Friday, March 1, 2013

The Walkthrough Roadblock?

There have been so many arguments for -- and against -- walkthroughs from administrators that  it can sometimes feel as if we'll never reach a consensus.

Some teachers will tell you that they welcome walkthroughs because they want feedback and direction with their teaching practice...and other teachers just cringe at the idea of another adult walking in on their lesson because they just don't like to be studied, even if it is for only a few minutes.  For those teachers, those 3-5 minutes could feel like an entire class period especially when their technology is not cooperating and 30 students are all raising their hand at the same time because they can't access the WiFi, or can't open a document.  It happens.   

Now, there are certainly more advantages of walkthroughs than there are disadvantages; the trick is getting everyone on board to accept them for what they are meant for.  In Enhancing Profession Practice by Charlotte Danielson, Danielson talks about the four main domains (Planning & Preparation, The Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities).  These four domains can be seen in a snap-shot during a walk through and an administrator or supervisor is supposed to be able to tell if these four main domains have taken place during that short observation from when they walk into a classroom to when they leave the classroom.  Since this type of observation is informal and decreases the amount of pressure that a teacher has to perform (barring that they have planned, prepped, create a good environment for students to work in, and provide the instruction that is necessary for guidance), teachers should actually welcome this type of observation with open arms. Yet, you'd be hard-pressed to find many teachers who will actually admit to that.  

What an administrator should do to get teachers on board with the walkthrough and curriculum support mentality:

1.  Nobody is invisible, and yes, teachers can see you.  Administrators who just walk into a classroom and don't want to be recognized or spoken to as if they aren't there at all need to realize that this could hurt a professional relationship.  In the real-world if a supervisor walked through a manufacturing plant, would he ignore his employees when they said hello or ask the supervisor to come over for a minute to show them something that the're working on?  Not in the least.  When teachers are excited and enthusiastic about a project that their students are working on, an administrator needs to get there and jump right in.  There needs to be interaction and a bonding that not only shows the teacher that they care, but also puts ownership on the students which can foster a sense of pride in their work.  As an administrator, take a moment to become part of the class, even if you have a pile of paperwork to get will go a long way in supporting the teachers and students.

2. Pure purpose and no funny business.  Administrators need to make it very clear to teachers that when they are walking into a classroom to take that snapshot, it's to help them get better and not to catch them doing something "wrong".  Case in point:  about a decade ago I was teaching 6th grade.  It was just two days before the State tests in ELA and I was reviewing the skill of author's purpose with my class -- a skill that they had been having some difficulty with.  The reading coach came in for a minute and didn't let 30 seconds go by before she started waving her hands as if she were drowning in the ocean and screaming from the back of the room, "Wait!  Stop!  Stop!  You're going to confuse them!  It's too much!"  I remember those words to this day and remember how furious I was at her for the outburst.  Had she realized that it was only a review, that we had already done this type of work before, and that we were just refining the skills, that wouldn't have ever taken place.  Worst of all, who looked like the fool?  I did.  I lost credibility with my students because someone else thought that they knew what was happening in my classroom.  

3. Just the facts, just the facts.  In The Three Minute Classroom Walk-through by Carolyn J. Downey, other positives are mentioned such as the ability to gather a sampling of a teacher’s actions, to gather a better insight into a school’s overall operation, to share samples of practice to share with your staff during professional development, and even to help to identify teachers who may need more help or support.  Just a few minutes and just the facts can allow for more of an interaction with the school staff, which, in turn gives a better understanding of the school’s day-to-day operations. 

Based on my own experiences, a disadvantage to a walk through is the short time span that a supervisor sees during that particular walk through.  In The Three Minute Classroom Walk-through text, it is mentioned that time management is important because you may want to spend more time with less experienced, novice teachers as opposed to more seasoned veterans.  Because a three minute walk-through is such a short period of time and a small snap-shot of what actually takes place all day, this could short-change the novice teachers (although it is hopefully understood that good administrators will still make time for teachers who are new...or seasoned, and who may be struggling). 

Another disadvantage is that an administrator may walk into your classroom just after you had a fantastic lesson, missing something that you were proud of or had wished someone had seen for themselves…a too-good-to-be-true moment or lesson.  How many times have administrators walked into a classroom only to see a ruckus, or a transition where they were loud, or during snack time.  It happens more times than you think.   Does this lead to a supervisor getting the wrong impression of who you are as a teacher?  On the other hand, it is understood that because of the frequent walk-ins (based on the three-minute walkthrough model), the law of averages should give you a fair amount of positive walk-ins as well as times that are just the daily business of the classroom.   Regardless, there are plenty of good reasons why walk-throughs can be favored, versus negative reasons and it's up to the administrators to make it known that there are there to support you in any way possible.  Teachers by nature want to impress and strut their stuff, but it must be understood that you can't give an Oscar-winning performance all of the time.  After all, the best hitters in the game of baseball don't get a hit 7 out of every 10 at-bats.  Food for thought.

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