Many school districts have moved to virtual or hybrid models of instruction and we recognize that using the typical Learning Walk routine, which asks district and school leaders to visit classrooms and provide targeted feedback, doesn’t quite fit in a virtual space. However, we also recognize the need to continue to support district leaders in helping teachers provide high-quality instruction to every student. We’ve modified our signature Learning Walk routine for virtual use to observe synchronous online instruction. Our modifications allow schools committed to improvement to continue to study how an instructional practice moves student learning forward, how that practice can be made more powerful, or if the practice needs to be abandoned. We rooted the Cloud Learning Walk routine in what we know works from using the original Learning Walk routine on the ground in schools. The routines guide teachers and school administrators to collect evidence about how students learn and teachers teach and consider how the teacher’s work impacts student learning as they observe multiple classrooms for short periods of time.

So, why engage in the Cloud Learning Walk routine?

Given the high novelty of virtual instruction, teachers and school leaders need a non-evaluative learning space centered in the realities of their virtual classrooms. When districts use the Cloud Learning Walk routine with integrity, it has the potential to build new or improve understandings of what effective instruction looks like in virtual spaces. The Cloud Learning Walk routine, more importantly, situates the process in a culture of continuous professional learning and improvement.

Based on what we have learned so far, here are five reasons and some tips for engaging in the Cloud Learning Walk routine.

1. THE ROUTINE WORKS ACROSS THREE DIFFERENT OBSERVATIONAL CONDITIONS.

Given what districts are facing today, we tried the Cloud Learning Walk routine under different instructional modalities. We explored having observers use the Learning Walk routine to view

  • virtual classes in live-time;
  • short video segments of the lessons that were uploaded by the teachers, and
  • live lessons in a brick-and-mortar school virtually.

In each case, the routine and goals are consistent.

Tips for Observing In and From Virtual Spaces

  • Know the platform being used for instruction: Each school in the district could be using a different platform for instruction (e.g. Google Classroom, Zoom, etc.). This might mean that district administrators (as well as the fellows from IFL) have to spend some time getting oriented to the platform. Spending time getting to know the platform will ensure that each walker is able to participate fully in the walk and prevent unnecessary disruptions or delays.
  • Ask about and prepare for the method of observing: Different levels of planning and preparation are needed for observation of live instruction than that of pre-recorded instruction. These methods of observation also offer different opportunities for reflection.
If observing the lesson in live-time: If observing a previously recorded lesson:
  • Each walker has to have the appropriate permissions to enter a virtual classroom. Are there any restrictions that might prevent walkers from entering the virtual space? Anticipating and addressing these restrictions ahead of time, allows walkers to engage fully in the observation.
  • Timekeeping is vital to ensure that multiple classrooms are visited, so identify someone responsible for keeping walkers moving to the next classroom every 10-15 minutes.
  • Walkers should enter virtual lessons with microphones and cameras off to limit the disruption to the lesson. Teachers and students should not be distracted by unexpected sounds and unfamiliar faces. 
  • Teachers need to record a 10-15 minute segment of the instruction on which they would like feedback.
  • Samples of student work from the lesson can be shared along with the video, which is a benefit to observing after the lesson was taught.
  • Walkers can watch and rewatch the segments, which provides a wealth of opportunities for cycles of reflection; however, walkers miss out on observing the student to student conversation the occurs in the chat or in small groups.
  • Record observations of the lesson immediately: Each walker fills out the observation form, including noticings and wonderings that relate to the focus provided by the teachers, immediately after the classroom visit. Walkers make observations that are not evaluative or for auditing, and so the noticings and wondering should be rooted in the teacher’s focus and evidence from the classroom and be void of praise or correction.

2. THE ROUTINE CENTERS EQUITABLE INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICE IN A NEW WAY.

Though equitable instruction has always been an aspect of the Learning Walk routine, the move to online instruction made salient the need to sharpen focus on equitable practice. This move also created opportunities to amplify the lens of equitable instruction in the Cloud Learning Walk routine.  One important revision to the routine calls specifically for walkers who specialize in services for designated student populations, such as emergent multilingual students or special education students, to be active participants in the walk. During the walk, those specialists observe through their unique lens of understanding. The intent is to help teachers and school leaders highlight how instruction invites every student into the content and learning at a high level.

Dr. Andrea Fontañez, Director of Bilingual and ESL programming at New Brunswick Public Schools (NBPS), where Cloud Learning Walk routine was tested, says, “The online Learning Walk was a very enlightening experience as we were able to learn what to look for during an online lesson. We were able to look for evidence of effective e-learning practices and to identify needs for professional development. The online Learning Walk confirmed that online lessons can still have the same high-level tasks and Accountable Talk® components for English Language learners as in-person lessons.”

Tip Related to Recognizing Equitable Instruction

Include walkers who have diverse perspectives in addition to those who support specialized services. The more diverse the perspective of the walkers, the more likely it is to find evidence of and frame wonderings around what constitutes equitable (or more equitable) instructional practice.

“…The online Learning Walk confirmed that online lessons can still have the same high-level tasks and Accountable Talk components for English Language learners as in-person lessons.”

~ Dr. Andrea Fontañez, Director of Bilingual and ESL programming at NBPS

3. THE ROUTINE FOCUSES ON A TEACHER’S INQUIRY ABOUT THEIR OWN PRACTICE.

An administrator from the building where the Cloud Learning Walk routine will be used meets with the teacher(s) who will be visited. During this meeting, the teachers get to set the focus of the walk as related to professional development that has been received. The administrator and teachers then work together to craft an inquiry around the focus. The inquiry sets the lens for the evidence that will be collected during the walk. For example: In what ways am I

  • pressing students for evidence and elaborated responses during the Accountable Talk whole group discussion?
  • using the moves that will support students to deepen their understanding of the text or concept?
  • allowing multiple students to respond to the same question and build on each other’s responses before we agree on the most plausible response?
  • providing Emergent Multilingual students sufficient opportunities and scaffolds to explain how they solved their math problem?
Tip About What Needs to Come Before Using the Routine

There are critical elements that must be addressed within the school or district before using the Cloud Learning Walk routine.

  • Establish at least the beginnings of a robust learning community.
  • Ensure that the host school plus and those involved in using the Cloud Learning Walk routine are all versed in
    • effort-based learning and intelligence,
    • the Cloud Learning Walk routine and norms for collaborative study, and
    • the requirements of the platform used in schools to allow non-district participants into the virtual classrooms.
  • Ensure that teachers have engaged in professional development before the Cloud Learning Walk routine is implemented at a school and that classroom visits are related to that professional development.

4. THE ROUTINE SUPPORTS EFFECTIVE PRACTICE.

The research tells us that there is little to gain from classroom visits unless they are followed by coaching and professional development.[i] The goal of the Cloud Learning Walk routine is to provide feedback to the teacher that will move their practice forward. This means the feedback provided should come from a coaching stance, the feedback process should be interactive, and the teacher should participate in designing the next steps.

Tip for Providing Effective Feedback

Because the inquiries for and insights gained from using Cloud Learning Walk routine should align to professional development (PD) opportunities, it is important to identify evidence of the uptake of practice studied in PD and acknowledge the impact of teacher practice. In the IFL’s Content-Focused Coaching model, one of the coaching moves is “Mark Progress” which serves to draw attention to and reinforce the use of a move the teacher made that positively impacted student learning. If we want teachers to press forward in the implementation of effective practice, sharing noticings from the walk around what was done by the teacher and its impact on student learning helps to ensure the practice will be used again!

5. THE ROUTINE INCLUDES OPPORTUNITIES TO DETERMINE ASSETS, NEEDS, AND NEXT STEPS.

As district teams composed of teachers and district leaders look across the classrooms visited during Cloud LWs, they can mark trends about what is works (the assets) and areas for further attention (the needs), and decide on the professional support that can move practice forward. 

Tip for Making the Most Out of Next Steps

Next steps apply to everyone up and down the line of educator stakeholders, from teacher to superintendent. The IFL calls this two-way accountability up and down the nested learning community. Each person involved in using the Learning Walk routine needs to believe that the next steps apply to their own practice.

Aubrey Johnson, Superintendent of NBPS, has conducted many on-the-ground walks using our Learning Walk routine with IFL Fellows. Dr. Johnson and his team have built a learning community among the district’s administrators and teachers, and their conversation during Learning Walks are laser focused on student and teacher learning. The district and school leaders understand that the next steps apply to them. As a team, the leaders and teachers understand that the student’s work is a mirror of the teacher’s work, the teacher’s work is a mirror of the principal’s work and the principal’s work is a mirror of the superintendent’s work. Dr. Johnson has said that he and his team look forward to using the Cloud Learning Walk routine to provide them with the evidence they need to advance the practice of teachers and the learning of students.

We think that when the Cloud Learning Walk routine is implemented with integrity, it will be the transformative tool that the original Learning Walk routine has been to on-the-ground work in schools. We invite you to use this non-evaluative tool. For more on this new tool, email us at IFL@pitt.edu.

[i] Grissom, J. A., Loeb, S., & Master, B. (2013). Effective Instructional Time Use for School Leaders: Longitudinal Evidence from Observations of Principals. Educational Researcher, 42(8), 433-444.
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Tagged with: Continuous Improvement, Equitable Instruction, High-Leverage Teaching Practices, Instructional Leadership, Online Instruction, Partner Spotlight