Do the teachers at your school need to take a “learning walk”?
At a recent professional development conference, teachers and administrators from three districts in North Carolina extolled the virtues of the practice, which they said can weed out ineffective teachers and help effective ones spread their best practices.
During a learning walk, a small group of teachers goes from classroom to classroom to watch other teachers in action. The purpose is to observe—not necessarily evaluate—and to “steal” practices and methods that work.
When first implemented, the walks should take place at designated times so that teachers being observed can prepare for them, said one of the administrators who spoke on the topic at the 2010 annual conference for Learning Forward, a nonprofit organization focused on improving professional learning for teachers. Eventually, the walks can become more sporadic, the presenter said. Teachers and students learn to ignore the onlookers and continue with their assigned work.
The possibility that observers could come in at any time changes the school environment, the teachers—hailing from Macon County Schools in Cullowhee, Jackson County Public Schools in Sylva, and Swain County School District in Bryson City—agreed. Learning walks foster both collaboration and positive peer pressure. Teachers have to “up their game,” and those who are reluctant to do so tend to self-select out (that is, quit or retire early).
One teacher added that an open-door policy promotes the idea that the students are not “your” students, but “our” students.
The presenters emphasized that its critical to set one hard and fast ground rule before the walks—that teachers should focus on positive teacher actions in every room they visit rather than being critical.
A version of this article appeared in the April 04, 2011 edition of Teacher PD Sourcebook