Professional Development for Principals: Peer Collaboration
Leadership Skills and Implementation

PD for Principals: Walkthrough Buddies

By Terry Wilhelm

In my last several posts on the topic of professional development for principals, I’ve discussed a useful strategy district office leaders can model for site-level administrators: how to convert staff or informational meetings into meaningful PD sessions using book talks and discussion protocols.

This only requires district leadership to be willing to disseminate business items and “administrivia” through other means like email or written memos. Using precious face-to-face time for a purpose that is far more valuable — professional development — enables district leaders to walk the talk of instructional leadership.

Sharing data and collaborating with peers

Much like teachers, principals benefit from collaborating with their peers, especially in schools that are moving toward becoming Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Taking this a step further, collecting and sharing data from classroom walkthroughs — something most districts require of principals — is a powerful way to have principals apply and hone their leadership practices. This can also provide added impetus to the current district initiative, such as the transition to Common Core or new standards.

Principals can use smartphone apps and other devices to collect walkthrough data such as the frequency with which teachers are using certain instructional strategies. They can then discuss their data with level-alike colleagues, then agree upon next steps — leadership steps — to improve the results for the next round.

Two principals can be better than one

Pairing principals up to do walkthroughs together at their respective sites further raises the bar. Their discussions, in the safety of paired interaction, can yield a wealth of new ideas, and fresh, helpful perspectives on persistent issues that may be present in certain classrooms, grade levels, or within course-alike teams at the secondary level.

District office leaders can provide a flexible structure for these paired walkthroughs with data collection tools as simple as tallying tools, or more complex and detailed such as quick note-taking guides or graphic organizers. This will also provide structure for the sharing-out by pairs of principals at the next principals’ meeting or PD session.

The walkthrough buddy process

District leaders might begin this process by having principals select their own partners. After a few monthly paired visits, the next step could be to strategically assign partners, using various criteria, such as similar or dissimilar schools, a “beat the odds”  school serving high-needs students very well with one that is struggling, or a school that has put a model program in place with a school that is just beginning. Although the highest payoff is likely to be through having level-alike pairs (elementary, middle, high school), there is also value in having feeder-pattern pairs or clusters.

Since site administrators may only have experience as teachers, APs, and principals at their current level, visiting the levels above and below can be extremely eye-opening, and contribute to improved vertical articulation. Cluster visits may require several months for each group to complete, but participants can derive great value from them, especially when district leaders provide flexible structures for the visits, such as the tools mentioned above.

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