Tag Archive for walkthroughs

Books for the first week…

In my last post I shared some tips to get started with informal walkthroughs. After posting it, I received this question on twitter:

So, here are the books I read in classrooms during the first week of school…

During my first year as Principal, I read:

This was my favorite First Day book as a teacher and when I shared this with classes during my first week as a principal, I talked about how I was nervous too!  I don’t usually read this book anymore, but I keep it with me for a back-up, just in case I need another book.
I read this to our 4 year-old kindergarten:
I read this to our 5 year-old kindergarten:
I read The Kissing Hand to the 4 year-olds my first year and one of them began crying hysterically, which is why they have a different book now!  After I read The Kissing Hand, I give each student a little heart sticker on their hand to remember the story of the book and use that time to practice each of their names.
I read this to our 1st grade classrooms:
I read this to our 2-5th grade classrooms:
By the time they’re in 5th grade, they’ve all heard it several times, but I always tell them when you find a good book, it’s fun to read it over and over again. I also use this book for discussion/review on our Code of Conduct and why they’re so lucky to have a teacher that is not like Miss Viola Swamp.
And just in case I have extra time to spare, I have this one with me:
This year our school is going with the Bucket Fillers theme, so I’ll be reading different ages versions of :
Principals–what do you read to your classrooms? I’d love to add to my list of books!

Getting Started with Informal Classroom Walkthroughs

Of all the things I have to do each day as a principal, my favorite “task” is getting into classrooms each day to see what students are learning. I actually don’t see it as a “task” of something I “have to do,” in fact I prefer it over all the other things that are on my necessary list of to-do’s (like the stack of paperwork!)  I am very passionate on this topic and believe it is every principal’s responsibility to be in classrooms. While I could write an entire book on this topic (and hopefully will someday) this post will just be some simple tips to get started.

It is very common for a new administrator to follow an administrator that was not in classrooms, which can make it awkward for the teachers and students that are not used to this practice. Or maybe you as an administrator have never really been in classrooms and have decided that you are going to start. If you just enter the classroom without doing some initial introduction of this, you will likely end up disrupting a class. Either the teacher will stop the lesson to greet you and ask what you need or a student will announce to the teacher that you’re there. 

Before getting started, you will need to inform teachers of your purpose for being in classrooms.  During my first year as an administrator, getting into classrooms helped me to get to know all of the students, know each of the teacher’s instructional styles/strengths, better learn the curriculum for each grade level, and just have a pulse of what’s happening in the building.  (If you want to know more about what I do with walkthroughs now, you’ll have to wait for the book!)

During the first week of every school year I go into each classroom and read students a story, practice their names (I love it when I get them all right during the first week!) and tell students that they will see me frequently throughout the year as I come into their classroom.  I tell students that I am coming into the classroom to see what they are learning and how hard they’re working.  I tell them that I do not want them to stop what they’re doing and they don’t even have to say hello to me when I come in. In fact, I tell them not to say hello, but if they must they can give a smile or a wave.  I learned as an Instructional Coach that when the younger students wave they flail their arms around in excitement (which is so darn cute, but a disruption to learning), so I teach them instead to give a special little wave with just their index finger.  This “micro-wave” is their special, silent way to say hello to me.  When I go into classrooms, if a student shouts out or announces that I’m in the room, I treat it just as I would as a classroom teacher—I rehearse the procedure.  I give a reminder that they can just wave, I walk out of the room, and then come back in so they can practice the wave.  After 4 years of this, it is extremely easy to pop into classrooms and just blend into the room.  In fact, a few weeks ago during summer school a student told his teacher that I’m like a Ninja, because I’m so sneaky!

If you’re a new administrator or a veteran administrator, put walk-throughs on your daily schedule and get into classrooms! 

My "Coaching Hat"

Here’s another cross-post of my Friday Focus post for staff, in which I openly reflect for them on how my practice impacts their reflection. I’d love to hear feedback from other administrators trying to balance between the coaching and evaluating hats.

In a previous Friday Focus posts I have shared with you my goal to get in classrooms and provide feedback and questions encouraging you to reflect. I also shared with you in this post that I want to act more like an Instructional Coach than a supervisor to help improve instruction and learning. Throughout this year, I have networked with other administrators (both on twitter and in “real life”) and had conversations around evaluations and coaching. In addition, I recently joined DPI’s Teacher Design Team-the committee that is developing the teacher rubric to evaluate teacher practice. Throughout these formal and informal conversations, I have struggled with trying to figure out how I can formally evaluate teachers, yet be seen as someone to give non-evaluatory feedback in a coaching manner to help your reflective process in the classroom. I have read books on instructional coaching and read books geared towards principals, though none that combine the two roles for an administrator. I’m sure by now, you’re probably wondering why I am sharing my own personal reflection with you?

Because I recognize that when I come in your classroom and send you an email or talk to you afterwards, that it may make you feel nervous or worried…which is NOT my intent! As I reflect, I realize, I have probably never clearly explained (or maybe I never clearly understood myself) what my intent is as I come in classrooms and give feedback. When I am come into classrooms for informal walkthroughs I am coming in with a “coaching hat” on, so to speak. Quite honestly, I feel like I’m doing the same when I come in for the formal observations (for the evaluation process) and meet with you afterwards to discuss how the lesson went. I may pose a question to you that stretches your thinking that is not meant to be intrusive or evaluatory, but is a question to have you reflect on why you do what you do. When you are reflective and consciously aware of why you do what you do, you will continue to utilize effective strategies for students in your classroom. I can share with you from my own experience that when I had a guest administrator with me a while back, she asked me ma ny questions for her learning, but as I explained my answers to her, I realized how much it made me reflect on why I do those things she asked about. So, my key message to you is that unless I specifically say, “I have a concern…” then you have nothing to be concerned about, I am just in there wearing my “coaching hat.”

In the future, I would love for us as a staff to begin collaborating even more for our learning and student learning as a result. We have had several staff members be recorded and reflected while watching their own lesson. Several staff members have o bserved each other to gain new ideas and we have even had teachers from other districts visit us. I have recently begun to read about other schools taking this even one step further and putting in the practice of “Instructional Rounds” in which teachers go together in groups to observe and have follow-up discussions. Here are some of the posts I’ve read on this topic:
Teachers Observing Teachers: Instructional Rounds
Walking the Learning Walk
Engaging Teachers in Instructional Rounds
Don’t worry, this isn’t something we’re starting tomorrow 😉 However, if you are interested in taking some walks through classrooms, just let me know and I’d be happy to cover your class for you!

For your reflection this week...how do you engage in conversations with others to reflect on instructional practices and student learning? What are your thoughts on if I’ve had an impact on your reflection process as a result of walkthoughs (this question you can actually hold on to, because in a few weeks I’ll be asking for your anonymous feedback on a survey to help me reflect).

Image by Kathy Cassidy

Sharing Effective Practices with Teachers

If I were to go back to being a classroom teacher, I think I would be one of the best teachers ever…not because I think so highly of myself, but because as a principal, I get to see the best practices in classrooms every day. I could take the best from each teacher I’ve seen and put them together to be a Super Teacher with effective strategies for everything!

As the instructional leader of the building, I feel it is my duty to share with my staff the great instructional practices I see in our building. We have excellent teachers doing amazing things each day. During their grade level/PLC meetings they collaborate and share with each other, but sometimes I think they don’t realize how much they really have to share with each other. Or they don’t realize that some of the great things they do are obvious to them and assume everyone is already doing them. So, how can you get your teachers to learn from each other? How can you get everyone to implement effective strategies that are already great for learning for students in your building?

One way is to have teachers observe others. This is difficult to get started, because teachers do not want to seem like evaluators or feel like they are imposing on each other. I encourage my staff to observe others to gain ideas and many have done so as we have gone school-wide with our literacy framework of Daily 5/Cafe. In addition we require our probationary teachers to observe their mentors twice a year (and mentors to observe their mentees twice a year). I have recently read how leaders like Shira Leibowitz are having their teachers observing each other by having learning walks together as a team.

An even easier method, that doesn’t require classroom coverage or extra time on the teachers’ part is in your weekly memos. I have previously posted about how I utilize my staff blog to past a Monday Memo and Friday Focus post each week. I originally learned about a weekly memo from Todd Whitaker as a way to share great practices with staff. When you share a practice with staff in a memo, it is just the beginning of a learning process. Good teaching in the classroom follows a whole-part-whole approach, as does my practice of sharing great instructional practices with teachers. When I highlight great instructional strategies in my Monday Memo each week, it is the “whole part” introduction to all staff. The next step is getting into classrooms for walkthroughs…you wouldn’t believe how many people I see trying the strategies that I mention in my Monday Memos. When I see this, I praise the teachers for their efforts and for the student learning I see as a result of it. I then follow up with the “whole part” again in a memo after a while again highlighting a particular practice, why it’s effective and thanking staff for being willing to try new things.
I’d love to hear how other principals encourage teachers to try new effective strategies that their colleagues are already successful with? How do you encourage your staff to learn from each other?

Reflecting on my classroom visits

Last week I tweeted that I had completed 126 classroom visits during the month of September and quickly had several replies from other administrators (in public mentions and direct messages):

  • How long do you stay in a classroom?
  • What form/method are you using?
  • Do you always give teachers feedback?
  • How do you make time for that many walkthroughs?

Since my professional development plan is on the practice of conducting classroom
walkthroughs/providing teachers with feedback to improve student learning and I had this many questions coming my way I thought it would be the perfect topic for a blog post.

I know that many districts have an adopted/required method of walkthroughs that dictates what they are looking for, how long to stay in the room, and how they provide teacher feedback. I have read about several different methods, used a required method in my previous district, been to an all day training on one method and participated in a webinar to learn about Marzano’s iObservation. Despite all of that, our district does not have an adopted requirement and I do not do always do the same thing.

I use the app Simple Goals to keep a running tally of how many classrooms I have visited (which is the total number I tweeted for September). This running tally includes when I visit a classroom for a walkthrough (which could be anywhere from 1 – 15 minutes), a full length observation, to observe a student or for me to teach a class. I do not count if I was just dropping something off for a teacher or getting a student to come to the office.

Since our school is now running with wifi, I recently created a walkthrough tool for myself using google forms. I made it very handy on my iPad by adding it right to the homescreen on my iPad so I don’t have to waste any time finding it. I love being able to view the results in summary form so I can see the graphs and see how many times I’ve been in each classroom. I use this google form to gather data, NOT as a set of criteria I’m looking for or to give it back to teachers. Why? The best teachers are their own worst critics and if you give them a checklist that doesn’t have everything checked off, they are going to be disappointed that you didn’t see x, y, or z which happened 5 minutes after you left the classroom. I have also found that my best teachers are so reflective that they will come to me after I’ve been in their class and apologize about what I saw (even though I saw something great!) or tell me what they’d already reflected on from what I saw and how they’re going to improve it. They do not need a checklist!!

While I want to give teachers feedback every time, it just doesn’t happen. Ideally, I’d love to give verbal feedback, but that’s even more unrealistic (although I do try when I can). Last summer I attended a conference with Regie Routman and she suggested to give verbal feedback to the teacher and students while you’re in the room. I struggle with this, because I do not want to interrupt, however, I have started trying this and do enjoy it…but I only do this when there’s a point in the instruction that I can do so and know that the teacher would be ok with it. At best, I provide an email that just states:

“When I visited your classroom, I noticed students were….(tell what I saw/heard them doing, try to state what was effective or something in regards to student engagement or mastery of the objective)….I wonder….”

Or something to that effect. It’s different every time based on what I saw. If there is something I had a concern about, I go to the teacher, because emails can be taken the wrong way. My goal in providing feedback to teachers is always for them to reflect on student learning–whether it’s as to what was effective for student learning or what was not effective for student learning.

The google form that I use provides me with data so I can keep track of whose room I’ve been in/how many times, what class period, what instructional groupings I saw, what level of student engagement I saw, and how I provided feedback (email, verbal or none).

For the first few weeks of using this method, here are some of the trends I saw and my reflection for each:

Since our school is implementing Daily 5 in every classroom, I have made my focus on getting into classrooms during their literacy block so I can see how it is going and offer feedback/encouragement/support as needed. I have also enjoyed sharing with all staff different things I’m seeing in each classroom to help them all learn from each other.

The instructional groupings I saw were almost split between whole group instruction and individual/independent work. This is because during the literacy blocks teachers were either giving mini-lessons or it was a daily5 session in which students were independently reading or writing.

I really wish I would have data from previous years on student engagement, because I truly believe from my observations over the years that students are more interested and engaged with the Daily 5 framework for reading/writing. They have a sense of urgency and know what they need to do to become great readers and writers. Most importantly, students have choice in what they are reading/writing and they love it…even our most reluctant/struggling readers/writers!

I am disappointed to see my results for feedback given to staff. We have had issues with our wifi, so I did not have the email function working on my iPad, which made it difficult to email feedback to teachers in a timely fashion. However, this should not be an excuse. If my goal is to provide teachers with feedback to encourage reflection on student learning, then I need to make better efforts to provide them with feedback.

The final question from a colleague on twitter: How do you make time for that many walkthoughs? The short answer is simply that I make time. The long answer would be another long post about how I’ve learned to manage my time, be more efficient with managing my emails/phone calls/paperwork/etc and about how my days are for people and nights are for paperwork (after my kids are in bed). I think getting into classrooms is the most important job of the principal. By being in teacher’s classrooms I am able to share teachers’ great ideas/strengths with the rest of the staff to benefit all students, not just the students in a great teachers’ classroom. In addition, it helps me to know all of the students. If I receive a parent phone call with a concern, I usually have background information before the parent even calls from being in classrooms (on a side note, the amount of concerned parent phone calls over the past few years have dropped significantly).

That said, I already know the next 2 months will not be as great as September was due to the amount of my time that will be consumed by state testing as the District Assessment Coordinator (it’s much more than just the week of testing on teachers/students).

I welcome any feedback from other administrators/teachers on this topic and would love to hear your ideas.

Documenting Walk-throughs

Blog 12 of Spilling Ink Challenge

More on walk-throughs…
I’ve explored various ways of keeping track of walk-throughs. This past year I used a spreadsheet for each quarter. On the left collumn were all teacher names (organized by grade level, then alphabetically, because that was easiest for me). Then there were 9 collumns…one for each week of the quarter. As I completed a walk-through for each classroom I would record the date in the box for that teacher’s row. I liked being able to visually see how many classrooms I had been in for the week or to see how long it had been since I was last in their room. Since my goal is to get into at least 15 rooms a week, I would try to get into each room every other week. This spreadsheet made a great visual for this. I would also circle the date if I gave feedback (verbally or written).

I recently skimmed a book while sitting in Barnes and Noble and want to try something new that I saw. This year I will have a simple spreadsheet with 2 collumns. The left with all staff names and the 2nd collumn being much larger so that I can record a date and some information about the walk-through (ex: “guided reading groups, all on-task… asked tchr about word work center). I will complete a walk-through for each and every teacher, before I complete a walk-through on another teacher and record on a different spreadsheet. I plan to print off 15 of these spreadsheets with the goal of getting into each classroom 15 times next year. I think this system will hold me accountable for not “shying away” from any classrooms (as I’ve previously discussed) and give me a tool to record what I’m seeing.

Reflecting on my classroom walk-throughs

Blog 11 of Spilling Ink

I’ve previously talked about my professional development plan (for state licensure renewal) being focused on using walk-throughs to improve student learning. My goal this year was to get into at least 15 classrooms each week and provide staff with meaningful feedback. When I wasn’t inundated with tasks related to my position as District Assessment Coordinator, I did a great job at getting into classrooms, but finding a good way to give meaningful feedback has been a struggle for me. I think the most effective is when the feedback can be given verbally, because it will lead to dialogue between you and the teacher.

In the book, People First, the authors suggest using a staff roster to reflect on how you personally interact with each (writing a D next to those you have daily communication wiht, W for weekly, R for rarely, a star next to names that you regularly call on for extra duties and a check mark next to those teachers meeting expectations. I did this and was disapointed to see that I spend more time talking with my teachers that are meeting expectations, but far less time with those that are not meeting expectations. Shouldn’t this be the other way around? Yes, it sure should, but I don’t because they are difficult teachers to deal with and it is a lot of work. I am ashamed that I even just said that. My job is to make sure that every student has the best education, so I never want to say that again. Next year, I want to focus on those teachers, get into their rooms frequently and have the conversations that need to be had to improve student learning.