It’s been interesting, what I’ve learned about the schools and the kids and the teachers that I’ve worked with since I’ve made walk-throughs a fundamental part of planning professional learning experiences and assessing the impact that the work might be having.

Might is an important word.

I began asking to walk through buildings and visit classrooms prior to beginning staff development a couple of years ago, when I realized that I needed more information before I could help anyone plan any kind of learning experience. Speaking with administrators is incredibly valuable, and often, I’m directed to department chairs or team leaders who have great insight to share, but simply capturing what is happening and what is present inside of the schools and classrooms that I’ve been invited to work in has helped me make more informed decisions about what I can do and how.

More informed are important words.

It takes more than a single observation of a teacher at work or a glance around the building to determine the best entry points, and it turns out that talk-throughs are just as critical as walk-throughs.

Case in point: one of the things that continues to sadden me is the way that data are often interpreted by those who have collected it and by those they share the information with. Over time, I’ve learned that when I’m using data well, I’m not focusing on deficits, and I’m not speaking to what the data suggests might be wrong. Particularly when the data only captures a limited snapshot of complex realities.

This is especially true when I’m doing walk-throughs. These experiences allow me to notice what is present and to what degree. This helps me understand what people value, what they’ve worked hard to establish, and what matters most. There are often meaningful correlations between what I see happening inside of schools and classrooms and how other data suggests kids are performing. When I share walk-through data, my interpretation is rarely one that is shared by others, though. That’s okay, but what isn’t, I think, is the way that others often turn the data into a story that is riddled with conflict that supports one over-arching theme: things are broken. Sometimes, people impose this perspective on others too—they’ll even try to suggest that their interpretation is my own. This is rarely the case. It’s hard to reassure people, though….particularly people who are so focused on identifying what might be wrong.

I don’t think it has to be this way, but at times, even when I use clear protocols to guide conversations, people struggle to focus on the good. People make assumptions about what data are, how to interpret them in ways that are helpful, and what will be done with the data (or done to them as a result of it). This remains sticky for me. It isn’t hard to understand why this is happening, given some of the craziness that’s unfolding lately. I’m wondering how we can continue to grow positive and productive data conversations…particularly with people who are feeling a little….victimized.

For my purposes, I like to talk with administrators, teachers, kids, and if I can, parents prior to beginning any sort of pd planning. This typically happens by way of interview or survey.  I also like to do walk-throughs to learn more about what is working inside of schools and classrooms and what people value. Here’s one example of a tool that I use. I repeat these  processes at different points during implementation too. It helps me reflect on the difference I’m making, where people are struggling, and how I can help better. Assessing at different points is important because  nearly all of the learning that I facilitate happens over the course of many days and several years inside of schools. Things change and evolve quickly. Or slowly.

I’d love to know how others come to know those they’ve been invited to work with. How are you capturing helpful data and facilitating conversations around it that empower people and lead to better planning? How to you build readiness for this? Is that important? I hope you will share your thoughts here or elsewhere so I can learn a bit from you….


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