Thursday, January 10, 2013

Principals' Walk n' Talk

During last week's #satchat the topic was helping struggling teachers.  During the discussion I posted the following tweet:

I got several retweets and responses (see some below) and felt I should share a little more about it

This past summer as the four elementary school principals and coordinator of elementary curriculum in my district were discussing issues of alignment among schools we ventured into the areas of teaching methods, educational practices, general school atmosphere, and culture.  Our district is constantly working toward alignment of the elementary schools.  It is important to all of us that our schools maintain their proud traditions and distinct character; however, it became very clear that we did not really know much about each other's schools!  As we talked an idea arose.  Why not meet every other week at a different school and walk through the building together visiting classes and discussing what we see.  Additionally, we are piloting use of an electronic walk-through tool (Teachscape) to help us hone our observation skills.  It made perfect sense.

I know this sounds scary; five official looking people walking into classrooms, hanging around for a few minutes and then leaving to talk in the hall.  It was for some teachers and students; however, now that we have been doing these visits for several months, people seem to have settled in and we aren't quite that big of a deal anymore.  I posted the following early on in my staff newsletter to help explain Walk n' Talk:
"Principals’ Walk N’ Talk Walkthroughs
People have asked for some clarifications about the Principal’s Walkthroughs, so I decided to answer some questions that have been asked.
What is the purpose of the Walkthroughs?
Currently the walkthroughs are being used to help the administration fine tune how we see instruction and classroom practices.  When we go out in the hall and talk with each other, we are discussing if we saw the same components of the lesson.  This is why we all come in together.
Are we being rated or graded?
No.  The checklist that we are looking at is essentially factual.  I can show anyone who wants to see on my phone.  Basically, one screen says, “Whole Group, Small Group, Pairs, Individual.”  All of these are valid forms of instruction; we are simply noting which one.  The same goes for instructional practices, environment, etc. We are looking at what practice(s) are happening, not what level.
Can we tell our children why you are coming in?
Yes, feel free to have a conversation with your children about what we are doing.  It is okay to let them know that teachers and principals continue learning even when we grow up.  I would rather you have the conversation than have students get nervous."
I have to say that these visits have been phenomenal opportunities for our group  to work collaboratively.  We are gaining a greater understanding of all four schools and the things that make them all wonderful.  Our discussions of instruction are rich.  It is amazing how five people can watch the same thing, yet see it differently.  This is where the real learning has been taking place for us.

A great side benefit of this practice is that we have truly come together as an elementary school team.  We have greater communication than we have ever had.  Our discussions go far beyond classroom practices and we are able to solve problems as we talk about issues in our schools and communities.  Additionally, we share resources, materials, and ideas with one another so that all of our schools can benefit from the collective expertise of the group.  I must say that I am truly enjoying this live, in-person PLN.  It complements my online PLN nicely!

If anyone has a question about Walk n' Talk or does something similar I would love to hear about it.  Please leave a comment.
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