As part of our work coaching principals in Lynn Public Schools, we’ve focused on building their capacity to serve as instructional leaders within their buildings. As we’ve seen principals become more confident about conducting observations and providing focused feedback, we’ve learned that one of the best ways that school leaders can change the culture in their buildings is to step back and learn alongside their teachers.
As part of their efforts to improve the instructional climate in Lynn schools, we’ve coached principals as they’ve put “learning walks” into place in their buildings. In these non-evaluative observations, teachers alongside school leadership visit each others’ classrooms to focus on a specific area of practice, such as small-group instruction or student discourse. “The current model allows teachers to collaborate to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening in the classrooms in the school as a whole,” one principal said.
All seven Lynn principals who responded to a survey we conducted said the learning walks had impacted their school’s culture. They “have created an instructional shift,” one said. Other school leaders said that the learning walks have helped align teaching to school goals and address areas of improvement. As principals shift the responsibility for conducting the walks from their leadership teams to teachers, one said the walks helped ready her school’s teachers for ongoing informal peer observations.
“The learning walks have sparked a new light on instruction and student engagement for the veteran teachers that have participated, and given the new teachers a model to guide them in their learning about pedagogy,” another principal wrote. In fact, at one school, the learning walks were helpful because they helped teachers realize that a key practice—emphasizing higher-order thinking skills—wasn’t happening in day-to-day instruction. “Teachers were made aware of this, but more importantly, they saw it not happening in earlier learning walks,” one principal wrote.
Why do learning walks work? In Lynn, principals said it was because they give teachers and principals an opportunity to observe and discuss instruction together, made teachers more vested in instructional improvements, and focused narrowly on specific areas of improvement. This helped create deeper discussions among teachers and school leaders and prompted them to “reflect on their own instruction and planning,” one principal said. “They stated this PD was the best they ever received,” another wrote of her teachers.
Learning walks also helped Lynn principals align their own instructional improvement efforts. “It has given us a focus that has assisted us on what areas of professional development to pursue and how to analyze data to drive instruction,” one principal said.
At SchoolWorks, we believe that we serve our clients best by collaborating and learning with them, and we’ve seen the principals we’ve been coaching in Lynn do precisely that with their teachers. It’s been inspiring to watch teachers and school leaders work together towards the common goal of improving instruction for the students they serve. “The Learning Walks have raised the level of professionalism in the building,” one principal said.