Instructional Scouting- A New Practice for Learning Walks

This past week I got to do something I’ve been brainstorming for several months- learning walks with teachers, or what I’m calling “scouting.” This idea stemmed from a tweet Peter DeWitt shared last year about learning walks in which he said “the whole learning walk process should be done with teachers & not done to them. They should inspire curiosity & not criticism. Learning walks are about teachers, leaders & students engaging in dialogue & not about securing a dictatorship.” I have been doing learning walks with the deans I work with for several years and we have tried many strategies to both improve our reflective practice as well as provide authentic actionable feedback to teachers. For example, we have left sticky notes of positive things we’ve seen, we have followed up with emails/conversations, and we have engaged in more detailed feedback of various ways- revising what we provide with research based practices to include ideas about student centered coaching and Visible Learning elements of assessment capable learners. While each of these have progressed our practice of learning walks, I have still felt as if we have room to grow. Reading DeWitt’s words got me thinking that the addition of bringing teachers along with us to be partners in learning could enable us to be even more impactful.

As I began to brainstorm how to do this, I knew for it to take off, I needed to frame it in the right way. I started thinking about my husband who is a basketball coach and how he “scouts” teams for their plays and strategies. I’ve always loved the energy he comes home with about what he wants to take back to his own team. I decided I’d try rebranding learning walks to “scouting” and explain to teachers how excited I am for them to “scout” with me- together scouting out ideas and practices from each other that they wanted to take back to their own classroom.

I also realized starting with just one team of teachers would make it more manageable. The opportunity presented itself with one team when I shared this idea with the team-lead. She loved how it could unite the team further and build a shared understanding of content/pedagogical knowledge. She shared this idea with her team and put together a spreadsheet of the teachers’ schedules. I then planned to pick each teacher up at their classroom during their conference, walk together to another class on the team, observe for about 10 minutes, and then come back to debrief for 10 minutes. Us walking together seems minor, but it helped me to share a positive vibe about this experience with the teacher and I hope it also showed them that we were physically in this together. I felt that the entire process in which we would identify each other’s successes and collaboratively debrief them into actionable steps to improve student learning, modeled steps of peer observation with a strengths based mindset. Furthermore, this form of peer observation brought out what John Hattie finds to be one of the top influences on student learning, collective teacher efficacy, or “teachers working together knowing that by improving their teaching they can encourage better student learning.” (Cambridge Assessment International Education)

Click to view source: Visible Learning Metax

On the day of scouting, it worked out that the the team lead who I planned this with was off first period, so she and I started together and tested out the plan. During the observations, we took notes on things we loved and left a sticky note of positive feedback for the teacher. This is something I regularly do in walks, but involving teachers in process allowed us to collaboratively practice reflection and focused feedback. As we were debriefing together, I asked her “what did you enjoy seeing and what would you want to take back to your class?” I noticed the team lead was sharing both teacher observations and student observations. I think often times we focus on the teacher actions, so I loved that this helped guide us to discuss both the student and the teacher actions that impacted learning. Furthermore this question of what teachers would take back to their own class enabled me to use strengths based feedback of Student Centered Coaching in our conversation. At the end of the day, as a way to provide transparency and share celebrations, I sent everyone an email of all the great things we discussed in our debriefs and called this “our scouting report.”

As we continue these walks at the campus, I want to also align our discussion with department and campus goals, perhaps this will be included in our next round of scoutings. But, I know this was successful already on our first round because I saw both immediate shifts in practice and engaged in powerful deep reflections. For example, one teacher debriefed a vocabulary strategy they had talked about in a team meeting, but seeing it in action made it even more personal and clear. Another teacher saw a colleague use checkboxes to have students interact with their success criteria and commented about how often that teacher referred to the success criteria throughout the lesson. We then talked about how this was a great formative assessment and how it helped show students how get to the learning targets through the success criteria. When I walked by her classroom later in the day, I noticed she had changed her board of success criteria to reflect our conversation. And lastly, a teacher discussed how they liked that one teacher was helping students use notecards as a study technique. This conversation led to us a deeper reflection of metacognition and how we can help students not only in what they are learning, but how they are learning it.

There was such power in this day of what I felt like was a creative and personalized approach to professional development. And, according to Hattie, “a shared approach to professional development has been proven to improve teacher effectiveness” (Cambridge Assessment International Education, Hattie, Masters and Birch, 2015). During the process I was reminded of that quote, “sometimes the greatest PD is the teacher down the hall” and I truly felt that in a deeply collaborative way. I am excited that this practice of bringing teachers along and reflecting together took what we have been doing with Student Centered Coaching and Visible Learning and transformed it into an even more impactful practice. I look forward to continuing scouting with this team, growing our practice, and adding on more teams to this process.

*Additional note for clarity

  1. I work as a district specialist. I do not have my own classes, so I understand the difficulty of scheduling this. The campus dean had planned to go with us as well, but she got pulled into a mandatory meeting. We plan to include her in future walks.
  2. Since I don’t have classes of students, I was able to do this all day and go during each teacher’s various planning periods, but some options could be to break this up over a span of multiple days and just do lunch time “scouting.” Another option is use video as a tool to observe. I would suggest still collaboratively debriefing, but I think there are some great ways to use video for reflection in this way. Definitely reach out to me if you’d like to brainstorm ideas around making this happen at your campus!

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