Developing a Personal Classroom Walk-Through System
By: Jennifer Hawthorne Ph.D., Deputy Superintendent, Walton County School District
One of my hardest jobs as a principal was also my favorite – finding time to get into classrooms! Each and every day, I found myself wanting to get into classrooms, wanting to watch teachers teach and students learn, and wanting to be the instructional leader I was hired to be. BUT… each and every day, my good intentions would sometimes be eaten alive by problems, crises, and my desire to be viewed as flexible with an open-door policy. If I blinked, before I knew it, weeks could go by and I hadn’t stepped into one classroom, and when that happened, the guilt consumed me. I needed to slow down and develop an effective system.
With more and more experience, and I daresay wisdom, I finally developed a personal system that helped classroom walk-throughs become a reality. My system is simplistic and doable, and I will provide a specific explanation below if you are searching for a system as well. Please note, not only does a system help you accomplish tasks, more importantly it can help you, your teachers, and your students become better as well!
I started my system by developing a walk-through goal for the month. I knew I wanted to walk through every teacher’s classroom once, and for new teachers, I wanted to walk through twice. Knowing that goal, I then mathematically calculated how many walk-throughs would need to take place in one month’s time. For example, if I had 50 teachers, 10 of which were new, I added 50 and 10 and learned that I wanted to accomplish 60 walk-throughs in one month.
Once I knew my goal, I took my personal calendar and figured out how many days in the upcoming month were “good” days to do walk-throughs, or said differently, I pinpointed “bad” days where my good intentions probably wouldn’t happen. I defined “bad” days as those with many events or meetings occurring. For instance, I would eliminate principal meeting days when I was off campus, or PLC/MTSS days when my schedule was packed. I would take out half days when everything seemed rushed, or crazy days like Field Day or Thanksgiving Day lunch. Taking out the days I knew could be chaotic, left me with typical school days where my schedule was open and free. Out of 20 school days a month, I typically had 10 -15 “good”, open days.
Knowing the number of walk-throughs I needed to complete and knowing the number of “good” days available, I used simple division. For example, if I wanted to do 60 walk-throughs in a month and I had 12 “good” days, I divided 60 by 12 and that gave me my daily goal - 5 observations per day.
Finally, the part of the system that solidified the plan and made it actionable, was writing those 5 teachers’ names on each of those 12 days on my calendar. I would make sure to put the beginning teachers at the first of the month, the veterans in the middle, and then finish the month with the beginning teachers again. By placing names on my schedule, I had tasks to do on those “good” days - just like a meeting with a parent or a deadline that was due. I treated those names like a task, and when I was done, I checked them off, which for my personality, was extremely gratifying.
Now, one item to note, some of those “good” days would fall apart as well. I would get to school and a fight on the bus coupled with lunch duty falling apart would make me miss my 5 planned walk-throughs. On those days, I would take those 5 missed teachers and redistribute them over the next 5 days – giving myself 6 walk-throughs over 5 days in lieu of 10 walk-throughs on the next planned day.
With bite sized chunks and an actual plan, I slowly but surely tackled walk-throughs and put instructional leadership at the forefront of my job. My system is simplistic, but it changed my daily life as a principal. For once, I felt like I was getting to the hardest and most important part of my job, plus it was fun and the best parts of my day! If you don’t have a personal walk-through system, I challenge you to develop one that works best for you!