Management by walking around.
Hewlett and Packard ran their company according to the management by objecting principle, which encompassed communicating overall objectives clearly and giving employees the flexibility to work toward those goals in ways that they determine ate best for their own areas of responsibility. While educational settings may not always allow for the flexibility found in the corporate culture of a technology company, the technique of management by walking around has certainly found its way into educational institutions.
An article in Education World, "Walk-Throughs Ate on the Move," notes that many principals see classroom walkthroughs as an extension of the strategy that was developed by Hewlett and Packard and gained further popularity in the book, In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. Authors Carol Downey, Betty Steffy, Fenwick English, Larry Frase and William Poston brought the technique into the classroom in their book, The Three-Minute Classroom Walk-Through: Changing School Supervisory Practice One Teacher at a Time.
What is often referred to as the Downey Walk-Through is a short, focused visit to a classroom. Its purpose is to allow the principal to observe firsthand the instruction that is occuring in the classroom, but it is not intended to be a part of the formal teacher evaluation process. It is generally considered a collaborative strategy that encourages teachers to reflect upon their curriculum and instruction in order to continuously improve their practice.
In the article, "Using the Classroom Walk-Through as an Instructional Leadership Strategy," published in its February 2007 newsletter, the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement (CCSRI)lists some of the essential elements of a walk-through. They include brevity (closer to the Downey method's three minutes rather than the typical 10 minutes), a common focus between principals and teachers, and dialogue between the principal and the teacher. The dialogue should include feedback and often takes the form of reflective questions.
The Principals' Partnership article, "Leadership by Walking Around: Walk-Throughs and Instructional Improvement," suggests sharing the feedback from walk-throughs at faculty meetings, staff development meetings and instructional council meetings, and advises making the walk-through a part of the daily and weekly calendar and incorporating it into your leadership team's routine. It even cites one Florida principal and his assistants who try to observe every class every day--in a 1,300-student high school. Even the article notes that this may seem like overkill, but according to the principal, their discipline referral rate has dropped to almost zero. One of his assistants adds that because so many things are taken care of in those short visits, meetings that used to take a half an hour now just take a minute.
School leaders who utilize the walkthrough technique look for best practices and ways to improve instruction, but they also get an overall perspective of the curricula. In career and technical education, that may provide insight into how the different curricula and subject matters might be aligned, and helps the administrator to ensure that students are being taught to state and industry standards. As one principal noted in the Education World story, walk-throughs help administrators understand what the teacher is doing, create a mutual ground for discussing curriculum and student achievement, and keep the administrator in touch with day-to-day classroom activities.
One additional benefit cited in a couple of the articles about walk-throughs: walking is good exercise, and exercise is great for relieving stress. Stress is certainly something that comes with the job of school administrator.
Not every educator agrees with the benefits of the three-minute walkthrough, however. Helen Gieske, a physics and chemistry teacher, presents the survey results she did at her school on teachersnetwork.org. Staff members and students told her they did not find the short visits by the curriculum supervisor to be very helpful. The supervisor's presence sometimes felt disruptive, and some teachers did not receive visits at all. At this school, there did seem to be at least one critical element missing from the three-minute walk-through model--feedback. Gieske mentions that, "The visits without feedback left teachers waiting for some response to what they were doing in their classrooms."
Gieske wisely recommends establishing better communication between supervisor and teachers, more effective dialogue in a non-threatening manner and equal attention to teachers in all subject areas--all of which would make the walk-through practice more closely aligned with the Downey method.
On the School Administrators' Chatboard, "an upcoming administrator" says she has asked various administrators about the three-minute walk-through and has been told it is one of the most useful tools they have to evaluate teachers. She says most teachers like it because it is informal, and they are able to receive feedback quickly about what improvements they should make. Also, when providing feedback, she mentions seeing others who are doing similar lessons, which "opens the door for more discussion between teachers." Putting a sign on her door explaining she is out doing walk-throughs is another way she creates the opportunity for discussion, as other teachers ask about what she saw.
As CCSRI notes, the walk-through can be an effective strategy to increase instructional leadership and to support improved teaching and learning in a school, and, "When principals and teachers can talk openly about what matters in the classroom, the possibilities for continuous improvement are increased significantly."
Further Exploration into Walk-Throughs
To read more about management by walking around and the three-minute walk-through technique, here are some Web sites to explore.
"Leadership by Walking Around: Walk-Throughs and Instructional Improvement" The Principals' Partnership
School Administrators Chatboard http://administrators.net/chatboard/ topic9464/9.23.08.13.51.25.html
"Using the Classroom Walk-Through as an Instructional Leadership Strategy" Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
"Walk-Throughs Are on the Move" Education World
"Walk-Through Supervision" Teachersnetwork.org
Susan Reese is a Techniques contributing writer. She con be contacted at email@example.com.