Informal walkthroughs as an instructional coaching tool
Blog, Tips for School & District Administrators

Principal as Instructional Coach: Informal Walkthroughs

By Terry Wilhelm

Principals who provide instructional coaching must see their teachers’ work in order to provide feedback. Because formal evaluations for permanent teachers may only take place every two or three years (hopefully more often for nontenured teachers), principals need a meaningful way to support the goal of continuously improving student outcomes.

Classroom walkthroughs

Informal classroom walkthroughs are a logical vehicle for administrators to observe teachers in the classroom. But how does a principal of a large school, especially at the secondary level, accomplish this, given the myriad demands on a principal’s time?

One high school principal used a keychain system. He and his two assistant principals divided the teaching staff into thirds. A laminated keyring charm was created for each teacher, including name and room assignment by period (since some teachers shared rooms or were roving).

These keyrings hung on hooks in the principal’s office. Every day, each administrator took a different keyring, and that was the day’s assignment for a three to five-minute walkthrough. This way, virtually every teacher on staff was visited daily by an administrator. In time, the walkthroughs became so routine that teachers became entirely comfortable with them.

Providing feedback from walkthrough data

What should be done with the walkthrough data? If the principal truly aspires to be an instructional coach, doing walkthroughs and not providing feedback would be a colossal waste of time.

A number of tools, including apps designed for classroom walkthroughs, can be used to collect data on a specific initiative during walkthroughs. These initiatives could be the use of reciprocal teaching roles by students in small cooperative groups, the application of Cornell Notes in AVID schools, or the use of a specific writing skill — the list is endless. Most tech tools include a report feature so that as each administrator enters his or her data, clear patterns emerge about the overall staff’s application of the target strategy.

Observations for individual teachers

While it is possible to provide individual teacher feedback on walkthroughs — I used to leave notes on an index card, folded in half like a little tent, in teachers’ mailboxes — this may not be feasible given administrators’ schedules.

Since the brevity of the visit only allows a snapshot, the most effective use of individual feedback could be to provide affirmations on specific observations. In most cases, too much has to be assumed to make meaningful suggestions, although including cognitive questions could get teachers thinking about their methods.

Over time, patterns emerge both individually and collectively. Midterm conferences between principals and individual teachers provide an ideal opportunity to share teachers’ individual data, inviting a collegial discussion of those patterns between the teacher and observer.

Group feedback via email

A very effective, more immediate use of walkthrough data is to provide group feedback. An email to the third-grade team or the social studies team might read:

“In more than two-thirds of our visits in the past week, we have seen the students engaged in tasks at Webb’s Depth of Knowledge levels three or four. We are very impressed! We will have a 15-minute refresher on DOK at Monday’s staff meeting during Common Core Update, along with an opportunity for open sharing. Thank you for your work individually and collegially on DOK!”

Finally, academic coaches can make equally effective use of walkthroughs for individual or group feedback. As a rule of thumb, their walkthroughs should be separate and completely independent of administrators’ visits.

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