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What Happens When Teachers Participate in Classroom Walkthroughs?. Ann S. Allen Kathleen Topolka-Jorissen, Assistant Professors Educational Leadership and Foundations Western Carolina University Presentation for the Annual Meeting of the National Evaluation Institute

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What Happens When Teachers Participate in Classroom Walkthroughs?

Ann S. Allen

Kathleen Topolka-Jorissen,

Assistant Professors

Educational Leadership and Foundations

Western Carolina University

Presentation for the Annual Meeting of the

National Evaluation Institute

Consortium for Research on Educational Accountability and Teacher Evaluation

Louisville, KY

October 9, 2009

[email protected]

[email protected]

Share results of a study of the use of teacher learning walks at one elementary school.

Discuss implications for practice and further research.

Objectives of this session


What happens when teachers participate in classroom walkthroughs?

Theoretical Framework

  • Halverson (2003)

    • “Systems of practice” that leaders use to build professional community

    • Artifacts (policies, programs, procedures)


  • Setting

  • Training

  • Data sources and analysis


  • Macon County, NC, Schools

  • Second largest elementary school in Macon County

  • Serves approximately 400 students

  • Pre-K through 5th

Diverse student population

  • 70% Caucasian

  • 20% Hispanic

  • 5% Other

  • 83% Economically disadvantaged

  • 26% Mobility rate

Areas of Concern

Two years of not making AYP

School under improvement

Few opportunities for collaboration

Fragmented faculty

Physical isolation

Professionally isolated

Lack of cohesiveness

Data Sources and Analyses

  • Surveys

  • Individual and focus group interviews with 35 teachers and administrators

  • N. C. Teacher Working Conditions Survey results

  • Annual school report cards

Adapting Principal Walkthroughs to Teacher Learning Walks

  • Purpose—professional growth

  • Informal

  • Brief (5-8 minutes per class)

  • Non-evaluative

  • Focused “look-for,” using indicators determined by participants

  • Hallway talk: Brief group reflective conversations by observers after each classroom visit

  • Lengthier focused paired or group reflection as soon as time permits with all participants

1. After School Meeting

Brief presentation on learning walks

Development of indicators

2. Full Day of Facilitated Learning Walks

Pairs or small teams of teachers join teachers from training team

Learning walks, following the protocol

Small group debriefing

3. After School Meeting

Entire groupengages in guided dialogue

4. Periodic Site visits

Training and Support


Teacher learning walks fostered:

  • Reflection

  • Collaborative learning

  • Risk taking

  • Development of instructional strategies

  • Development of professional learning community

  • Collective efficacy

One Teacher’s Perspective

  • I think initially it’s just to observe, the second thing is sharing; you see great ideas and things that you want to take back to your room, and so in that sense sharing. And the third is reflecting on what you practice in your room, what may be your strengths and what may be your weaknesses, and then developing some of those concepts maybe that you felt like you needed to shore up. So to me, it was a one, two, three, four process: of first observing, second sharing, third reflecting, and fourth developing.

Collaborative Learning

I’ve seen first grade and fifth grade actually switch teachers, and teach to different groups.

I’ve seen more themes as far as grade levels doing the same type thing.

I’ve seen PE being involved in more things

. . . the PE department used pedometers with the math teachers, with the math teachers in each grade level doing some graphing . . .

I think the biggest thing is just that increased collaboration


Collaborative Learning

  • …we’re exposed to good ideas and good strategies that our colleagues are using, and also it challenges us to meet the expectations that we all strive for, but I think it helps put things into motion –teacher

  • …gives me a different perspective on the school as a whole and how much of a team it actually is… of promotes a sense of teamwork, cohesion, collegiality, and we see that we’re all in this together and we’re all cogs in the same big old wheel - teacher

Question: How has observing your colleagues enhanced your growth as a teacher?

  • Sharing of ideas is always a positive concept.

  • Made me more comfortable with other teachers coming to my room.

  • Any time you spend time with or around your peers it is a learning process.

Risk Taking: “Seeing is believing”

You get to see that you’re not alone … you’re part of a community and it helps the staff as a whole to come closer together.

--new teacher


I think the biggest thing was to come here with a dysfunctional group of teachers who really didn’t do anything together, and… after doing this a couple of times they’re in the media center and they’re in a… professional dialogue and they don’t leave.



  • I can go to any teacher in this building and ask for a technique or advice or anything like that. And at my old school, I had like the other primary teachers I would go to, but I wouldn’t necessarily go to any of the other teachers, and you know, just because I never went into their rooms.

    It just seems more open and, I don’t know, people are more willing to help each other out and have no problem asking for advice or help or anything like that-

    --Teacher new to the building

Impact on Students

  • They get better instruction daily.

  • I think our kids are more aware of what teachers are trying to do, because they’re no longer intimidated when people come in the classroom . . . that’s just part of life here.


Impact on Students

I would say that it has been an improvement in the morale of teachers and students as well.

I’ve noticed that students are happier arriving at school, and when I think about it there’s a lot of interesting things going on, for a child to be here I think that this is an interesting place to come.

I think that the school now, opposed to five years ago, was… is more of a place centered on students rather than on student management.

I’m really seeing that the learning process is the focus, and that’s to the advantage of the student - teacher

Question: How has observing your colleagues led to changes in your classroom teaching practices?

  • It reminded me of things that I meant to do but forgot to implement.

  • I use more feedback with kids.

  • Things I saw colleagues do that worked I tried to repeat when I taught to see if they would work for me.

  • Tried some new ideas.

  • I now know 3 different ways to teach this math concept.

Collective Efficacy

  • I’ve seen teachers use other teacher’s strategies. (Teacher)

  • I think everyone is moving towards [differentiating] instructions, . . . I think we are doing a better job at differentiating instructions for the individual. (Teacher)

  • One of the byproducts, at least for me, and maybe just for those of us who are slightly neurotic, is that we do look at those good things and say “Well, how’s my practice compare with that?” (Teacher)

Question: How has observing your colleagues enhanced your growth as a teacher?

  • Built a sense of community

  • Builds confidence in our own teaching

  • I realized that by observing colleagues I’m a learner just like my students. Teaching is a process of constant learning.

  • It was a bit intimidating at first, but then it made the visits and personal/professional interactions so much easier and more comfortable.

School Profile

  • 2001-2002School of Excellence, High Growth, Expected Growth, Met AYP

  • 2002-2003School of Distinction, High Growth, Met AYP

  • 2003-2004No Recognition, Met AYP

  • 2004-2005No Recognition, Met AYP

  • 2005-2006No Recognition, Did not meet AYP

  • 2006-2007 No Recognition, Did not meet AYP

  • 2007-2008High Growth, Expected Growth. Met 12 of 13 AYP goals

  • 2008-2009High Growth, met all 13 AYP goals

Importance of the study

  • Re-conceptualizing classroom walkthroughs as a distributed leadership process, rather than as an accountability measure, can build school capacity for student achievement.

ImplicationsLearning walks can be used . . .

  • By new teachers and their mentors to help new teachers get ideas for their practice

  • By School Improvement teams to gather data related to school goals

  • By specialists to observe their students in a variety of settings

  • By grade level teachers to become familiar with the curriculum continuum

  • By teacher teams to assess the progress in implementing a new program

  • By teachers to see vertical alignment of curriculum

Purpose: To build school capacity


Collaborative learning

I feel like we are a real school now!


For more information, contact . . .

Ann S. Allen, Ed. D.

Kathleen Topolka Jorissen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professors


110 Killian

Western Carolina University

Cullowhee, NC 28723


[email protected]

[email protected]

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