Submitted by: Joy of Teaching on February 21, 2012
In 2003-04 I had the benefit of attending a year-long professional development series that focused on school improvement working with School Based Leadership Teams. During these meetings the leadership teams at various schools worked to improve classroom instruction using strategies that provided information using classroom walkthroughs. Each school team identified areas of strengths and needs at their individual school. Then, the team designed a template to measure and record observations during the walkthrough. The team would visit designated classrooms together and following the walkthrough, the team would consult and share their observations. At Leadership Team meetings the results of the walkthrough observations and data collection would guide the team to identify areas of need. The team would then design professional development for the faculty based on these walkthroughs. It was collaborative, informative and designed to assist teachers in improving classroom instruction.
In recent years, the Philadelphia School District created Walkthrough Teams from the regional offices. These teams would visit schools, make observations and suggestions for improvement. I thought that, based on my past experience, this would be beneficial to all involved. I did not expect that these Walkthrough Teams would twist the goals of a collaborative exercise in school leadership into a punitive and painful experience for teachers.
During our Walkthroughs, we measured such things as teacher talk, student time on-task and student engagement. We found that students needed more time to talk and work with peers, more time to use materials that provide authentic experiences and that students were engaged in activities that interest them. We used this information to present to our teachers various strategies to increase these learning-centered experiences with in the classroom.
The more recent Walkthrough Teams have been collecting ineffectual data, counting posters on walls, for example. How this relates to instructional improvement, I cannot understand. Teachers have been told to use a certain color of magic marker. Based on what research, I am not sure. Any teacher found deviating from the script of the lesson to, say, answer a child’s question, is reprimanded. Ask any teacher about their experience with the Walkthrough Teams and you will get eye-rolling and responses such as “It’s just a way to play got ya!’ Ask if the teachers receive feedback and most respond that it is about following directives. Never is there discussion about actual instruction unless you read the script wrong.
Yesterday at the gym, a woman approached another woman next to me on the treadmill. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation and quickly realized they were both School District teachers. At one point in their conversation, the woman asked the other how their walkthrough had been. Horrible, was the response. “All they did was nitpick the placement of the desks and counted how many times I stated the objective on the smart board”. The other woman responded with her own similar experience. Then she closed the conversation with “These (Walkthrough) people don’t seem to know anything about real instruction! I think they pick these silly things to nag us about because they have no idea what they are doing!”
I think she’s right.