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Archive for the ‘Teacher Leadership’ Category

Truth From The Trenches

CC licensed image shared by flickr user Chez Pitch

CC licensed image shared by flickr user Chez Pitch

“Our hearts would sing if our administrators really made it safe to try new things and make mistakes,” a teacher I had never met and will will unlikely ever meet again shared with me at the recent NYSCATE (New York State Association for Computers and Technology in Education) conference. We were at a session on Creating a New Learning Culture in schools. The presenter, Dr. Billie McConnell, was informative, even inspirational, sharing the need for change, compellingly presenting statistics about how unprepared our children are for the world they are inheriting, and sharing a vision, replete with videos of some of the most creative, insightful student-centered, individualized learning experiences I have ever witnessed. He outlined a problem, a significant problem with schooling today, and showed us a profound solution.

And, then, came the question I wait for at conferences; the question I hope somebody will be brave enough to ask in a setting in which we do not know each other, do not need to work with one another for more than a few hours, and consequently, sometimes, when courageous or frustrated enough, can express what is truly on our minds. I must paraphrase, yet nontheless share the essence of the words spoken. “This is all well and good, but it takes a tremendous amount of work, way beyond expectations in our contracts,” a teacher boldly stated. “I am a teacher and in my early years in the classroom I would have aspired to teaching as you show. Yet, now I am also a father of two young children and the demands to teach the way they do in those videos are way too high. It takes much more time to prepare than we have. What do you expect for us to do?”

Dr. McConnell respectfully validated the question and moved on with his presentation. In fairness, Dr. McConnell was showing us through his presentation what a new learning culture can be. He was wise, experienced and insightful, relaying a profound vision and a substantial amount of  information to us in a very short time. I appreciated and respected the learning. And yet, I longed to engage in further conversation with this outspoken, articulate teacher and the other educators who had chosen to come to a session on Creating a New Learning Culture. I longed to delve into dialogue beyond making a case for what is needed in schools, beyond a vision for what is possible in schools, to an honest sharing of what creating that culture is like in the trenches, in real schools and in real classrooms, with the multitude of demands and challenges that exist.

I raised my hand and myself blurted out, with more urgency in my voice than I had intended, a request to pause and speak further about what this teacher had shared, to open the conversation with others in the room about how we can work with the limited resources of time and funding available, and yet make progress. How can we engage with teachers open enough to attend conferences and speak their minds, passionate about helping students, yet skeptical about what is possible in their own classrooms and schools? How can we support teachers honest about how very challenging and demanding changing a culture of learning is? Was Dr. McConnell showing in his videos a few outlier teachers, particularly wise and resourceful, or could the remarkable accomplishments of these superb educators be replicated in classrooms and schools throughout the country? Again, respectfully, Dr. McConnell validated my participation and moved on. I admire Dr. McConnell’s ability to remain focused in the face of participants, primarily me, attempting to shift the focus of his well thought out, well received, important presentation. Looking back, I appreciate that he remained focused and moved on. And yet, I continue to long for a venue in which to discuss the truth from the trenches of our classrooms and our schools; the demands and complexity that envisioning our efforts anew will entail.

As the presentation ended and I stood to leave, the woman sitting next to me turned to me and said, “I am a teacher and I can tell you what I would like from my administrators.” “Please do,” I replied, “that would be so helpful.”  “Our hearts would sing if our administrators really made it safe to try new things and make mistakes.” With that, as participants for the next session began to file into the room and we both needed to leave, I thanked her and bid her good-bye, realizing that in a conference boasting many experts, numerous of them nationally reknowned, this wise and honest teacher had just offered me the greatest gift and insight I had received during the entire three days of the conference. We can only risk growth in environments in which we feel safe and protected. This is true for our students and is true for our teachers as well.

Can we hold the bar high with a vision of learning that is compelling, meaningful, and relevant for our students? Can we support teachers facing a plethora of demands and seeking to make progress with limited resources, time as well as funding? Can we empower teachers to make progress while still attaining a healthy work-life balance, grounded and present for their students as well as their families and themselves? Can we enable teachers to feel safe and protected as we venture forward with approaches requiring risk?

 How can we help make risk-taking safe and progress manageable? How can we help our teachers’ hearts sing?

 

 

 

A World Made Of Stories

The World is Made of Stories Not Atoms

Muriel Rukeyser

cc licensed image shared by flickr user paperbackwriter

cc licensed image shared by flickr user paperbackwriter

It’s been more than three months since I’ve written in this blog; the longest stretch away since I began blogging. I suppose there are many reasons, prominently among them is the reality that professionally I had been standing between two stories.  At the end of June I left a position as Lower School Principal, which I had held for thirteen years. At the beginning of August, I began a position as Head of School at a school serving students from pre-school through eighth grade.

On one of the last days at my previous position, my Head of School there asked me what I would miss most. It was a thoughtful question, which I realized I couldn’t yet answer. “I don’t know yet,” I said honestly. “I suppose I’ll recognize what I miss once I’m gone.” Perhaps it’s at heart the uncertainty of transition, what I will miss and what I will inherit, that has left me so quiet.

When I began my position in my previous school my daughter, now entering her senior year of high school, was in a four year old pre-K program and my son, now beginning high school, had just begun a two year old program.  I dreamed of leading our school to offer the quality and community I, as a young mother and idealistic educator, dreamed of for my own children. Today my daughter aspires to become an elementary school teacher and my son aspires to become a high school history teacher. Regardless of where their professional and personal life paths take them, I now dream of leading the type of school in which I would be proud for my own children to teach; a school in which each teacher can make the maximum contribution, building on her or his strengths to empower students to maximize their own talents, interests, and abilities. It is a collaborative and embracing vision, constantly evolving through ongoing appreciative inquiry into the strengths of our school, our community, each of our professionals, and each of our students. It is not my story; but rather our story.

In my high school yearbook, the quote beneath my picture is from Muriel Rukeyeser and reads: The World is Made of Stories Not Atoms. I found the quote, in my pre-google high school days, in a writers’ journal filled with inspiring quotes and blank pages. At the time, I didn’t know who Muriel Rukeyeser was, and didn’t take the time to go to the public library and find out. I just loved the quote. Today with a google search, it takes seconds to learn about Muriel Rukeyser; an American poet and political activist, best known for her poems about equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism. She was a more appropriate choice for me as a high school senior than I imagined. Like her equality, feminism, social justice, and Judaism were central to my life. I appreciated poetry and dreamed of becoming a novelist.

I still love stories, yet I no longer write fiction. I love emerging stories, the stories that are written not primarily with words, but more significantly, with actions. I remember a friend of mine in middle school sharing that she thought of her life as a movie. The idea has remained with me all these years. With time, the image of life as a movie, or as a story, has become more nuanced and interesting for me. Today, as an educator, I strive to view school as multiple stories happening simultaneously, with each student the star of her or his own story and each teacher and me playing supporting roles in all of the stories. It’s a humbling exercise, and of course I can’t truly see students’ stories through their own eyes, nor focus with the emphasis I would like on my role in each and every story. But trying helps me be a better educator.

On Mindset, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg & Teacher Evaluation

File:MindsetBook.jpg

Politically independent, and typically loathe to share my eclectic political perspectives, I will say that there is much I admire about New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. On education policy though, I’m a skeptic, growing more disillusioned.  Principal of an independent school and humbly reticent about making remarks on public education, I comment on this week’s education news out of sadness; increasingly convinced that to improve our schools, educators can together design and present alternative approaches to evaluating our own effectiveness.

Mayor Bloomberg, as reported in an article in The Wall Street Journal,  declared this past Monday that he wants teachers’ evaluations open for all to see. Why, Mayor Bloomberg? His answer: doing so will “provide pressure to constantly upgrade.”

Pressure to upgrade? Really? Does pressure improve practice?

Stanford University Professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2006), would likely disagree. Dweck compellingly describes the differences between fixed and growth mindsets, shared in greater detail in this 2007 article in Stanford Magazine. Dweck explains in Mindset that those with a fixed mindset believe their qualities are carved in stone, thus experiencing great urgency to prove themselves. Alternatively, those with a growth mindset believe basic qualities can be cultivated through effort, inspiring improvement and accomplishment. Not only individuals, but organizations have mindsets, and a culture of judging puts everyone in a fixed mindset. Instead of learning and growing, everybody’s fear of being judged paralyzes, impeding creativity and innovation. Pressure to upgrade? Sounds like a recipe for developing a culture of fear and fixed mindset.

So what’s the alternative? Dweck looks to CEO’s for insight, finding that in stark distinction to fixed-minded CEO’s, growth-minded CEO’s, the type featured by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great (2001), are deeply concerned with mentoring and employee development programs, seeking ways of providing feedback to employees in ways that promote learning and future success.

So, Mayor Bloomberg, why should we evaluate? Not, I would argue, to provide pressure. Instead, I would suggest, to offer support, guidance, and even at times, inspiration. As a principal, I would never be able to share honest reflections with teachers were those conversations, designed to be private, made public. For those teachers in jeopardy of dismissal, I need to be empowered to protect the dignity of professionals who, despite not being a match for our school, have strengths and have made contributions. Nonrenewal of contract is a painful decision, not to be taken lightly, nor publicized. For the majority of teachers, I need to be able to guide honest reflection on strengths and weaknesses, identifying areas for professional growth in a trusting and supportive environment.

So, what should teacher evaluations look like?

There are many possible forms, and like most serious learning resources, evaluation tools need to remain constantly a work in progress. Faculty members at our school are creating our own rubrics to assess excellence based on our school’s Standards for Professional Practice. We plan to use these rubrics for teachers to self-assess and for the educational leadership team to assess as well, leading to conversation on how teachers see their strengths and weakness and how the members of the educational leadership team see teachers’ strengths and weakness. I humbly view the rubrics as an assessment of my own knowledge of faculty in our school, and approach evaluation with trepidation. I understand that learning is complex and multiple measures of student learning and growth matter. I cannot imagine basing 40% of a teacher evaluation on one standardized test as is possible in New York City’s new system, nor for that matter on one formal observation, or indeed on one of anything. Effectiveness, like learning, is complex and requires multiple measures to assess. We must be careful about what we believe we know and cautious about judging skilled professionals or indeed about judging anybody. I wonder constantly how I can avoid acting as “expert”, regardless of the number of measures I amass, and instead function as a coach and a mentor. I question deliberately how I can nurture a growth mindset and facilitate teacher learning – helping good teachers become very good, very good teachers become great, and great teachers become even greater.

Luckily for our students, we are not and will not be required to publish our completed rubrics for all to see; neither will our rubrics be filed away for future reference only if a problem or a possibility for promotion arises. Our evaluation or rather professional learning rubrics will be living guides for our teachers – shaping professional learning goals, supports to achieve our goals, and assessments to recognize progress made. Our evaluations will, at their best, inspire nuanced, impactful, meaningful growth for the benefit of our children, based not on pressure and fear, but rather on joy and dedication. And that, Mayor Bloomberg, is a far more effective path than providing constant pressure to improve our schools.

A Team of Coaches

 

cc licensed image shared by flickr user ell brown

The past six months co-moderating educoach on twitter with Kathy Perret and Jessica Johnson, interacting with a growing number of wise and creative instructional coaches, principals and teachers, has helped me move a quantum leap forward in my thinking about professional learning in my school. During this time I’ve also been blessed as an educational leader to work with my own instructional coach who has helped me to stretch my thinking and reflect on challenges and successes, nurturing my own professional learning.  Complementing my journey into the potential of instructional coaching I’ve learned along with mentors in our school, trained to coach new teachers by the New Jewish Teachers Project. I’ve begun to immerse myself in literature about instructional coaching, seeking ways to support faculty in my school. The impact for me has been powerful. 

My learning has led to action. I’ve been planning with educational leaders, both administrators and teachers, brainstorming ways of creating a team of instructional coaches for our school. Tomorrow in a blog post on my school blog I’ll be sharing our plans with the school community.

While much is in place, a tremendous amount of planning remains and I feel grateful for the thoughtful collaboration of my educoach colleagues. I share with you in the hopes that you can continue to help me think through ways of designing and supporting a team of instructional coaches.

By transforming existing positions, we are creating a team of seven individuals who will work as instructional coaches. Most have additional responsibilities in the school and over time, by developing the capacity of our teachers, we hope to support our instructional coaches to focus more of their time on enhancing professional learning in our school.

Our Coaching Positions:

Singapore Math Coach: As we implement aSingapore math curriculum in the school, we will benefit from an outside coach providing five days of intensive training for teachers as well as a workshop for parents, alongside a full-time in-house coach to provide ongoing professional learning and training for our teachers and support for our parents. We have had a math enrichment specialist and over time have begun to transform this position into an instructional coach. Our math coach is the “purest” of the instructional coaching roles we have been able to create, focusing almost exclusively on math instructional coaching for our faculty. An additional responsibility will be communicating and partnering with parents to help them become knowledgeable about our math curriculum.

Hebrew Instructional Coach: We are a K-12 dual curriculum Jewish day school and we teach Hebrew language from Kindergarten. For several years, we have had a K-12 Hebrew coordinator who functions as the Hebrew Department Chair in our Middle and High Schools.  This year, in ourLowerSchool where I serve as principal, we have shifted her role from department chair to instructional coach. She spends 1 ½ days per week in theLowerSchool and we hope to extend that to 2 full days weekly next year. During her time in theLowerSchool she functions exclusively as an instructional coach; supporting teachers to develop units and lessons, modeling lessons, observing and providing feedback, developing student assessments and supporting teachers to analyze assessment data, and reflecting with teachers on teaching and learning in their classrooms.

Science Instructional Coach: Our science instructional coach began her position this year, replacing a science enrichment specialist. In the past, students benefitted from supplemental science instruction in our lab most times supporting curriculum but at times stand alone science experiments. Our science instructional coach teaches students as a means of modeling science instruction for our teachers. Lessons occur in our lab, our classrooms and our outdoor labs – walking trails and our vegetable and butterfly gardens. The science instructional coach assists teachers develop science units and lessons and models many lessons. Over time, she will take on additional coaching responsibilities as our teachers gain confidence providing more of the direct science teaching to students.

Educational Technology Instructional Coach: Technology can no longer be relegated to a lab, but must be infused within classroom experiences. An educational technology coach will provide students with a comprehensive technology curriculum, but even more significantly, will support teachers to infuse daily learning experiences with technology in order to enhance and improve the quality of learning at our school. We have had a computer lab teacher and our educational technology coach will continue, for the foreseeable future, to provide direct instruction to students. However, substantial time will be devoted to coaching faculty. Even when providing direct service to students, the educational technology coach will simultaneously be modeling technology learning for our teachers.

Enrichment Instructional Coach: An enrichment coach whose role will be to support teachers to design enrichment experiences for students will join our department of student services. This educator will work directly with students who, based on assessment, demonstrate the need for enrichment or acceleration exceeding grade-level learning. The enrichment specialist will be able to teach students in their classrooms and, as needed, pull students out of class to provide an enriched curriculum. Our enrichment specialist will also serve as a coach to teachers, assisting us to design enrichment experiences that will challenge and nurture the talents and passions of all our students. We have created this position by a redesign of our student services department so that we can manage with one less learning strategist.

Library/Media Specialist-Research, Media and Literacy Instructional Coach: Leading the process of shifting our library into a twenty-first century library/media center is vital to our efforts to prepare our students for success in our rapidly changing media-rich world. We will be welcoming a library/media specialist to our faculty who will support our students to develop research and media literacy skills. Our library and media specialist will also coach our classroom teachers in more skillful integration of research, media, and literacy skills into educational experiences in the classroom.

Literacy and Learning Strategies Instructional Coach: The role of the chairperson of our student services department will shift to focus far more on instructional coaching in literacy and learning strategies. She will work in concert with a number of other faculty leaders highly skilled in literacy instruction to provide our teachers support. While we would very much like to hire a literacy instructional coach, we do not currently have funding for this position and will therefore create a team of faculty leaders, led by the chairperson of our student services department, who will spend much of her time on instructional coaching. 

Instructional Coaching Team:

Our instructional coaches will work together as a coaching team, supporting meaningful professional learning designed to meet the specific needs of our teachers.  We hope that the sum of that instructional coaching team will be greater than the parts and a creative energy and collaborative learning spirit among our coaches will both support their effectiveness and spread throughout our faculty. While in most cases our instructional coaches also have teaching responsibilities with students, we hope to transform that challenge into a benefit, as coaches will speak to colleagues from the trenches, experiencing daily the difficulties and rewards of teaching children during times of rapid change.

In these initial stages of our thinking on creating an instructional coaching team, I turn to colleagues for insight and ideas. How can we prepare our instructional coaches? What challenges can we anticipate and how might we proactively address them? What professional learning will be valuable for our coaches? How might the roles of principal and assistant principal shift in order to enhance the momentum produced by instructional coaching? What other questions should we be asking?

Thanks for your input!

Cross posted at connectededucoach.wordpress.com

Twitter Travel

In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.   Eric Hoffer, Quoted by Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli in Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education

cc licensed image shared by flicker user Rosaura Ochoa

 

This Friday, February 3rd, marked the one year anniversary of my signing up for twitter. An engaging keynote speech by educational technology leader Alan November at a conference I attended had piqued my curiosity.  And still, I tarried. A full year from that thought-provoking keynote address came and went.  During that year, I gently waded into the waters of social media, starting a blog for parents in my school and reading a few educational blog posts I received via Facebook.

I was struggling; charged with implementing an ambitious educational strategic plan, the magnitude of which none of us who had been involved in its design had initially understood. We were grappling with questions of the early twenty-first century, primarily how to prepare students in this rapidly changing world for a future we cannot imagine. The learning and leadership tasks, which were in and of themselves daunting, together presented significant new perspectives on schooling. I recognized the need to stretch my thinking beyond the training I had received in the doctoral program in education I completed in 1998 and beyond my decade plus worth of experience as a principal.  

Although decidedly skeptical about how much could be expressed in 140 characters, I embraced the possibilities of a medium utterly new to me, hoping to find insight and support in leading a process of change in my school. What I didn’t bargain for was the change and transformation that would occur within me. 

I embarked on a journey I lovingly refer to as “twitter travel”.

Twitter travel is not an expression I’d ever heard before. It’s my own terminology for a journey that has changed the way I learn. On a daily basis I travel the world from my computer, ipad or phone, conversing with inspiring educators around the globe. I not only travel geographically, but even humbly broach movement through time, gaining small glimpses into the future of schooling and learning with colleagues who have pushed the boundaries of education. I reflect, question, find resources, collaborate and wonder with educators who share my passions and interests in an informal, yet potent, professional learning network that is fluid, flexible, creative and profoundly meaningful.

So, how am I different as a result of my twitter travel?

Through my participation in organizing international #NoOfficeDay on which educational leaders close their offices and engage all day with students and teachers, I have come to understand the importance as an educational leader not only of “doing” but of “being”; of presence. I now spend dramatically more time not only observing, but actively participating in learning experiences throughout our school; two hours daily in classrooms along with a full day from arrival to dismissal with each of our grades K-5.

Co-moderating the weekly twitter chat #educoach on instructional coaching with Kathy Perret (@kathyperret) and Jessica Johnson (@PrincipalJ), has assisted me to redefine the role of educational leader, finding greater opportunities for teacher leaders and transforming my own job definition to emphasize coaching for professional growth more than evaluation.

Participating on podcasts with the dynamic Jeffrey Bradbury (@TeacherCast) and numerous talented TeacherCast guests has informed my thinking on the role of educational technology, supporting our school to consider how to shift learning with technology from a lab based experience to far greater integration into the classrooms where daily learning occurs.

Actively participating in the weekly #jedchat on Jewish education with wise moderators Rabbi Akevy Greenblatt (@akevy613), Dov Emerson (@dovemerson) and Rabbi Meir Wexler (@RabbiWex) has enabled me to share with Jewish educators serious about the connection between innovative contemporary learning grounded in our ancient, enduring tradition and values. Attending a #140edu conference last summer organized by the energetic super-connector Jeff Pulver (@jeffpulver) opened up imaginative thinking I previously hadn’t had the opportunity to consider. Skype conversations and Google + hangouts with some of the people in my professional learning network on whom I rely has enabled us to extend conversations beyond 140 characters or links to resources. Making a daily habit of reading numerous blog posts by educational thinkers inspires and helps me reflect. And finally, I have taken what for me is a significant step of engagement, beginning my own professional blog.

Perhaps the most substantive change in me is the courage I have gained to acknowledge unabashedly that as an educational leader I can’t offer all the answers, nor even pose all the questions. Instead, it is my task to nurture an environment of creative collaboration focused on student learning and growth. That is a far more complex task than I ever could have recognized at the beginning of my twitter travel.

And so, I end with my personal connection to the Eric Hoffer quote with which I began. These are times of change. It is our responsibility as educators to support our students to be learners who will inherit the earth. It is also our task to help them escape the very real danger of becoming the learned and finding themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

I am grateful to my twitter travel for helping me to become one of the learners. I’d love for you to share ways in which you are among the learners rather than the learned and look forward to our continued learning journey together. Happy traveling!

Walking the Learning Walk

What do six teachers, two members of our educational leadership team, four reflective prompts, two educational foci, one ten minute orientation, five minutes in each of seven classrooms, and one twenty minute debrief equal? A moving professional learning experience!

We set off on our school’s first teacher led learning walk armed with information from a brief orientation along with the following reflective, nonjudgmental statement and question prompts:

I wonder if . . .

What if . . .

I noticed . . .

How might . . .     

Entering classrooms as a group of professional learners, with eyes and ears and minds wide open, we sought insight on two carefully selected foci: student engagement and differentiated instruction. We strove to witness student engagement via levels of participation, attentiveness, observable indicators of a commitment to learning, and focus on task. We looked to recognize differentiated instruction via the range and levels of learning activities and supports available, groupings of students both with the teacher and with peers and independent learning experiences in which students participate.

Our learning walk included not only observations, but also interactions. As possible we spoke with students and teachers in the classrooms we visited, asking them to reflect on their experiences. To students we queried, “How do you know if you do good work in this class?” “If you need help, where can you go?” We refined our questions in response to the specific learning activities we witnessed, asking students to explain their learning and to share and discuss work in their portfolios and notebooks. To teachers we asked questions to help us place our snapshot view of learning into the bigger story of ongoing learning in the classroom.

While we focused our attention primarily on the students, the learning environment was also part of our reflection. We “walked the walls” of the classrooms and hallways to see how visuals speak to learning: what kinds of charts and other visual aides are present and what models of good work are available to students. We explored the physical arrangement of the classroom, wondering about how the organization of space facilitates learning. We examined classroom resources such as libraries, computers and interactive whiteboards, considering whether the arrangement of books facilitates good use by students and how computers and the class interactive whiteboard are used to promote learning. We compared resources from classroom to classroom, pondering whether adequate resources are equally accessible to all students.

After each visit, potent and meaningful, came the heart of the learning walk experience: the hallway huddle. We gathered outside the classroom and crafted thought-provoking, reflective questions and wonderings, aimed not to offer feedback to those visited, but to spark walkers’ thinking about our own teaching and our own students’ learning. Some examples of questions and wonderings included: I wonder how the teachers’ assessment of student learning will be used to guide further learning. I wonder if students in my own class could answer questions about the purpose of instruction. What are alternative ways in which the interactive whiteboard could have been utilized? What if a learning strategist had not been present as a push-in classroom resource during this particular lesson? I noticed lots of interaction between students and teachers and between students and peers. I noticed the teacher asking “what do you think?” questions. How might seating arrangements impact how students seek assistance from each other? How might different layouts of student activity sheets support learning?

As a principal, I listened, awe-struck by our teachers’ insights and their openness to reflection and learning. As if looking into a mirror, rather than observing a peers’ classroom, our wonderings and questions reflected not sage guidance we could offer others, but thoughtful musings on how we could improve our own practice. At first I was quiet, too quiet, taking in classroom experiences through the lens of our teachers, amazed by how much more I can absorb when buttressed by the perspectives of teachers than I can on my own solitary daily classroom walkthroughs.

Our courageous faculty leader, Brandi Minchillo (@MrsMinchillo) reminded me of my role as a participant, gently pointing out to both our Assistant Principal, Ilanit Cury-Hoory (@hoory1) and me that we are allowed to share. I smiled, grateful for the reminder that at times the silence of a leader is welcome and at other times it can be distancing. I jumped into the conversation as an equal, not as a supervisor, in the process gaining understanding into how I can view classrooms more reflectively along with more thoughtful ways I can phrase and communicate what I notice and wonder about on my walkthroughs.

The learning walk ended in my office with a debriefing at which we discussed take-aways and insights. We concurred that we were surprised by how much one can learn from even a five minute visit to a classroom. We remarked on how important it is to utilize prompts to formulate nonjudgmental questions and wonderings. We noted that the learning walk supported us to consider what we can change in our own practice in order to enhance learning. We recognized how enlightening it is to observe classes at each grade level, K-5.

The mandate to be nonjudgmental aside, we indulged ourselves a bit, allowing for celebration of learning occurring in our school. All noted how impressed we are by ways teachers we visited engage students and provide differentiated learning experiences. Perhaps most significant for us was our awareness that in every single classroom we visited, we saw evidence of students becoming independent learners, one of the primary school-wide goals this year associated with our reinvigorated approach to literacy learning. To our delight, we witnessed evidence of independent learning regardless of whether or not we were observing a literacy lesson. We observed teachers transferring pedagogic skill from one curricular area to learning across the disciplines.

We had prepared for the learning walk for months, explaining to teachers in both spoken and written format what would happen. Still, the reality of eight adults entering a classroom can be overwhelming and walkers expressed empathy for those observed, demonstrating sensitivity to the courage required to open the doors of one’s classroom to adult visitors. We agreed that although we were not giving feedback, teachers deserve a thank you e-mail from me.

There are seven more learning walks scheduled throughout the academic year and we plan for each teacher to have the opportunity to be a walker and for each class to be visited. As a start, we visited teachers we perceived would be among the most comfortable and selected as walkers those who had eagerly volunteered. With positive feedback from our learning walk pioneers, we hope our faculty will be reassured and enthusiastic. Our aim in implementing learning walks is to support our efforts at nurturing a self-reflective collaborative culture, breaking down the isolation teachers can experience. Learning walks are one important component of our efforts to transform our school into a learning community in which we focus relentlessly on improving student learning and in which we do so together.

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