Since the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (North Carolina) Schools started three-minute walk-throughs, administrators have become more involved with curriculum, provided support for educators, and learned from students. Included: How a three-minute walk-through program works.
A three-minute classroom visit does not sound like a lot of time to assess curriculum, a teachers pacing, and students impressions of their lessons. But string those three-minute snapshots together over a whole year, some administrators maintain, and you get a bigger, clearer picture of what is going on in classrooms.
Called three-minute walkthroughs (see Walk-Throughs Are On the Move!), these informal, non-evaluative classroom visits by administrators can lead to improved instructional practices and curriculum alignment.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools of North Carolina started walk-throughs in its high schools last year, and now the practice has spread to all grade levels in the districts 161 schools.
I was a skeptic at first. I thought, You cant see anything in three minutes," said Tracey Harrill, former executive director of professional development, now principal of Jay M. Robinson Middle School, who trained administrators to do walk-throughs. But its not the time; its what we are looking for. Now I am very supportive."
Walk-throughs in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are designed to evaluate students, teaching, lessons, safety, and even classroom appearance.
Before starting walk-throughs, administrators have to ensure teachers know what is being assessed, Harrill noted. The idea is not to catch them not doing something."
Among the areas about which administrators are most concerned are the alignment of the curriculum with the states high-stakes tests and whether teachers are managing their time efficiently to cover all the necessary material.
As a principal, I had done walk-throughs, but they were not focused," Harrill told Education World. This teaches you what to look for -- the most important thing is curriculum alignment. I never looked for the curriculum alignment piece before. Now that I know what to do, its easier."
Among the questions principals have to reflect on is whether what the teacher is asking is the best evidence of meeting the standard for that subject, said Kathy Elling, principal of David Cox Road Elementary School.
There can be a mismatch between the standard and the strategies teachers are using," Elling told Education World. With high-stakes testing, it has become even more important that we focus on what students are supposed to know."
Ann Clark, the districts regional superintendent for high schools, said she proposed the idea of walk-throughs because she did not think that the three formal classroom observations that were scheduled provided enough information.
This just seemed like a chance to see patterns and trends," Clark said. This enables us to see if teachers are meeting the curriculum and pace. Its also very helpful as a way to provide assistance to teachers."
Clark noted she also enjoys walking the walls"-- taking a look at classroom walls, a practice which she said helped get teachers focused on what their classrooms look like.
Walk-throughs also are an opportunity to talk to students. I ask them, What are you learning today? It was eye-opening for me talking to kids about what they were learning."
And its a way to get administrators into classrooms regularly. High school administrators are required to do ten walk-throughs a week, Clark said. That means principals need to be familiar with the curriculum for different subjects.
That can be very challenging for high school principals but, if necessary, they can look up the curriculum to see what is required and compare that with what they saw, Harrill noted.
This led to more team ownership of the instructional program; it got administrators more involved," Clark continued. We have assistant principals for instruction at the high schools who did most of the [formal] observations. This [walk-throughs] got all the administrators focused on instruction. Administrators have a better sense of how on target teachers are in terms of curriculum and pacing. Its a good way to tighten up teaching."
Instructors, for example, have to make sure that students are learning not just to accumulate facts but to apply them. By 11th grade, students must be able to evaluate the causes of the American Civil War -- not just list the causes for the war, Harrill said. Students might be asked to explain which among the three causes of the Civil War was the main reason for the conflict. Its an opportunity to apply critical thinking skills, and a more advanced skill than listing facts," she noted. Its learning to take knowledge and apply it. If they are not teaching students to evaluate, they are not preparing them for the test."
The walk-throughs also provide feedback for teachers and can help determine, what, if any, assistance they could use.
I like to do it [walk-throughs] in rooms where a teacher is trying a particular strategy or where intervention might be needed," Elling said.
At Robinson Elementary, Harrill and other administrators found numerous areas where teachers needed training. Teachers were not very clear about the objectives of their lessons, about what students needed to learn for the day, Harrill noted. Research shows that when you give kids the objectives you want them to learn every day, they will meet those challenges.
We also saw a lot of teachers doing whole group instruction. We encouraged them to do more small group instruction and differentiated instruction."
High school teachers also are required to plan together, and walk-throughs showed which ones were not participating in group planning, said Clark.
And while it took a little while for teachers to acclimate to walk-throughs, now most seem to see the value in them.
I think the teachers liked it once they got accustomed to the frequency," Clark continued. They liked the feedback. They saw the value of group planning. Many of the middle school principals and assistant principals liked the training."
This helps with teacher planning," Harrill added. And it really helps principals know what to do next."