Principals in the Classroom
For 18 years, Albemarle County Schools in Virginia has been using the eWalk software to collect classroom walkthrough data. The eWalk team had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Clare Keiser, Assistant Superintendent for Organizational Development, to ask her what keeps them conducting “walks” and using eWalk.
A deliberate focus of the district is to have classroom walks as a part of the overall culture in each school by having administrators in the classrooms every day. The leader’s role in the classroom walkthrough process is critical for fostering a positive school culture and promoting teacher growth. The building administrators clearly communicated the importance of walks to their teachers to help them understand that as a school leader they are also a teammate and that the walks are not a “gotcha.” The walks help to gather data, provide support, build trust, collaborate, and communicate all with the goal of improving instruction and providing growth opportunities.
The Central Office staff worked with the school building leaders to unpack the eWalk tool and demonstrated how to utilize the reports to provide transparent data to their staff. During each principal meeting they would provide updated eWalk reports with more information regarding the data and then to create next steps. They wanted the leaders to be see the benefits of being in the classroom and having the data.
They did have some reluctant school leaders and felt that some would do the walks because of compliance One specific principal acknowledged the benefits of regular classroom visits. Towards the end of the year, Dr. Keiser received an email from a principal who noted that he was one who had really pushed back on conducting the walks. He said that as he sat in PLC meetings, he was able to participate in the conversations more than he ever had in the past because he had been in the classroom. He said he appreciated the push and that he now was a valuable part of each of the PLC teams.
Albemarle’s focus on getting school administrators into the classroom is so important that the superintendent set a clear goal for each leader to conduct a minimum of five walks per teacher during the first semester of the 2022–2023 school year. The leaders started off strong having this goal to achieve and nearly tripled the number of walks from the previous school year. However, overall they were only halfway to meeting their goal at the end of the semester. The superintendent made a pivot and the updated goal was for each leader to conduct 130 walks during the second semester. 130! That might seem like an unattainable goal until you break down the numbers by doing the math. Here is how it actually looks:
130 walks / 13 weeks = 10 walks per week
10 walks / 5 days = 2 walks per day
Now that seems attainable and no longer overwhelming!
Nearly all of the leaders met their goal and overall at the 29 school buildings there were 11,818 walks conducted!
Tips on Getting Into the Classroom
As a school building leader, two walks per day seems like a doable task, but with all the other job responsibilities it can often get pushed to the side. Here are some tips on how to accomplish this very important task every day.
- Block off time in your calendar every day. Choose different blocks so you see classrooms at the beginning, middle, and end of the day.
- If you have Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) within your school conduct your walkthroughs based on those. Choose one PLC and visit the teachers within the group all within a couple of days. You will see a single objective across the classrooms and the collaborative planning and implementation that was planned with the PLC.
- Write each teacher’s name on a popsicle stick and place them in a container. Each day pull a specific number of sticks and go to those teachers’ classrooms. After observing the teachers, put their sticks in a different container. Once you get through your first container, then start all over. This is a great way to be sure that you are getting into all your teacher’s classrooms.
- Plan to do team walkthroughs with the school leadership. This is especially helpful at the beginning of the school year to work on inter-rater reliability. As a team, observe the classroom for your set amount of time. Once complete, move away from the classroom and discuss what was seen in the classroom and why you marked on your form what you did. This is a great way to have conversations and gain understanding of the purpose of benefits of being in the classrooms.
- A little healthy competition works well. There may be a goal that comes from Central Office or perhaps you want to set a goal at your own school. Use the “Observer Report” in eWalk to track how many classroom visits have occurred.
Overall, the success of classroom walkthroughs in Albemarle County Schools can be attributed to the deliberate efforts to establish a positive culture of growth and continuous improvement. Through classroom visits and the use of eWalk, the district has created a system that supports teachers in their professional development and ultimately enhances student learning outcomes.