Learning Walks Lead to Unity and Shared Leadership

Eric Pederson, AAESP President

I always thought I was a good classroom teacher, but after being a principal with the opportunity to peer into some incredibly talented teachers’ classrooms, I realize how much more I could grow as a teacher. Like many other districts in the state, my district has put a focus on personalized learning. One component that arose from this professional development has been learning walks. Often in education, we bring in outside people for ways to improve our craft. Frequently, there is great tutelage available within our building. When teachers begin to learn from one another, I notice a greater desire to lead.

To be totally upfront and honest with you, pulling off effective learning walks has been a daunting task. For starters, getting subs and creating a schedule is a pain at best. Prior to every session, I have to re-convince my teachers that their time away from their classroom is going to be well spent because my teachers dislike being out of the classroom and I have to assure them their students will be okay without them for a few hours. Then there is the trust issue. Having three or four of your peers come into your room and watch you teach can make one feel vulnerable. That said, after every round of learning walks, my teachers are excited about their take-a-ways and nuggets they get to leave for the teacher, their peer.

Feedback from a peer is valuable and influential. I noticed it often leads to conversations that grow and spread throughout the school. Recently from our learning walks, we have had a lot of discussion about vertical articulation in core subjects. Yes, the standards align from grade level to grade level. However, seeing first-hand the current teachers’ expectations of your former students is enlightening. These conversations place teachers in leadership roles as we discuss how to become better aligned academically as a school.

Learning walks also create an opportunity for teachers to grow empathy for each other. Teachers get a good look into the daily interactions, both good and challenging, of each classroom. This knowledge leads to greater understanding of views points, actions and decisions of each other. I am fortunate to have a staff who genuinely cares for one another. Having time to dissect and discuss instruction through observation and reflection has generated greater unity as a staff.

While challenging to set up and execute, the investment in learning walks has been beneficial for my school. The next time you find yourself yearning for quality staff development, I encourage you to look within your own walls.