequence does that sense of “I already know what I’m going to see here” have on the value of classroom walkthroughs as leadership practice? 

Do principals who believe they know what they are going to see observe as carefully as they should during a walkthrough?  Do they take what they learn on walkthroughs and make key decisions based on what they’ve seen? 

I guess what I’m asking is if a principal is already convinced that they know what they’re going to see, then why should he/she spend their already limited time on walkthroughs?

What’s also ironic to me is that as a classroom teacher who has worked with the same peers for years, I have NO idea what the other classrooms on my hallway look like because I have NO chances to see my peers in action.

Wouldn’t it be better for school leaders to volunteer to cover classes so that teachers could be released to do classroom walkthroughs? 

Not only would doing so ensure that our school leaders remained knowledgeable and competent instructors, it would ensure that teachers didn’t live in the professional dark, completely unaware of what teaching and learning looks like on their own hallways. 



Renee wrote:

Hopefully, more comprehensive and mutually beneficial teacher evaluations will become the norm rather than the marvelous exception in more schools across the country.

Amen, Renee—teacher evaluation has got to change if we’re going to see our schools successfully meet the challenges of educating every child. 

And for me, the key to changing teacher evaluations is to create the kinds of structures and systems that enable teachers to see one another work and to give one another feedback. 

While it’s nice to think that principals are the instructional leaders of our buildings—and therefore the most qualified to judge teacher performance—I’m not sure that’s always true.

Any of this make sense?

5 thoughts on “More on Classroom Walkthroughs and Teacher Evaluation

  1. Cale Birk

    Personally, I feel that instructional walk throughs have limited benefit. The reason I say this, is that unless an instructional walk through involves sitting with the learners and having a conversation about things such as what they felt the objective of the lesson was, how they felt the teacher connected this to their prior learning or interests, what the key points of the lesson were, how they could connect what was going on in the lesson today with the lesson that occurred yesterday, and how they would apply the outcomes to what comes tomorrow. Too often we think we know what good teaching (and even good learning) “looks” like. I don’t buy that. I have seen the most disinterested looking learner be so in tune with the lesson I could hardly believe my ears when I spoke to them, and have seen the keenest looking learner be unable to answer the simplest questions about the concepts just presented to them.
    In my estimation, putting teachers together in “microteaching” situations where teachers are looking at collaboratively decided upon promising practices in their peers is much more important than me as the administrator walking through and trying to predict what good learning looks like. An administrator can support this by providing the framework, support, coverage or finding time for teachers to do these 10-15 minute observations of eachother and time to reflect with eachother on what was actually learned.
    Cale Birk

  2. Milenagarganigo

    Loved this post. We are on the eve of starting an Instructional Talk Through process in our school where 16 teachers have volunteered to work with one another and observe each other’s classes. Each teacher has chosen a problem of practice and the role of the observers is to collect information from the observation to help the teacher with “next steps.” We are excited, nervous, etc. about the process — but, as the administrator in charge of this, I am encouraged by the group’s willingness to blaze the trail. Wish us luck!

  3. Parry

    Either you misread my statement, or I did not adequately explain myself.
    When I say that I am the person ultimately responsible and accountable for the quality of teaching and learning in my building, I am not in any way absolving teachers of their responsibility to ensure high-quality teaching and learning in their classrooms. I have not lifted any burden off of teachers in terms of their responsibilities, and we talk all the time as a staff about the high expectations that our parents set for us, and that we set for ourselves.
    If anything, I think your take-away from my statement was the exact opposite of its intent. When I tell teachers that I am ultimately accountable for the quality of teaching and learning in the building, that is in part my way of saying that they are not alone in their work or their responsibility, that I am right there with them. Being accountable for the teaching and learning in the building also means that I am responsible for providing high-quality working conditions, along with appropriate and effective professional development. It means that I am not just a guy sitting in an office with a closed door, but rather the leader of the building, accountable to the students, to the parents, and to the teachers.
    It means that the buck stops with me. And while my teachers all bear the burden of responsibility for their kids (and, via the collaborative structures we have in place, for students throughout the building), someone needs to carry the ultimate responsibility for what happens in an organization. In my opinion, without leadership, and the accountability inherent in leadership, organizations cannot function effectively.

  4. Akee123

    Good stuff Bill. . . I think what you are getting at is the 1 Million Dollar Question: How do we get teachers to observe their peers in a non threatening way?
    many teachers are full of defense mechanisms and have little confidence in themselves, in part because the job is not given the “props” from society and because they are often blasted in the press. But also. . . many of our teachers are not prepared well by the universities programs. Its not the teachers fault that teacher prep programs are so weak.

  5. Lyn Hilt

    I loved reading all of the perspectives on this topic. Our district made a move to incorporate a walkthroughs protocol last year. It includes a checklist of “look fors” that align with what we believe to be strong instructional practices that impact student learning, as well as areas for us to write narratives and ask questions. A component of our walkthroughs includes student interviews where we chat with students about what they’re working on and how they are learning from what we observe. We can use our webcams to record segments of lessons or take photos of student work to include with the observation form. Everything’s electronic, and teachers are sent the forms and can then dialogue with us via the online conference component (or in person, anytime) about the observation. We’ve found that this can’t be limited to a 5-minute walkthrough, but even extending this experience to a 10-15 minute classroom visit has been worthwhile. This is mainly due to the conversations between teachers-admin that result AFTER the walkthrough is complete. The reflective piece is essential.
    This, then, is the biggest barrier to changing practice with walkthroughs or any type of supervision protocol. The ability for teachers and administrators to dedicate themselves to true reflection and action to change practice. I agree wholeheartedly that peer observations through a coaching model would be more beneficial to my teachers than the feedback from my observations alone. I do believe my role as the instructional leader in my building is one of the most important that I have, but I’m not naive enough to think that I am the sole authority on what good teaching looks like in an elementary school classroom.
    The next steps for us include: getting past the “this is mine, that is yours” mentality in the classroom and becoming a more collaborative, sharing staff, so we can start to incorporate peer observation and reflection work; having teachers utilize our electronic walkthrough system with peers for that purpose; having teachers work collaboratively on shared goals linked to student learning; having teachers develop their passions.
    Honestly, the format/supervisory system that will work for one school may not work for another. You have to know your people, what they’re capable of, push them to achieve more, and foster relationships while doing so.

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