Building a System for Effective and Purposeful Classroom Visits Part 2: Getting them Done!

Last week I wrote about the importance being intentional when conducting classroom visits and that in order to be intentional, the observer needs to be clear about the main purposes for being in classrooms:

  • To Create Connections
  • To Advance your School Community’s Shared Vision
  • To Collect Data

This week we’ll be diving into how to balance getting in classrooms for these reasons.

Creating Connections might be the most fun reason for doing classroom visits. I mentioned last week that quantity trumps quality with these, so you want them to be short. Get in, be fully present and supportive for about 5 minutes, get out. Period.

To be sure you do a ton of these, first start by setting a goal for how many to do each day or week and have a printed list of all your teachers. Start small and be realistic. My first year was insane. I had no assistant principal. A few students escalated daily into violent episodes requiring restraint, and I was the only one my teachers could call for help. I never knew what each hour would bring. For me, getting three of these classroom visits in a day was a win. In the years that followed after I was able to implement better behavior systems, hire a new school counselor who became a key leader in my MTSS team, and was given more support from the district, I was able to set my goal for these type of visits for 3 every hour. I would set my timer on my phone every hour and stop what I was doing to get into 3 classrooms. When I returned to my office, I would write the date beside the teacher’s name who I visited.

One of the best ideas I learned and implemented for doing visits to create connections was to send my teachers voice messages through their text messages. I would step out of their rooms, record a pleasant message–not a diatribe expounding on instructional practice–just an upbeat thank you or something nice I noticed. This way I didn’t have to worry about bringing anything with me into classrooms to leave a note, I didn’t have to interrupt, or try to navigate the room to get to their desk. I could just grab my phone and spend 15 minutes in three classrooms.

Advancing my Vision was the purpose that I made sure aligned with at least one round of visits a week. Basically, as I was doing visits to create connections I would look for some practice which exemplified one of our instructional initiatives. I had a pretty good idea where I could look and which teachers needed some kudos. Once I found an example of something each week, I was done with that purpose. I would take pictures, describe the awesome practice I saw, then share it with teachers.

One of the best tools I used for housing staff information and each week’s schedule, announcements, todos, etc. was Blogger. I would send out a few highlights each week in an email with the link to the blog. The latest blog post would feature a practice we were focusing on and include the pictures I took.

Collecting Data was the function of the more traditional walkthroughs I would do. First, I started with the goal of getting three walkthroughs in a week and then moved to 3 a day. I wanted to be sure I got into every teacher’s classroom at least once every 2 weeks for this type of classroom visit. I used the district walkthough instrument my first year, then asked to shorten and separate it into separate instruments for key areas of instructional practice. Like many out there, the tool (ewalk, then later Google Forms) automatically emailed the teacher. I kept the comments on the form positive or neutral (checks next to observed or not), but kept notes for evidence or things to coach on later.

One of the best resources I found for organizing how to plan and implement walkthroughs is Justin Baeder from the Principal Center. His template for classroom visit notecards helped me to be sure I saw every teacher within a two week time period and at different times of the day. The notecards are designed so that the principal will have one for each teacher. There is a table to fill in on one side with the teacher’s schedule, while the other side has sentence stems for instructional coaching. These were great because I could grab three cards a day, plan when I would go to the visit the teacher, date the visit on the card, and return the card to the bottom of the pile.

The bottom line is that to get into classrooms, you have to know your purpose, set a goal based on number of visits, make a plan, execute it and track it. It’s like many things in education. It’s simple, but not easy.

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