“I plan on using a partner-share strategy and now know better how to model the expectations to my students.”
– 2015 New to Campbell County Schools Learning Walk participant
By Jill McGlone and Tim Schneider
For the past two years, teachers new to the Campbell County schools have kicked off the school year by participating in a professional learning experience called the “New to Campbell County Schools Learning Walks.”
During the course of the day, new teachers are provided release time to visit classrooms across the district to observe instructional practices and classroom cultures. Between visits they are asked to reflect and discuss with other teachers and instructional coaches.
Student success is at the heart of all of the initiatives in Campbell County. In fact, the district motto is “Whatever it takes.” The Campbell County school district is committed to promoting, facilitating and investing in teacher growth. High-quality instruction and excellent teachers are vital to student success.
Learning walks have taken many shapes and forms over the years for a variety of purposes. The New to Campbell County Schools Learning Walks have a unique intent. They are designed to provide teachers new to Campbell County Schools the opportunity to see first-hand some of the great strategies and practices the district’s teachers implement. The time also allows participants to see the culture for learning – both at the student and practitioner level – that is fostered in the district. The learning walk is powerful professional learning that highlights how much the expertise of the existing faculty and teacher growth is valued.
“I enjoyed how the teacher was able to implement the use of formative assessment to check for understanding as well as hold students accountable for their learning.”
– 2015 CCS Walk participant
Thoughtful planning helps to maximize these learning walks. District learning leads and instructional coaches organize different days for each level – elementary, middle and high – for the new teachers to observe multiple teachers in varying grade levels, content areas and, almost always, across buildings. At the start of the day, observing teachers, with the facilitation of instructional coaches, spend the first 30 minutes selecting an area or two which they want to learn about deeply. This is one of the ways the experience is differentiated to meet their needs.
Using these self-selected areas for professional growth, the new teachers follow a provided schedule of classrooms/teachers to observe. The intentional schedule of observed teachers is another way this experience is designed to best meet the needs of the walkers. Factors considered when planning the schedules include content knowledge (both horizontally and vertically), a variety of instructional strategies, different teaching styles and a variety of leveled courses. Every participant has the opportunity to visit some classrooms that are mirrors – which offer new perspectives – and some that are windows, which contain elements that are familiar.
New teachers are accompanied by an instructional coach as they observe teachers throughout the day, looking for and discussing observed strategies to implement into their own classrooms that address their identified areas of focus. This provides an excellent way to individualize professional learning, as each teacher uses the time to focus on the areas for professional growth they have identified for themselves.
After spending most of the day in a variety of classrooms districtwide, teachers return and debrief with the other new teacher participants and instructional coaches. After reflection, each teacher selects their action plan – two or three strategies they observed that address their target areas of focus to take back to their own classroom for implementation. New teachers receive support from an instructional coach using the coaching cycle of planning, observing and reflecting to implement their individualized, professional learning around the noted strategies. Coaches also serve as a networking agent among the observed faculty and the new teachers.
The learning walks impact the entire district. They challenge experienced teachers to take risks and continue to push the capacities of their own professional practice and that benefits their students. Additionally, through the teachers who observe them, their practice has a magnified impact. These teacher leaders are “touching” students that may never set foot in their classroom.
Another positive effect is that these walks introduce teachers new to Campbell County to both the larger student culture and professional culture in a way they would not be able to experience otherwise. They observe how students respond to shared expectations and they feel how everyone is working together to grow and move students forward to success. Finally, the New to Campbell County Schools Learning Walks work because they connect newly hired teachers into a variety of supports to ensure their success.
When teachers and students learn and grow together, success happens.
“I think the learning walk was perfect. This is my seventh year of teaching and the first opportunity to observe fellow professionals in their own space, doing ‘their thing.’”
– 2015 CCS Walk participant
Tim Schneider is the teaching and learning lead for secondary education in the Campbell County school district and is a 2015-16 Kentucky Hope Street fellow. Jill McGlone, is a secondary instructional coach for the Campbell County schools.