Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Purposeful Walk

At Morton Ranch Jr. High we are working purposefully to create accomplished masters in the art of teaching.

It is nearly impossible to become masterful at anything worthwhile  without feedback.  This is especially true for complex tasks that have a variety of dynamic variables.  Accomplished teaching is exactly this type of task.  To teach so that all students learn is daunting.  How do we provide feedback to promote reflective practice that maximizes the potential for teachers to become masters of their craft? I would argue that the feedback would have these characteristics:

1)      focused on a target skill or concept (specific in nature)
2)      occurs frequently
3)      is timely
4)      supports reflection and dialogue about instruction

In my experience as a teacher and an administrator, I have found that the instruments used for appraisal are woefully inadequate for this task.  They typically involve longer, less frequent visits that are inspectional in nature.  It is a struggle to get people to be receptive to feedback if they feel they are being judged.  Judgment of effectiveness is at the heart of these tools.  I am not trying to minimize the importance of these tools or the appraisal process, but they do not meet our needs for growing master teachers.

In the spring of 2014, my administrative team, instructional coaches and I began working on an instrument to conduct instructional rounds.  The instrument was designed to reflect the feedback characteristics described above.  The process we were working on has been called a number of different things:  instructional rounds, snapshot visits, mega monitoring, and power walks, just to name a few.  We landed on the term “learning walks” and began the process of collaborating about what should be included.

I believe the journey of creating, communicating, calibrating and executing this reflective tool has brought about an instructional focus that is a challenge for most campuses.  As I mentioned in my previous posts, we have an instructional model that we refer to as our Accomplished Teaching Model.  In an effort to provide feedback that would support our instructional expectations, we used the descriptors from the quality first time instruction area of the model as our primary focus.  Our instrument is in its third version.  Each evolutionary step has been a collaborative effort designed to give deeper alignment to the model. 

Once the instrument was created, it was time to communicate the purpose and process to staff.  As a principal, one of the key decisions that dictates success for any initiative is the manner that it is rolled out.  Because I wanted to have a more intimate, and interactive setting, I made the decision to devote an entire day to meeting with teams each period during their conference time.  I created a Learning Walk Orientation to discuss why we were moving to the use of learning walks.  I also made a point to clearly describe what they were, and were not.  I wanted to assure the staff that this was not an additional appraisal process. 

After I met with the staff, it was time to work on inter-observer reliability.  We shared with staff that we would be visiting in small groups in an effort to get on the same page with the use of the instrument. During this period, we did not provide feedback to the teachers.  We conducted the learning walk and then debriefed on what we saw afterward.  This process of walking together and having focused conversations about what we saw was powerful.  The instructional conversations were engaging and helped us to develop a common vision about what we were looking for based upon our instrument. I created the instrument as a Google form.  The Google platform is ideal because the information captured moves into a spreadsheet that is easy to sort.  The auto emailer feature was also perfect for providing immediate feedback to staff. 

With the lessons learned from the prior school year, we broadened the involvement in learning walks in 2014-2015 to include our Instructional Coaches and teachers. Our core content Instructional Coaches led groups of their teachers into classrooms.  After completing the learning walks, the coach would facilitate a collaborative conversation with the teachers involved in the walk.  The learning walk instrument was used to give focus to the conversation.  Ultimately, the coach would enter the feedback for the team so that the visited teacher could reflect upon it.  This is job-embedded professional learning at its finest. 

Beyond providing staff with specific feedback, the collected data helps to paint a picture of the instructional landscape.  With hundreds of points of data, gathered by a variety of observers, you can feel confident about what is happening in classrooms.  In February of 2015, I met with staff in small groups to share the group data.  Rather than show a series of graphs or tables, I shared the data as a narrative about a typical class at MRJH.  The staff picked out celebrations and areas to grow.

In addition to sharing what was happening in our school, I wanted to gather teacher voice about how we could make it better.  I facilitated a Chalk Talk Protocol to gather feedback at the end of each meeting.

Focus questions included:
  How would you prefer to receive feedback after learning walks?
  The learning walk process could be improved for me by…

This feedback was used to improve our third version of the MRJH Learning Walk instrument we are using for the 2015-2016 school year. 

I am extremely proud of the work my staff has put into this process.  We ended last school year with well over 1,000 learning walks conducted by administrators, instructional coaches and teachers.  I am proud of my staff for leaning into the discomfort of having many people in their rooms, holding up a mirror to their instructional practices.  I think it is a tragic irony that educators, who have great pride in giving quality feedback, would struggle so greatly to receive it.  It is imperative that we drop our defenses, and open ourselves to the collegial feedback that is necessary for us to become accomplished masters of our craft.  Our kids are depending on us. As the lead learner at my campus, I am savoring the journey that this purposeful walk is taking us on.