Who are learning walks for?

This blog was inspired by my question I posed to educators on twitter recently;

 What is the effect of having SLT presence in your lessons?

I was referring specifically to learning walks.

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I asked this question as I had tweeted out a number of times over the last few months about me taking Heads of Years around for whole days of learning walks along with having an external Pupil Premium review which involved many SLT and Heads of Faculties (HOF) going on learning walks.

I was also keen to gauge how learning walks are being used across the country, as currently in my school we undertake learning walks without any prior notice to the staff and are completely ungraded/ranked.

However, we do have a learning walk proforma that can be filled in. It requires, other than logistical information, evidence around our two key priorities; Literacy and Pupil Premium attainment. Along with some information on good practice. The proforma doesn’t allow for a grading to be given and is aimed at being able to provide feedback to the colleague directly if need be.

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We aim to leave a post card in every lesson we visit, (great idea by @CheneyLearning!) Where we fill in two questions:

  • What I found interesting
  • Some thoughts

This way every teacher gets some minor, but important feedback. We do not expect these to be acted on, as they are merely suggestions from our subjective opinion.

Needless to say, if the learning walks throw up major concern, we will ask/meet with the teacher/support staff and inform their line manager.

 

So what do I do during a learning walk?

I walk in to the class. I do not knock usually, as I do not want to interrupt the flow of the lesson, although I realise this is inevitable with me walking into the classroom. It is important to note that in my school there is an open door culture. Staff do not stop in shock and amazement to see a member of SLT walk into their lesson. They smile, await for a fraction of the lesson to ascertain whether there is a message for them or a student. If not they carry on teaching.

I smile and acknowledge the staff in the room by saying hello if appropriate to the teacher AND support staff. I try to take a seat. Next to whoever. I tend to always ask if it is OK to sit down next to the student. I do not really like standing at the back of the room like an Ofsted inspector. But, sometimes this is necessary as there are not empty seats!

When OK to, I will get up and walk around, looking over students shoulders. I will ask them two or three questions.

What are you learning?

What extra work have you put in yourself?

Do you enjoy this lesson? Why? Why not?

When I ask these questions, the onus is very much on the student, I aim for the questions not to sound like I am checking up on the teacher. I respond in a way that requires the responsibility from these answers to lay firmly at the students feet.

I keep wandering around and go to the ‘noisy/loud/rude/challenging’ student. I comment on their current work. Whether good or bad, I will make a positive comment first. I then look in their books. I always ask, ‘is it OK for me to look through your book to see the work you have completed.’ Again, I ensure this book look is to see what work the student has done, not what work the teacher has taught.

However, it is also a great way of assessing the regularity and general practice of the teachers marking habits. I only flick through the books. I ensure I see at least 3 or 4 to get a rough overview of the class. I comment on presentation, on the quality of notes and surface level of understanding. I move on and around the classroom. Hoping not to interrupt.

Now, in my school if the learning walk is aimed at supporting the teacher then I will ask for their SPOT folder. (Click here to read more about SPOT folders.)

 

Why do we do them?

We can give you a variety of reasons why learning walks are carried out. But, I think it is important to note that whatever the reason for doing them, it must be clearly communicated with the staff.

We do not do them for Performance Management reasons. We do them for support. We aim to go into lessons to impose and reinforce student expectations on the students. I often get asked…

Sir, why are you here?

My response is always the same,

To make sure you are doing what you should be, so the teacher can teach you.

I aim to make it very clear, that I am in the lesson to check on them. Not my colleague(s). This is especially true in cover lessons, where we aim to visit each day.

We aim to carry out learning walks to pick up on key students who may think that us teachers do not communicate. Or, when they are in some classes, they can chose to behave in any which way they want.

Now to support with this, I often take a Head of Year, or the Head of Faculty into the learning walk with me. We ‘train’ them up in what to look out for, how to engage with the students during a lesson and go through the things they should be looking out for.

Whilst in a joint learning walk I stand back and interact with other students, whilst my partner talks to the offending student(s). I aim for this to not detract/affect the lesson, but more so, show the students that we are there to ensure they can all learn effectively, by allowing the teacher to what they need to. Teach.

In my school, very recently we have drawn up a list of classes, that need this learning walk presence. HOF have highlighted key rooms/classes/students where they feel our presence is needed. Therefore, via our ‘On Call’ rota, we aim to step in to these lessons, all day, everyday. Hoping that some students will see a member of the leadership team, or extended leadership team in potentially all their lessons. This is really powerful. Students are naturally quite paranoid and a number of them think we are there to look at them. Which in 99% of cases is good! They begin to wonder what they have done and want to impress us, show us their work and how much better they are doing. Also, students who have made a complaint of some sort, feel as though we have listened and acting on it. Which we are.

This is currently working really well. Challenging behaviour of key students is reducing with the extended presence. This in my opinion is the very on the job, live way of supporting behaviour. Now, there are many other ways, but that is for another blog.

For me, as the Director of Inclusion learning walks provide a ‘live’, in the ‘field’ experience too. I can pick up on key students with SEND and see how they are doing, I can engage and interact with the teachers/support staff and offer feedback and guidance regarding them instantly. It is a way of all of our inclusion registers being put to the test. I helps me get to know our Statemented/Education Health Care Plan students even better.

I also take round my Assistant SENCO, my Learning Support Manager and my literacy interventions coordinator. They are there to see that reports that are sent out after interventions or support are being followed up/through.

I ensure I stand at the back and sit down to see if I can see the board. I comment on the displays and how they can be used to reinforce learning. I also reference tasks and any additional support that can be provided with ease. I try to remind students who should be wearing their glasses, hearing transmitter or using their writing slope to do so. I do not remind the teachers in front of the students. I do this to again, remind the students that I am there checking on them.

 

Pros and Cons?

I have been at my school for just under three years. Originally, we had a rota. We all had to take a department each week, and pop in and out. This was a good idea, as we were forced away from our SLT link departments. This faded out, when we felt it should not be so directed and rigid. Then, we were left to wander around, whenever we wanted/could. However, problem with this is, during our free periods, the same lessons are on, so you could end up seeing the same lessons all the time. We have now created a culture where learning walks should be carried out by all middle leaders, where they are purely to support the teacher. In every sense of the word.

We do not have time frames on the visits, but I have never stayed for longer than 10 minutes, unless I get involved in the lesson. We also do not have a set amount that we have to carry out. However, having the learning walking pro forma on a Google Doc. allows for useful analysis to be presented. We look at whether there is a year group that has not been visited enough, or maybe a particular period or subject.

The AHT’s in charge of literacy and Pupil Premium also use the information to inform strategic planning of these two key areas.

We have also made all the information collected available to all Heads of Faculties to pick up trends and anomolies. We do not record what was written on the postcards, however, teachers may use these are their foci for their ungraded lesson observations.

Sometimes, feedback simply is not needed, we are popping in to say,

Hello, hope everything is OK.

So,

  1. How are learning walks used in your school?
  2. Do you find them helpful? Supportive?
  3. How would you carry out learning walks?

 

Leave a comment below with a reply to my questions!

 

 

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6 comments

  1. Hey. Great, balanced analysis about something completely open to interpretation 🙂 Controversially and for the sole purpose of needing to swiftly and rapidly shift a culture, since taking the helm for T&L I have removed official learning walks! Eek…I know right? The result has been pretty wow. Previously, staff froze, were non welcoming, felt they were being spied upon and worse, that they were being ‘done to’. Now whilst I’ve not yet quite nailed open door policy (getting there), it is completely different. Just last week I walked the site with the DFE and each member of staff we visited smiled, welcomed us and continued calmly to teach some pretty great lessons. I’m not saying that this should be done in all schools, far from it, however, it was a case of need in ours and although I was nervous to do it initially the results have contributed, without a doubt, to a much more trusting culture. Of course, I still walk the site and encourage Hods to do so too but there is no written feedback given, no form completed but rather a kind word or further thoughts expressed verbally and in a supportive manner. With thorough work sampling, student voice and data as well as appraisal obs/meetings I feel that there can be a robust monitoring system embedded in a transparent and supportive style. Here’s hoping anyway 🙂

    • I find learning walks really useful, you can find out so much about learners by sitting in a session for ten minutes. I’ve been doing them with heads of departments so we can identify strengths and areas for development which link to staff development. I’m providing training to ensure consistency with learning walks and to ensure staff are clear the principles of learning walks. I like your idea about the feedback cards. I think it really helps you to understand the quality of teaching and learning within an organisation with regular learning walks, learner forums, looking at learners work and we still conduct graded observations.

  2. In my school in my faculty, we have identified classes that are either red, Amber or green, (RAG). With this information we have looked to see which classes we can support in. This would mean having a conversation with the teacher about what support they need, it might for example be that the start of the lesson is the most difficult part and a colleague might want some support with this, helping to settle the class down. Quite often, just having another physical presence in the room is enough.
    We visit students also in our tutor groups in different lessons, which is great to see them in a different learning environment, and great to see them when they’re working hard, showing a good attitude to learning. It’s seen as a positive experience in my school, one that’s supportive of both teachers and students.

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