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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Principal Walkthroughs

By Peter DeWitt — March 29, 2012 3 min read
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Schools are supposed to be educational institutions where students are engaged, teachers are nurturing and offer rigorous lessons, and principals are educational leaders where they can help create inclusive environments. Unfortunately, this is often a Utopian view of schools. Too often principals stay in their offices and teachers close their doors and become their own islands. Fortunately, those old practices are changing.

Walkthroughs are becoming popular with principals. At least, they should be popular with principals because they are an effective way to observe what is going on in the classroom. Walkthroughs also provide administrators with the opportunity to establish important connections with students. Simply put, there is no downside to doing walkthroughs in a school.

As much as it may be difficult to break away from the computer or not schedule back to back meetings, even a walkthrough that lasts a few minutes can be an important part of the day and should be done as frequently as possible. As a school administrator I try my best to get into every classroom every day. Administrators with larger buildings may not have the same luxury but they can still get out.

Administrators need to be educational leaders and need to be more than visible. Principals need to be engaged. The best way to do that is observe great instruction in the classroom to see if it matches what experts say in educational research journals and blogs. As a former teacher I miss the magic of a classroom, so walkthroughs provide me with an opportunity to see the great things my teachers and students are doing together.

How an administrator does the walkthrough and what they do with the information after the walkthrough are two important aspects of this educational leadership practice. Quick walkthroughs of two or three minutes or longer walkthroughs where the administrator stays to take part in the lesson are both beneficial. Following up with an educator about great aspects to the lesson, or what you noticed students doing during the lesson, is important as well. Don’t just walk in and walk out and never give feedback. Sometimes I am guilty of doing that and it is something I need to improve upon.

Beneficial to Students
How does this help students? Administrators get the opportunity to see students interacting in a classroom environment. Some students need to know that they are safe. When students see administrators, they understand that they are not very far away, when and if, they need them. It also shows teachers that their administrators care about what they’re doing in the classroom. A kind word on the part of a principal can help a student stay on track.

When in the classroom, asking students questions regarding what is being taught will help principals see if students are learning what the teacher is teaching. It also provides the opportunity to offer constructive feedback and perhaps even give them some kudos to an educator for teaching great lessons.

The last and most important part to a quality walkthrough is to provide effective feedback to teachers. Regardless of whether the teacher is the most highly qualified educator in the building, all teachers deserve, and should get, administrator feedback. Our profession is great because we are allowed the opportunity to have conversations about how we can be better educators and leaders. Walkthroughs give us a plethora of things to talk about such as student behavior, student engagement, classroom practices and teacher-student relationships.

School Environment
Walkthroughs help administrators get a better idea of what is happening in classrooms, and they also provide administrators with an opportunity to see students actively engaged. When students see their principals in the class it helps those students understand that their schoolwork is very important and helps build a safer school community.

As we go through changes in the way in which we are all evaluated because of state and federal mandates, we need to have quality data based on observations that will help us support great teaching but also help those teachers who need some assistance.

In order to maintain a positive school environment it is very important that the walkthroughs do not always focus on the negative. If teachers believe they are always being “watched” it will create an adversarial relationship in the school. The point of the walkthroughs is to create a better school environment for teachers, students and staff, and not meant to create an environment where teachers need to be caught doing something wrong. There is enough of that anti-education sentiment in politics and the media.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.