Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Should Teacher Walkthroughs Measure?

Footprint-Weltkarte by dekade, on Flickr

Note: This is cross posted at Smart Blog on Education.

Teacher walkthroughs are formative data collection opportunities for teachers and leaders to learn about general trends in a school. They are NOT designed to evaluate or judge the performance of a single teacher. (This is a common misconception about walkthroughs across our nation.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been closely examining the research on teacher walkthrough tools. I even downloaded and read the new book from Kachur, Stout, and Edwards entitled Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs.

Save a few exceptions, the walkthrough tools I discovered focused heavily on one set of behaviors: what the teacher is doing. Whether the tool was designed to measure classroom climate, guided reading instruction, or positive behavior support, the phrase “The teacher is..” occurred very frequently.

However, Margo Guillot, a savvy researcher, editor, and friend, has pioneered a walkthrough technique that focuses on the students. Called "learning walks," I have found the strategy to be invaluable to my professional development and growth as an educator. Check out her book, A Value Added Decision, to learn more.

So, if I’m being honest, when I enter a classroom, I rarely notice what the teacher is doing. In fact, the less I notice about the teacher, the better.

When I walk into a classroom, I focus on one thing: 
the students.

I ask myself:

  • What are the students doing?
  • Are then passively absorbing information?
  • Are they actively engaged with peers?
  • Do they have access to meaningful information, people, and resources?

Then, I ask the students: Why are you doing that?

Over the years, students have provided a variety of answers to the question, ranging from thoughtful to comical to whimsical. The responses are very telling. They show you, in mere moments, if the necessary context has been created in the classroom for purposeful learning.

In many cases, classroom walkthroughs try to measure teacher behaviors and inputs. These might be related to a new initiative, program, or administrative priority. While these are easy to measure and in the direct control of the teacher, they tell little about the learning that is happening for students. As Margo states, you can tell

Walkthroughs should focus on the student behaviors and outputs. While these outputs are less predictable, they do provide you with a clear picture of what school feels like from a student’s perspective.

Isn’t that the best formative data we can have?

So as you make plans to collect data in your schools next year, set your sights on the most important component in the classroom: the students. Teacher walkthroughs should be focused on student learning. In essence, they should be "learning walks" as Margo describes!

Photo Credit:
  by  dekade 
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License


  1. Excellent post.

  2. Good stuff here! Unfortunately I don't think many administrators will get it. One can hope though.

  3. Our walkthrough form has changed over the years to focus on student behavior and school wide trends. This allows us to improve in school wide goals.

  4. That sounds a lot more productive! Best of luck with that.

  5. Wow, sounds great!

  6. I like the focus on students and on student learning. I think taking the time to connect with students and teachers on a daily basis is important, and it's an area that I want to continue to improve.

  7. Thanks for reading and sharing your goal! ;-)

  8. I am the technology coach for my elementary school. Conducting learning walks as a way to offer technology support and integration ideas is something that I'm interested in; however, I'm stuck with at the step of designing a data collection form...I really like your thoughts on focusing on what the students are doing, especially for my objectives since I'm not an administrator. Do you have a form or ideas that would be helpful for a technology coach walk through in classrooms? Thank you! Kristi

  9. Hi Kristi - I'd be happy to send along a protocol I use. Just email me at KristenNicoleSwanson (at) gmail (dot) com.



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