Refining instructional practice is hard work. It requires a positive learning environment – a safe place to take risks. It also requires real-time models to mark, watch, and study how others operate in the classroom, coupled with opportunities to investigate our professional practices and move us closer to instruction that promotes a thriving and productive learning environment for students.

Integral to E.L. Achieve’s mission is focusing attention on how we teach so that students can improve. The Lesson Observation/Self-Reflection and Refining Our Practice tools dovetail with the practice of Learning Walks, setting the stage to identify effective practices in your classroom and school. The tools focus attention on what works and what needs improvement.

Learning Walks are opportunities to notice the effective strategies and productive practices that lead to student learning. As the term suggests, a Learning Walk is an opportunity to learn, not a time for evaluation or criticism.

A Learning Walk is deliberate. It brings a small group of people – administrators, coaches, or teachers – to a series of classrooms for a brief visit. The tour highlights effective instruction in the presence of those who may benefit from observation.

The deep learning comes after the observations – during discussions about how to incorporate best practices more consistently throughout classrooms to build a solid vision of instruction.

For inspiration, we’d like to offer some guidance to make a plan in your school or district. In that spirit, here are three components that lead to the successful and satisfying establishment of Learning Walks:

Take a thoughtful approach to continuous improvement

Schedule monthly professional development to help build effective implementation – strong classroom practice and appropriate just-in-time support – using the six Refining Our Practice Skills for Constructing Meaning or Systematic ELD.

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Plan each Learning Walk cycle
Logistics and timing are the keys to a successful approach to Learning Walks.

1. Establish a clear purpose

Dedicate professional development time to discuss the upcoming session and the focused target skill and competencies.

2. Set logistics for a smooth process

3. Debrief the learning 

The key to this process is robust, purposeful debriefing as immediately after the Learning Walk as possible.

4. Build from one Learning Walk cycle to the next 

In a few weeks, schedule the next professional development time. In small groups, teachers share a success with the skill they’ve been working on. Focus on a new target skill or specific competency that builds on the last session, and schedule and prepare for your next Learning Walk. To build new skills without letting go of past progress, you may weave in skills that have been a focus in the past.

Based on teacher needs, consider other supports: intentional peer observations of an entire lesson, lesson studies (co-planning/debriefing), or video observations.

Collaborate and celebrate

When teachers engage in Learning Walks on a regular basis, they reinforce and reflect a robust environment of professional learning and development. Naturally, students benefit from their teachers' ongoing growth. A secondary benefit is that teachers work together closely to build community around work that matters. On that note, here are a few additional tips from experienced teachers and administrators:

Written by: Susana Dutro, Co-Founder and CEO with contributions from Scott Townsend, Professional Learning Team

Please join the conversation by commenting on this blog, posting on our forum, or emailing us at info@elachieve.org.