ROCORI SCHOOL BOARD LEARNING WALKS
On Monday, December 8, school administrators and school board members engaged in a “Learning Walk” through the Cold Spring Elementary, ROCORI Middle School and ROCORI High School sites. At a session from last winter’s Minnesota School Board Association conference, board members heard from Moorhead School District representatives about a process they used to walk through buildings and observe the educational process in their district. The idea was intriguing and the board had discussions about implementing a similar practice in the ROCORI Schools.
I would like to take this week’s space to review information about the learning walk and how it has been implemented in our district.
The purpose of a Learning Walk, as defined by the Moorhead District and supported in our discussions, is to assist each school in strengthening and reflecting on instructional effectiveness. Learning Walk team members go into classrooms to observe instructional processes. The focus is intended to be on district systems as the observers are watching to see how district-wide initiatives are being implemented.
The team members gather data on the implementation of district and/or school goals. The data gathered relates to instructional practices, conditions in the classrooms and strategies used to engage students. Each team member makes independent observations and then the team members compile the information from the observations.
This data is intended for use by the individual schools and, ultimately for the entire district, to make better decisions to improve student learning. It is also intended to help leaders in the process of selecting professional development activities.
The goal for the School Board Learning Walk is to observe classroom learning while connecting the activities of the classroom to district goals or initiatives. The idea is that elements of the initiatives should be demonstrated or observable in the classrooms.
The observation information will hopefully help to promote high levels of learning for all students, support quality instruction in every classroom, provide shared leadership through the school and district, and allow for reflective practice.
WHAT DOES A LEARNING WALK LOOK LIKE?
A team of at least one school board member and an administrator will visit classrooms. The expected time in any one classroom should be about 8-12 minutes. The team will look for evidence of teacher and student clarity of the lesson being delivered. The research is clear when the teacher and students share the same clarity on the lesson, student achievement increases.
PROCESS OF A LEARNING WALK
The session on Monday began with a Pre-Learning Walk Conference. The members of the administrative team and school board assembled before Learning Walk. The team members reviewed the assessment rubric and the "look for" checklist to be used during the walk.
The members of the teams were assigned. Board members were paired with administrators to create a team to walk through the classrooms. As the teams met, the group reviewed the "Responsibilities of Learning Walk Participants” so that all members were looking for the same things and following the same processes.
After the pre-walk conference, the team members dispersed into the buildings. This week, teams of three or four members went out to the Cold Spring Elementary site, the Middle School and ROCORI High School. The members made their observations and then, after an hour and half at the sites, the team reconvened for a final debriefing.
For the Final Debriefing, the team assembled in the Board Room as a meeting place. Each team member shared the observations made and the evidence collected. The goal of the process was for each team to identify trends and patterns that they observed. From those patterns, the team offered feedback to the sites in regard to systems work and progress on the initiatives.
LEARNING WALK TEAMS: FOR WHAT ARE WE LOOKING?
To help the learning walk team members understand the process, the following ideas were posed to create guidelines and observation expectations.
Walkers will look for evidence of posting the lesson objective.
Walkers will look for evidence of connecting with the objective orally.
Walkers will look for evidence as to who is practicing language in the classroom and are the students engaged and participating in the lesson.
Ultimately, the teams sought to answer the question, “What do we want students to know and how will they show they have used academic language?”
LEARNING WALK TEAMS: HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE SEE IT?
The teams talked about the Walk-Through Checklist and Rubric to help identify key practices, processes and information that would help demonstrate effective instructional practices. The team went into the classrooms looking for observable evidence of quality instructional practices. The guidelines reviewed by the team suggested that quality practices would include, but were not limited to:
- physically posted learning objectives and standards
- the teacher reviewing the objective orally multiple times in the lesson
- students clearly practicing the objective through language (writing, reading, listening and speaking)
- Discussion and interaction between teacher/student and among students.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF LEARNING WALK PARTICIPANTS
Each of the board members and administrators were encouraged to uphold several core responsibilities. Participants were encouraged to:
- Think carefully about comments and questions.
- Ask questions but avoid making judgments or interpretations about what was seen while in the classrooms and hallways.
- Stick with the agreed upon focus set during the pre-Learning Walk conference.
- Do not discuss other issues or discuss work unrelated to the focus of literacy. The group made an effort, therefore, to not discuss math.
- Remember that the Learning Walk experience is simply a snapshot in time; observers in the walk are seeing only one part of a much longer instructional arc.
- Avoid disrupt the teaching if doing so would interfere with the students' learning or without asking the teacher's permission.
LEARNING WALKS ARE NOT EVALUATION
Learning Walks are designed to gain an overview of the overall school's performance in working toward school improvement goals. Participants were reminded that the purpose of the Learning Walk was not to be evaluative in nature. The focus and purpose of the Learning Walk is to monitor systems and processes as part of school goals, not to focus on the work of any particular individuals.
Learning Walks are part of the school improvement efforts and part of staff development. It is important to keep teachers well informed about the overall focus of the school and the school goals and the Learning Walk was designed to support those efforts.