Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reflecting on my classroom visits

Last week I tweeted that I had completed 126 classroom visits during the month of September and quickly had several replies from other administrators (in public mentions and direct messages):
  • How long do you stay in a classroom?
  • What form/method are you using?
  • Do you always give teachers feedback?
  • How do you make time for that many walkthroughs?

Since my professional development plan is on the practice of conducting classroom
walkthroughs/providing teachers with feedback to improve student learning and I had this many questions coming my way I thought it would be the perfect topic for a blog post.

I know that many districts have an adopted/required method of walkthroughs that dictates what they are looking for, how long to stay in the room, and how they provide teacher feedback. I have read about several different methods, used a required method in my previous district, been to an all day training on one method and participated in a webinar to learn about Marzano's iObservation. Despite all of that, our district does not have an adopted requirement and I do not do always do the same thing.

I use the app Simple Goals to keep a running tally of how many classrooms I have visited (which is the total number I tw
eeted for September). This running tally includes when I visit a classroom for a walkthrough (which could be anywhere from 1 - 15 minutes), a full length observation, to observe a student or for me to teach a class. I do not count if I was just dropping something off for a teacher or getting a student to come to the office.

Since our school is now running with wifi, I recently created a walkthrough tool for myself using google forms. I made it very handy on my iPad by adding it right to the homescreen on my iPad so I don't have to waste any time finding it. I love being able to view the results in summary form so I can see the graphs and see how many times I've been in each classroom. I use this google form to gather data, NOT as a set of criteria I'm looking for or to give it back to teachers. Why? The best teachers are their own worst critics and if you give them a checklist that doesn't have everything checked off, they are going to be disappointed that you didn't see x, y, or z which happened 5 minutes after you left the classroom. I have also found that my best teachers are so reflective that they will come to me after I've been in their class and apologize about what I saw (even though I saw something great!) or tell me what they'd already reflected on from what I saw and how they're going to improve it. They do not need a checklist!!

While I want to give teachers feedback every time, it just doesn't happen. Ideally, I'd love to give verbal feedback, but that's even more unrealistic (although I do try when I can). Last summer I attended a conference with Regie Routman and she suggested to give verbal feedback to the teacher and students while you're in the room. I struggle with this, because I do not want to interrupt, however, I have started trying this and do enjoy it...but I only do this when there's a point in the instruction that I can do so and know that the teacher would be ok with it. At best, I provide an email that just states:

"When I visited your classroom, I noticed students were....(tell what I saw/heard them doing, try to state what was effective or something in regards to student engagement or mastery of the objective)....I wonder...."

Or something to that effect. It's different every time based on what I saw. If there is something I had a concern about, I go to the teacher, because emails can be taken the wrong way. My goal in providing feedback to teachers is always for them to reflect on student learning--whether it's as to what was effective for student learning or what was not effective for student learning.

The google form that I use provides me with data so I can keep track of whose room I've been in/how many times, what class period, what instructional groupings I saw, what level of student engagement I saw, and how I provided feedback (email, verbal or none).

For the first few weeks of using this method, here are some of the trends I saw and my reflection for each:

Since our school is implementing Daily 5 in every classroom, I have made my focus on getting into classrooms during their literacy block so I can see how it is going and offer feedback/encouragement/support as needed. I have also enjoyed sharing with all staff different things I'm seeing in each classroom to help them all learn from each other.

The instructional groupings I saw were almost split between whole group instruction and individual/independent work. This is because during the literacy blocks teachers were either giving mini-lessons or it was a daily5 session in which students were independently reading or writing.

I really wish I would have data from previous years on student engagement, because I truly believe from my observations over the years that students are more interested and engaged with the Daily 5 framework for reading/writing. They have a sense of urgency and know what they need to do to become great readers and writers. Most importantly, students have choice in what they are reading/writing and they love it...even our most reluctant/struggling readers/writers!

I am disappointed to see my results for feedback given to staff. We have had issues with our wifi, so I did not have the email function working on my iPad, which made it difficult to email feedback to teachers in a timely fashion. However, this should not be an excuse. If my goal is to provide teachers with feedback to encourage reflection on student learning, then I need to make better efforts to provide them with feedback.

The final question from a colleague on twitter: How do you make time for that many walkthoughs? The short answer is simply that I make time. The long answer would be another long post about how I've learned to manage my time, be more efficient with managing my emails/phone calls/paperwork/etc and about how my days are for people and nights are for paperwork (after my kids are in bed). I think getting into classrooms is the most important job of the principal. By being in teacher's classrooms I am able to share teachers' great ideas/strengths with the rest of the staff to benefit all students, not just the students in a great teachers' classroom. In addition, it helps me to know all of the students. If I receive a parent phone call with a concern, I usually have background information before the parent even calls from being in classrooms (on a side note, the amount of concerned parent phone calls over the past few years have dropped significantly).

That said, I already know the next 2 months will not be as great as September was due to the amount of my time that will be consumed by state testing as the District Assessment Coordinator (it's much more than just the week of testing on teachers/students).

I welcome any feedback from other administrators/teachers on this topic and would love to hear your ideas.


  1. Great post with lots to think about for me. Any chance you could share the google doc you use? I'd love to track my walkthroughs.

  2. This is my feedback as a classroom teacher:

    WOW! :)


  3. The job as district assessment coordinator sounds like something a clerk should be doing, not a principal. Try to use available clerical talent to do as much as possible.
    I suspect some of your visits gave teachers the opportunity to ask you questions or bring up issues of concern that they would otherwise have to go find you to address. By doing a lot of visits are are doing what I call "Management by Wandering Around." My goal was to have every student and staff member feel like I could be walking around the next corner at any minute. Sounds like you are doing a good job.

  4. I am not an administrator, but I've taught for 32 years so I'm "seasoned." I am amazed that you are using the iPad to do walk throughs, tracking them, and wanted to know how best to give feedback to teachers. Principals can not truly know what is going on in the classroom unless they are physically present and that is difficult given your job. Teachers need to hear what they are doing well when giving feedback IN the classroom. I believe it is best to give any suggestions or something to think about via email. If you are communicating this process with your teachers, that you are a work in progress using the iPad and connecting it to email, then you're on the right track. @Douglas, it makes teachers very nervous when one of your goals is for them to "feel like I could be walking around the next corner at any minute." That sounds you are trying to "catch" someone doing something they shouldn't be doing - Maybe you can rethink your goal. Relationships are most important. In my past, I would walk on water for the principal/supervisor who had my interest at heart - and that is children and their learning. It sounds like you are moving in a positive direction - whether it's a minute or an entire lesson.
    Marcia Barham - Hong Kong International School/now Partner at

  5. Like you, I believe it's important to make time for walk throughs - I do better with this when I actually block out time on my calendar to do this. I have been doing walkthroughs for the past 8 years. I have found the feedback to be most effective when I meet face-to-face with teachers afterwards. Unfortunately, in recent years that hasn't always been possible due to my schedule. Last year and the first few weeks of this year, I have emailed my feedback. I don't know how much reflection really goes on this way, though. My district has had us fill out the same form that our state uses for our walk throughs in the past. Just a few weeks, ago I changed my feedback form to focus on our schoolwide goal. From informal talks with teachers, my new feedback form targeting our school goal will be more beneficial for teachers. I am using Google forms which I can easily access from my iPhone when in classrooms. I am excited about its possibilities and the effect it will have on teacher reflection and changes in instruction. - Eric @earbetter

  6. I've been using my Ipad and while I visit I take a photo (usually of the teacher interacting) and send it to her on the spot with some things I noticed (could be expectations, things I know she/he is working on/things that kids said, etc.) I also include some things for reflecting. I always tell them they don't need to email me back, but they always do. The email exchange is usually very rich.
    It's reminded me of when I was a classroom teacher and would put sticky notes with feedback on a piece of writing in a writer's notebook. I was shocked to find that most kids kept every single sticky note in the back of the book.
    The emails have been evidence to me how meaningful the feedback is to teachers. I find the district walkthrough forms are useless to teachers.
    I love the idea, and plan to use it, that I saw you shared on Twitter - talking with teachers and deciding on 'look for's' for their classroom walkthroughs.
    Thanks for the comprehensive blog post and for all that you share!
    Excited to have joined this network!

  7. Great post, thank you! I'm a new instructional coach this year, and I love your idea of using a Google form to keep track of classroom visits.

  8. Valuable post! really enjoyed the underlying concept!Teaching Feedback Form

  9. Thank you for sharing this, Jessica! I am hoping to use a similar format with Google Forms, but I plan to have a few more "look fors" that align with what we've been working on with school improvement, such as co-teaching models, learning goal stated/posted, etc.


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