More on classroom walkthroughs and teacher evaluation

After I wrote my recent bit on classroom walkthroughs and checklist leadership last week, I turned my computer off and headed out of town for a mini-vacation with my family.  The post obviously struck a bit of a chord, though, as a bunch of Radical readers took the time to leave comments.

I wanted to take a minute to follow-up on some of the thoughts y’all have been sharing:

Parry wrote:

I am the person ultimately responsible and accountable for the quality of teaching and learning in my building, and I therefore think that I should know what that teaching and learning looks like.

Now don’t take this the wrong way, Parry, but how sad is it that we’ve created a system where the building principal is “the person ultimately responsible and accountable for the quality of teaching and learning” in a building.

If we were serious about professionalizing teaching, wouldn’t we work to design a system that encouraged and enabled teachers to take over this responsibility?

What consequences does lifting that burden completely off of the classroom teachers have on staff motivation and innovation in our buildings?

If you’re selling yourself as “the person ultimately responsible,” aren’t you inadvertently telling your staff that they bear no real responsibility themselves for ensuring that quality teaching and learning is happening on their hallways?

And if so, is that a burden you really want to bear alone?  Wouldn’t you be more effective as a leader if you empowered your teachers to hold one another accountable for the kinds of outcomes expected of your school?

George wrote:

Curious if walkthroughs are not the answer, what is the alternative for teacher supervision?

While the word ‘supervision’ makes me cringe a bit here—it reminds me of my duty to police the hallways and bathrooms during class changes—I get your point, George.  There has to be some kind of quality monitoring in a building.

If it were up to me, the bulk of teacher observations of any kind would be done by other members of a teacher’s collaborative team.  Doing so would make evaluations less judgmental and threatening.

Doing so would also encourage cross-pollination of good practices in a building.  Teachers observing their peers become both coaches and learners—offering suggestions and guidance all while picking up strategies that they can bring back to their own classrooms.

Most importantly, though, getting teachers into classrooms create the conditions necessary for real collaboration to actually occur:  Shared experiences.

Until teachers spend time with one another—something that happens infrequently in most buildings—they’ll never develop the kind of trust necessary for leveraging real change.

Sure, there’s got to be administrative observations in schools.  It’s a contractual thing, right?

But when administrative observations are the primary tool for quality control in a building, schools are missing an opportunity to build the kinds of collaborative cultures that we all claim to believe in.

Rob wrote:

Most principals know that after doing a dozen or so walkthroughs they can accurately predict what the classroom will look like (for better or worse) on ensuing walkthroughs.

In a way, Rob is making my point here:  When principals get to the point where they can accurately predict what they’re going to see on a classroom walkthrough, what’s the point of doing any more walkthroughs?

And what consequence does that sense of “I already know what I’m going to see here” have on the value of classroom walkthroughs as leadership practice?

Do principals who believe they know what they are going to see observe as carefully as they should during a walkthrough?  Do they take what they learn on walkthroughs and make key decisions based on what they’ve seen?

I guess what I’m asking is if a principal is already convinced that they know what they’re going to see, then why should he/she spend their already limited time on walkthroughs?

What’s also ironic to me is that as a classroom teacher who has worked with the same peers for years, I have NO idea what the other classrooms on my hallway look like because I have NO chances to see my peers in action.

Wouldn’t it be better for school leaders to volunteer to cover classes so that teachers could be released to do classroom walkthroughs?

Not only would doing so ensure that our school leaders remained knowledgeable and competent instructors, it would ensure that teachers didn’t live in the professional dark, completely unaware of what teaching and learning looks like on their own hallways.

Renee wrote:

Hopefully, more comprehensive and mutually beneficial teacher evaluations will become the norm rather than the marvelous exception in more schools across the country.

Amen, Renee—teacher evaluation has got to change if we’re going to see our schools successfully meet the challenges of educating every child.

And for me, the key to changing teacher evaluations is to create the kinds of structures and systems that enable teachers to see one another work and to give one another feedback.

While it’s nice to think that principals are the instructional leaders of our buildings—and therefore the most qualified to judge teacher performance—I’m not sure that’s always true.

Any of this make sense?

Related categories: