Learning Walks – The Positive Side

Lesson Visits

What is the school really like?

A simple process to collect evidence in a school. A very bad process to make judgements about individual teachers.

 

Learning walks is a system that was formalised by NCSL, who now have a new name, but ,like DfE, if we wait for long enough the name will roll around again.

I call the process is called Lesson Visits to distinguish it from learning walks.

 

The aim is to visit as many lessons, anywhere children and being taught, as possible during one or two periods. (Depends on how your school is organised; how long a period is; the geography; the number of different student groups)

  • We visit each and every space where students are learning.

 

  • This is NOT EVER a formal observation of teachers.

 

  • It is NOT EVER a teacher performance management process.

 

  • There are different version of lesson visits, with different purposes.

Version 1 is very powerful. We can get closer to the true culture of the school. What really goes on, rather than what can go on when we are pre-prepared for visits, as in formal lesson observations. It provides a complementary evidence base.

  • It does not focus on individuals but looks at the overall pattern, across the school.

A very formal version is called a learning walk. The process described here is much simpler, is very effective, and requires less planning. You can just get up and do it!

 

In my own school I would carry out this process up to three times per week; many more times during any development phase – for example, after the introduction of a particular type of learning outcome system.

  • It is best done in pairs, until you are confident in the methodology.

  • I take no written notes. I am obtaining an overall view, a pattern of school behaviours. If it matters, it will appear enough times for you to remember the feature. There is no need to write down what you see as you carry out the process. You might choose to write your summative views at the end, so that you have some notes to be able to feedback to others at a later date.

After a while, because the culture of the school is supportive and not judgmental, there will be no real need to inform staff that there will be lesson visits. Clearly this is a matter for you to decide. I take the view that SLT and middle leaders must have the right to visit lessons, unannounced for the purpose of a lesson visit. The use of the information gleaned would NEVER be used by me to make any kind of individual teacher performance management judgment. These processes work well in schools where there is high trust.

 

  • Feedback to all staff, and possibly students, the summative information gleaned by a lesson visit event. Avoid details that could be thought to be identifying particular teachers, whether that feedback is positive, neutral or negative.

 

  • The collecting of the data will have been supported by all in the school. They have a right to know what the data is.

 

The feedback is neutral. For example, “In many lessons students are clearly fully engaged in learning”. “In some lessons calling out was heard”. Avoid making an individual lesson judgment.

 

So, what do we do?

 

  • Before the bell, or whatever, goes for the lesson start we position ourselves in the corridor.

 

  • The first thing we notice is how students move through the corridors. Purposeful? Noisy? Pushing? Respectful? Playful? Directly or via the scenic route?

 

  • How are teachers moving to a new class? Who is managing corridor behaviour? How are they doing it? Is the school system for movement being followed by all? Is it an effective system?

 

  • Next, how do they line up for the lesson? According to the school procedure? Are there any issues to note here? Are teachers in the corridor?

 

  • As soon as the time says lessons should have started we enter the first classroom. How do students enter? How organised is the teacher? Glance at the board to check for learning outcomes/WALT-WILF or whatever system you use.

 

  • We ask the question “Has learning started yet?” and note the time from the formal timetabled time for the start of the lesson. How many minutes are we into the lesson? 

 

Repeat this question as we visit each lesson. We will get a figure for “When does learning start in this school?”. It is then important to put this figure to staff and ask, “Are we happy that learning begins X minutes after the bell for the start of lessons?”.

 

  • We visit any and every space where students are learning. Supply teacher, learning support, behavioural unit. All get visited, using the same process.

  • Do not intervene to correct a student, unless it is a health and safety issue. Remember, the purpose is to see the school as it is, not how it can be when we manage it! If you do note a child behaviour that needs commenting on it may be best to see the child after the lesson, or later in the day. I would also make sure the teacher knew that I was seeing the child.

 

The “How long does it take to start learning?” question is critical. Don’t prejudge by providing excuses. Don’t say, “Well, it takes time to start any lesson” OR “Well, they are late because of assembly”. Focus on the question, “Are we happy that it takes X minutes for learning to start?”.

 

  • We only stay in each classroom for a minute or two. We need to get around as many classrooms as possible this lesson. For the first few lessons we will ask similar questions about student and teacher preparedness for the start of the lesson.

 

  • We also ask the “Has learning started?” question.

 

  • For each classroom entered follow the same procedure. Enter without knocking. We have an absolute right to be here and observe matters that impact on the quality of learning. We are collecting generalisations, not individual teacher data. Glance at the learning outcomes and scan the classroom. Check the time. Do not expect the teacher or students to speak to you. That will distract from our purpose and will distract them from their learning. Look, mentally note and move on to the next classroom. 

  • The most important process going on in school is the classroom or gym, field etc lesson. We must tread very gently to avoid disturbing the learning.

 

After a few of these visits, teachers and students will become immune to this disruption.

 

  • If we get asked by a student why we are there the standard response is, “To look at learning”, as that is what we are doing.

 

Eventually we will be visiting classrooms where it is evident learning has started, not just the pre-learning preparations such as copying the date or earning outcomes, but actual engagement with the learning planned by the teacher. (I am not in favour of copying learning outcomes, in general. But if it is a feature that is repeated then it will need discussing with staff as a whole.)

 

  • Then we alter our focus to the quality of learning. In each classroom we ask ourselves, “How good is the learning here?”. What is going on that shows learning is happening? What distractions/disruptions (other than ourselves) are present?

 

  • As we enter, watch for any teacher or student movement. If the teacher and students continue unchanged they both are happy with this level of learning. Are you as happy as they are? A CRITICAL question to ask.

 

It is useful to have told staff that you do not require, or even want, them or students to acknowledge your presence during these lesson visits. Indeed, who has the right to disrupt learning in a classroom? So, by not acknowledging us, they are making the statement that learning matters more than anything else. Strong ethos making statement!

 

  • As we move on we will begin to see, we hope, plenary activities.

 

  • Then home learning (or homework) setting should be evident.

 

  • It is often more difficult to see the pattern of the ends of lessons as many only take a few minutes. Are you happy that securing learning takes only a few minutes? How well is learning secured?

 

  • We then need to be back in the corridor to note how students leave their classrooms. What do they do? What do teachers do? What does the corridor supervision system look like?

 

And so on…

 

It is very useful to give yourself time to then reflect on what you have seen. Try to avoid making judgments. Try to collate the evidence you have collected so that you can share the evidence with others. Acting on what you have seen needs to be done carefully and remember you have had one snapshot of the school.

 

How many snapshots will you need to do to get the real picture?

 

Remember, we are carrying out this process so that we can

 

  • collect evidence

  •  say, “This is how it is”

  • then ask, “Are we happy with this?”.

 

and then to decide what to do and how to do it to effect improvements.

 

Plan more lesson visits, starting at different places in the school; at different times of the day, week and term. Get as wide an evidence base as possible. Don’t prejudge; just look and learn.

Who carries out lesson visits?

 

  • Best with a colleague, but can be alone

 

  • Two SLT

 

  • One SLT plus one head of faculty, but does not have to be limited to their faculty

  • Two heads of year or heads of house

  • Two heads of faculty

  • Teachers without leadership roles

 

In truth, any two who have a valid reason and have the ability to see what is happening.

 

I like use this process when I am beginning to work with a new school, in my consultancy role for ManYana.  I like to do it alone first, and then train others in the process.

 

If you do see poor behaviour try not to correct it at the time but see the student after the lesson, just so you are clearly stating that you are not condoning the behaviour.

 

Because the evidence is so flimsy for a particular lesson I do not feedback on an individual. If asked I will give the teacher or head of faculty or head of year an overview after I have considered the evidence.

 

Enjoy seeing learning in your school.

 

I’d be please to hear what impact the lesson visits process has on your school.

 

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4 thoughts on “Learning Walks – The Positive Side

  1. I agree this is an effective way to get a ‘feel’ for things in your school but some people just can’t resist using this to judge a teacher and their teaching.

    How do you manage those for whom the ‘generalisations ‘ don’t apply? I.e telling staff that lessons are starting x minutes late, when a teacher starts their classes before the bell in some cases. That can be demotivating to hear that everyone else isn’t doing the same.

    1. Hi. First, one gets much more than a feel. The process can lead to some very detailed data about the patterns of behaviours across the school. Things that one sees repeatedly are showing typical behaviours across the school.

      Second, a critical feature is that you will be reporting these repeatedly seen observations. You are not implying that it is a feature of any individual. This is so far from the general blame that you refer to. It might help for me to describe the process I used after a lesson visit programme. Positive and negative and neutral and sometimes interesting outcomes were evident.

      I would initially describe, without further comment, what I had seen to my SLT. We would then have some thoughts about the best group to describe the observational evidence to. Usually it was the middle leaders’ group, called curriculum Forum, which comprised SLT, HoDs/HoFs and HoYs, and anyone else who wanted to observe. The discussion would lead to a consensus about what actions we would take.

      I would then give students the evidence in an assembly. They were a significant part of the changes that we needed to effect.

      Hope that makes it clearer.

      This was never a way to avoid challenging an individual’s performance. But it is not valid to challenge an individual on the basis of lesson visits. It was never done. I was not interested in collecting evidence on any individual through this process. The exams, and other data, told us which were the less effective teachers. Interacting with them was an entirely different process.

      1. Thanks for the detailed response. I think that the other effective systems that you clearly have in place means that Learning Visits are not the same as Learning Walks and as they have separate functions would not need to be conflated.

    2. If there is something that is particular to an individual that will be picked up by some other observational process. Perhaps from the head of department reviews. Folk would always know that what we were presenting, from the lesson visits, was generalised data. We would be saying that as a collaborative school 80% were following the starting lessons procedure or what ever. It is not trying to change any particular member of staff but is reporting back on the state of play in the school. It also gives us agendas for future insets etc.

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