Learning Together – Revisited

How might we plan to make the most of an opportunity to learn from another school’s or teacher’s classrooms?

Link to tweet: https://twitter.com/TechyMargaret/status/1061987931819331584

Editor’s note: ALP guest blogger Margaret Sisler is an Educational Specialist in Technology Integration in Fairfax County Public Schools (VA). The original publication of this post can be found on her collaborative EdutechnicallySpeaking blog. Follow her on twitter at @TechyMargaret.

I’ve written about learning walks and the power of seeing other educators teaching before. In fact, I’ve done it several times, but just this morning I was reminded of how powerful it’s been in our transformation of learning.

Read previous posts on this topic:

I wrote to a colleague who asked for advice about how to make the most of an opportunity to visit another school and spend the day with a group of teachers. This might be a little rambling, but I wanted to share how I responded here.

My experiences with classroom visits and learning walks

We have had great success with this model in the past. Below are some quick summaries of learning walk planning and implementation that were successful.

  • Chantilly Bio and Chem teachers visited Lee HS to observe classrooms in the morning. They went to see what students and teachers were doing, how technology shifted the work from teacher-at-the-front, and how students might have a bit more control. We then had lunch and spent the afternoon planning/explaining/exploring some of the ideas we saw in Lee classrooms. The follow-up occurred in their team meetings/CLTs to see how the new lesson they planned went and what they would continue to incorporate.
  • Justice World Language teachers visited Chantilly – with the lens of student-centered and project-based learning. What activities besides work book and text book activities give students opportunities for practicing written and spoken language in authentic ways? Teachers visited classrooms and talked with students and teachers about what they were doing, why they liked it, etc. They then spent the afternoon together planning. An added bonus was that a couple of CHS Spanish teachers joined the planning conversation during their planning to answer questions. The follow up back at school was in their CLTs. Another added bonus was the redesign of spaces in WL classrooms at Justice  – after noticing the impact of class set up at CHS, they began the shift to more flexible seating and groups rather than rows.
  • A leadership team from a non-FCPSOn school visited (APs, P, Tech Coach, Tech Support Specialist, Instructional Coach, etc) and spent the afternoon after the visit planning professional learning for their staff about teaching and learning and the need for a shift from teacher-centered learning. The PD they planned was for the next school planning day. As they visited classrooms, they talked to teachers about what they wish they knew before getting started and what kinds of PD has been most helpful.

In each case, the group met first to set expectations, connected again later (usually during lunch) to share jotted notes or snapped photos, and then met to debrief about what was learned in order to plan for upcoming opportunities.

So how can you get the most out of these school visits?

Creating some sort of graphic organizer with an idea of what to look for/notice is a great idea. Paper/pencil is just fine– using one page for each classroom we visit has worked. Other times, folks use a google sheet. (I think paper works well in this case! Remember that we want to choose the best tool for the job… which isn’t always tech.) The following examples were created collaboratively to help us meet a variety of goals.

  • ALP Learning Walk GO – Advanced Learning Partnerships created this document for tech coaches to using during visits to classrooms with a goal to notice learning and teaching. Learn more about Advanced Learning Partnerships here: https://alplearn.com
  • Chantilly Learning Walk Form – Visitors for FCPSOn visits used this to frame their thinking during classroom walks.
  • Chantilly Staff Learning Walk Google Form – Teachers completed four learning walks a year. Each year the focus tied to our school improvement goals. Year 1. Year 2. This was a large amount of data collection, which was helpful for us to use to measure progress for our school goals.

Three big ideas to get you started as you plan for learning walk experiences:

  1. What do we want to look for/notice? How are our ‘look-fors’ connected to our school goals and student learning?
  2. Who are the teachers going on this visit, and how do they work together?  (e.g. Do they all teach the same subject?  On the same team?  Team leaders?) Their relationship to each other will shape the planning they do together.
  3. What outcomes are we working toward in the afternoon?  Planning one unit?  Trying one new strategy in our classrooms? How will we apply what we have learned?

Remember that this is about student learning – NOT about tech. While tech is a tool students and teachers can use to amplify the learning, it is never the end goal.  Student learning is always the end goal.

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