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Opinion11th October 2017

Learning walks: how do we make sure we’re learning?

As part of his role as Vice Principal at Ark Boulton Academy in Birmingham, Daniel Richards is currently looking at the benefits and challenges associated with learning walks and how these can be used effectively to support whole school improvement. Here he gives his top tips for ensuring they are as effective as possible.

In recent years, the landscape has changed and, instead of performance management observations, learning walks are being used as a key method to measure teacher performance and determine individual goals and areas for development. Therefore it’s important to make sure we as leaders know exactly what we’re looking for from a learning walk to get the most out of them.

They are designed to be less intense than a full observation, aiming to reduce the time and resources needed to prepare. They are also intended to be carried out more frequently, to eliminate conclusions being drawn from a “one-off” bad day in amongst an academic year of hundreds of lessons.

However, as with any new approach, there are some risks associated with learning walks. Typically most walks rarely last for more than ten minutes, yet important and complex assertions are made. Due to their length, there is a danger that they might be regarded as a flippant method to assess a professional’s work. This is especially true if they are conducted by non-subject specialists who are unlikely to have the expertise to judge what excellent looks like in that particular subject, and whether this excellence reflects the requirements of a specification or syllabus.

With this in mind, I have a put together my nine top tips to make sure you get the most out of your learning walks, ensuring they benefit you and your staff:

  1. Always feedback what you saw – these are excellent coaching opportunities, and the least that someone might expect is some advice, guidance or praise after being ‘walked’.
  2. Have a clear agenda – let teachers know what it is that you are looking for. You cannot see everything in the time that it takes to learning walk a colleague, however, it is an excellent method for establishing how new initiatives have been successfully implemented.
  3. Keep the criteria short and sweet – you can’t do everything at once and expect your findings to be robust.
  4. Don’t confuse them with ‘book looks’ or work scrutinies – walking around a classroom and delving into the work of a class is impractical and disruptive for both the teacher and the students.
  5. Walk with the subject leader – they can provide advice and guidance as to what should be being taught and questions can be directed to them.
  6. Perform them frequently and consistently – a culture where learning walks are normalised will ensure that students and teachers don’t play-up for the ‘cameras’.
  7. Don’t address areas of concerns during the walk – we’d rather correct students in private, so this should also be the case for teachers.
  8. Leaders: know your specs – the more well-versed you are in the specifications, medium term plans and what student work should look like, the easier it is for you to make relevant assertions.
  9. Share excellence – if you see something great, pass it on!

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