Teacher walk-throughs 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 walk-throughs across our nation.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been closely examining the research on teacher walk-through tools. I even downloaded and read the new book entitled “Engaging Teachers in Classroom Walkthroughs.”

Save a few exceptions, the walk-through 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.

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 they 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 walk-throughs 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.

Walk-throughs 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.

Kristen Swanson (@kristenswanson) is a learner, leader and teacher. She is a the senior educational technology leader for BrightBytes and a founder of the Edcamp movement. Swanson is also author of “Professional Learning in the Digital Age,” a Google Certified Teacher, a Twitter teacher and an Edublog Award nominee.

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