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Using the Classroom Walk-Through as an Instructional Leadership Strategy

— The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Providing effective instructional leadership is one challenge that every principal faces. In addition to managing schedules, hosting assemblies, and disciplining students, principals are expected to possess the knowledge and skill to make a positive impact on the teaching and learning process. Recent research shows that high-performing school districts actively seek to establish a clear expectation that the principal will be the instructional leader and the primary architect of instructional improvement at the school (Togneri & Anderson, 2003).

Instructional leadership can take many forms, from ensuring that high-quality teaching materials are readily available and scheduling professional development to conducting formal observations and modeling lessons. But one essential component of instructional leadership, say many experts, is the interaction of the principal with teachers about their classroom practice.

A strategy used by many principals to gather classroom information and frame that interaction is the classroom “learning walk” or “walk-through.” The walk-through can be defined as a brief, structured, nonevaluative classroom observation by the principal that is followed by a conversation between the principal and the teacher about what was observed. Used well, the walk-through can provide both principal and teacher with valuable information about the status of the school’s instructional program.

This month’s newsletter examines the walk-through strategy as a tool for providing instructional leadership.
 

Why Conduct a Walk-Through?

 

The walk-through can serve many purposes. First, it gets principals into classrooms. Unlike formal observations, which often last a full class period but occur only two or three times a year, the walk-through, when used consistently, ensures that the principal will see teachers teaching more often, albeit for a shorter length of time. Depending on the size of the school, the principal might visit every classroom as often as once a month, or even weekly. These structured visits also give principals a first-hand view of instructional issues and patterns while providing them with a meaningful way to demonstrate their interest in and knowledge of the teaching and learning process. And, says Principal Teresa Cockerham, Ed.D. (personal communication, January 12, 2007), of Providence Senior High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, “We are able to look at what is being taught in classrooms and then compare that with the district standards. It is a non-evaluative tool that focuses on alignment and calibration.” The primary purpose the walk-through serves, though, is to provide a structure for dialogue between principal and teacher about what goes on in the classroom, “an adult-to-adult model of discourse that involves professional conversation about practice” (Downey, Steffy, English, Frase, & Poston, 2004, p. ix).

Essential Elements of a Walk-Through

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