As a new principal, I began visiting classrooms so that I would know what was happening in my building. I also wanted to visit classrooms so that I could have intelligent conversations with parents, supervisors, and other stakeholders when they wanted to know what was happening in our building.
It started out fairly simple; back then all I really wanted to do was observe teachers and students. I believe building leaders should know what happens in classrooms. I also believe that the only way to truly know what happens in classrooms is to get out from behind the desk and go find out for yourself.
I began visiting classrooms early in 2007. I wanted to get out in the building to see for myself what teachers and students were doing during the day. I first began with a legal pad and a pen taking notes during my visits.
It started out fairly simple; back then all I really wanted to do was observe teachers and students.
As you can imagine, with no organized method for data collection my process was painfully inefficient and ineffective. I had no way of organizing data or remembering from day to day what I was observing. When I finally found time to look back at my notes I could not remember what was important and what was not. I often fumbled through piles of incomplete thoughts and unfinished sentences. I was struggling with the process.
A few months into the school year I was approached and asked if I would like to pilot a program where I could record my thoughts and take notes on a hand-held device. Obviously I jumped at the opportunity. I never imagined that opportunity would grow into the program that I use today to drive virtually every one of my school improvement initiatives.
I first used eWalk on a Palm device. It seems like the dark ages compared to what I use today. I remember using a stylus to poke and peck at the screen hoping that the next page would appear. Today I just use my finger and the keyboard on my tablet.
Uploading walkthroughs back then required a USB connection provided I could remember where I put my USB cable. It certainly was not nearly as simple as the wireless connection I use today. The advances in technology and in the eWalk program itself have made my walk-through process a game changer for my school and my students.
eWalk provided me with the ability to create personalized data collection templates. I could build elements that streamlined the data gathering process focusing on information that was important to our school. I could spend more time observing teachers and students and less time looking at what I was writing. I began to see and hear more of what was happening in class because I was not focused on taking notes.
I began to learn more about my students and my teachers.
As I reflect on that first year, I believe the greatest lesson I learned was that I truly had no idea how talented my teachers and students were. I also believe this is when I first began to ponder what my role in these classroom observations would be.
Since that first year, the eWalk program and my walkthrough process have evolved. As have I. Several templates have been created recording data on many different aspects of the classroom. Completed walkthroughs are now emailed back to teachers with comments that either encourage current teaching practice or support changes in the areas that may need some attention. There is even talk that the next generation of eWalk products may involve video reflection, free writing, individual eWalk accounts for teachers, and who knows what else.
I have learned from my exemplary teachers what good teaching and student learning look like and sound like.
The most beneficial aspect of eWalk for my school has been the ability to quickly provide real-time feedback to teachers. For several years I have been able to quickly email a teacher a completed walk-through outlining observed best practices and areas of potential growth. Now, with the potential upgrades to eWalk that Media-X is implementing through eWalk 2.0 I can foresee a much more teacher centered process.
I have matured in my role as observer. I have learned from my exemplary teachers what good teaching and student learning look like and sound like. I have used my experiences in effective classrooms to assist others in their professional growth. I am also growing in my ability to effectively support my teachers and my students.
In the beginning I simply wanted to find a way to get into classrooms and watch teachers teach and students learn. Six years later I am able to do that same thing and so much more. I can’t imagine what advancements will be made in the next six years. I am excited about the next six months.
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