Are Learning Walks part of your school’s culture? What do you look for on a Learning Walk? How can Learning Walks improve every school’s climate?
These were some of the questions asked of our team (several years ago) when Martin Skelton came in and got us “Looking for Learning!” His advice allowed me to step back and notice the learning environment, as well as my routines and daily objectives. Fast-forward a few years and in comes another wise consultant who deepened my understanding of looking for learning through Learning Walks. It was clear that teachers could make small tweaks to what they already do to encourage visiting students, parents, administrators, and the community to see what their students were learning, not just what they were doing.
What Do You Look For on a Learning Walk?
On Learning Walks, you look for learning. What does learning look like? That’s the harder question. There are a few simple ways that I look for learning in our school’s hallways.
- I look for authentic student work displayed along the corridors.
- I look for the process of the work, not just the final product. Where did their learning begin and where are they now?
- I also look for the purpose of the learning (the objective or “I Can” statement).
- I also look for reflections of the learning, either written by each student or a shared class reflection.
Within the classroom, I look for learning in many different ways. It’s important to first get a feel for each individual classroom’s environment. If each classroom was expected to have the exact same set-up and the exact same routines, then teachers’ creativity and passion would be stifled- we don’t want that. However, if you were a new student and this was your first visit, what would you need to look for to know that you could learn in this room? There are a few simple ways that I look for learning in classrooms.
- I look for today’s schedule.
- I look for what we are learning today (and hopefully why and how).
- I look for instructions of routines (How do kids choose books from the library? What are the steps of the writing process? How do we solve problems? What to do if you’re absent?).
- I look for varied learning spaces. (Can some students stand or sit on the carpet? Does learning happen in different places in the classroom?).
Learning Walks can also be focused on a specific initiative. Emily DeLiddo of languageisliving.com, is a literacy consultant who narrowed my focus of Learning Walks to Literacy-Rich Environments. Emily drafted a Learning Walk that focused on 7 sub-topics: environment, halls, word walls, materials, charts, library, and environmental print. She recommended that we should share the Learning Walk document with teachers, revise it if needed, then chunk the sub-topics into doable actions. Since most of the teachers already had their classrooms set up for the workshop model, we could celebrate the positive documentation of ENVIRONMENTS.
This quarter, our elementary teachers are going to implement Learning Walks as part of their professional learning.
Teams can decide when they’re ready for other teams to visit their team for a Learning Walk. Hopefully, this will allow teachers to be confident in their work, while also giving praise to colleagues.
Each grade level has an Apple Tree (I know it’s corny; I can’t help it). They simply stick the apple (possibly the Word Walls apple) to their tree and the other grade levels know that they are ready to show off their Word Walls. Everyone has a different take on Word Walls and how to use them, so teachers can get lots of ideas from their colleagues that may help them learn a different way.
Teachers will have a chance to share what they’ve learned from visiting other classrooms during staff meetings. It’s a great chance to take a few minutes from the agenda to celebrate learning.
How Can Learning Walks Improve Every School’s Climate?
Learning Walks, when used as a learning tool and never as an evaluation, will focus the entire staff on learning and feedback. They allow teachers and students to be more comfortable and confident with what is happening in the classroom. When the school community can easily look for learning in the hallways and classrooms, the school becomes a museum of learning and an art gallery of understanding.