Thursday, February 22, 2018

Step Right In! Professional Growth in Learning Walks

by Josie Glatt, Communications Teacher

"Dumb as a rock." I've heard this simile tossed around - would never share in what context, specifically. It seemed to be a phrase widely understood and definitely NOT a compliment. Until recently, I thought I understood its meaning, but I changed my mind after spending about 10 minutes in an earth science classroom. These guys (rocks) are intelligent, and even purposeful! They have superhero powers as they can become other rocks! And this teacher somehow made this topic intriguing! I wasn’t expecting to learn more about rocks this day, but it was a nice addition to my intended learning. I was participating in a learning walk where I had the opportunity to watch what happens in other classrooms and learn from other teaching styles. Participating in this experience convinced me that educators are in a good place.

To say that the classroom has evolved is an understatement! There were those days when a teacher arrived at school to accomplish the assigned task of teaching, and once arrived, the classroom door closed and that said teacher hoped for the magic to begin. Whether or not it did, one might only know by the results on a quarterly printed paper with scores to measure student growth.  Really? That’s it? Once the day was over, the classroom door reopened and school was adjourned for the day. Possibly, that teacher had a friendly exchange with a fellow teacher in passing, but sharing the “secrets” of instruction wasn’t really on the table.  MISSED OPPORTUNITY!  There we were, walking away from some of our greatest teaching assets – each other! As time has passed, the evolution of the classroom has traded in the closed classroom doors for an investment in teacher vulnerability.  Along with this evolution has appeared the practice of learning walks.

Wachter Middle School is in their second year of faculty learning walks. This is a practice where teachers volunteer to participate with a small group of teachers on walks through other teachers’ classrooms while instruction and learning are taking place.  Of course, this is an organized procedure where teachers have learned about the process prior to taking part.  The learning walks are scheduled and the teachers who open their classroom doors definitely volunteer to do so.  It is never mandated.  Believe me, this takes vulnerability.  As teachers we all know that we can have the best lesson planned, but the make-up of our cliental can make that lesson pass or fail. So to open up our classrooms to allow multiple sets of eyes to watch us in action and work within the suspense that sometimes comes with teaching can be taking a huge risk, but only if we choose to see it that way. Some teachers volunteer to do both, where they participate in learning walks as well as open up their classroom doors for walks to take place. Actually, having this experience from both angles boosts the outcome.

The intent of learning walks is never evaluative, but focuses on the sole purpose of teacher learning. Basically, a learning walk happens like this: a group of teachers (3-4) enter a classroom, they take in the teaching and learning for about 10-15 minutes, and afterwards they spend about 5 minutes outside the classroom in reflective conversation.  The conversation mostly brings insights about their own teaching and classroom strategies.  Again, this is not evaluative – it’s a professional learning experience. Teachers find more tools to be creative and innovative in their own classrooms, plus they benefit from forming partnerships with fellow teachers.  Personally, I strongly believe that there is something also powerful about students observing teachers learning from each other; we model the importance of being life-long learners. It’s empowering in a sense.  If students see that teachers value learning from each other, they are apt to invest more into learning from us as well.

So, hats off to rocks! They are actually quite amazing!  And hats off to learning walks! This is another example of our investment in our school community and working towards being the best that we can be for our students.

If you have the opportunity to participate in a learning walk, good things await!  If you are invited to open your classroom door for others to participate, risk vulnerability! If the experience to do both lands itself in front of you, enjoy your professional growth! 

Twitter Tuesday Questions:

Q1 – To what extent have you been involved in Learning Walks?  Were you the observer, classroom host, or both?  If you have never been involved, why not?

Q2 – Learning Walks can be exceptional vehicles for motivating teachers to improve their practice.  How can teachers benefit from these experiences?

Q3 – How do Learning Walks help create a collaborative school culture?

Q4 – How can the reflective conversation impact professional learning?

Q5 – What element of learning walks do you find most challenging?

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