Powerful instructional practices are occurring all around us. Sometimes those practices are in classrooms only a few feet away from us. So very close. There may be teachers just a few moments down the hallway who are using highly effective strategies that could quickly empower our own instruction and positively impact our students. We know that stepping into those classrooms, even for a short time, could significantly contribute to our own practice.
Yet, stepping into neighboring classrooms can feel like an opportunity that is somehow out of reach. How can visiting other classrooms during the school day actually happen? In 2016, I challenge you to do exactly that: Step into each other’s classrooms in the thick of instruction. In this post, I offer 4 challenges and several practical suggestions to turn that nearby opportunity into a powerful possibility.
Challenge #1: Visit another classroom during instruction.
Watch another educator and other students learning together. If you have never (or rarely) done this, I strongly recommend it. Step into another classroom in your own building to learn as much as possible. Even though you are in another classroom, you will find yourself seeing possibilities for your own room, discovering strategies that you can rapidly apply to your own practice. In addition, you will also develop context for important conversations with the teacher you visit, and those conversations may lead you on a very important journey. You will be meaningfully be connected to someone who knows how to support you in bringing those ideas to life in your classroom.
How can I do this?
I see how this could be helpful, but I am teaching all day, so how could I possibly visit another classroom? Here are a few tips that may turn this option into a reality:
- Keep the observation short. In only 10 – 15 minutes you may learn a great deal.
- Ask a coach or a principal to lead your classroom for 10 – 15 minutes while you observe another teacher. Keep in mind that your coach or principal was likely in a classroom not too many years ago, and may very well relish the opportunity to step in for instruction again. In fact, your principal or coach may want to plan an entire lesson, which would give you an opportunity to visit 3 or 4 classrooms, especially if the observations are brief. Additionally, your principal or coach will likely have an additional sense of satisfaction that two (or more) teachers are taking the initiative to work together. Just ask. The door may immediately become wide open for you to visit another classroom.
- Plan the visit carefully with the classroom teacher. Avoid surprise visits, which are distracting and may be timed poorly, meaning that you may miss the most valuable opportunities. Likely you will want to see instruction and what the students are doing rather than seeing something like a test. Some moments have more transferable value than others, so simply ask a colleague what they would like to share and when the best time would be for you to arrive.
Challenge #2: Invite other educators to visit your classroom during instruction.
This challenge intimidates many educators. The thought of being observed makes many of us uncomfortable. One particular point of discomfort lies in the question, “What will the observer think?” So, deflate the discomfort of that question by planning a few extra minutes to talk at the end of the observation. Find out what the other educator noticed. When you do, you may realize that much of what that observer noticed was not what you did. Instead, you may realize that they were seeing into their own practice, and gaining insight into possibilities in their own classroom. You will likely also detect a deep appreciation for the opportunity to visit your classroom.
How can I do this?
- Choose something that you are interested in sharing. It may be an engaging activity, a questioning strategy, or a challenging question that causes students to deeply interact with the content and with one another. It does not have to be an example of perfection. In fact, you will draw more value from the experience if you choose something that you are in the midst of learning more about.
- Invite an educator to come observe. While you may want to invite your principal or a coach to visit, you may find a particular satisfaction in knowing that the practice you are sharing is being rapidly replicated and adapted in another classroom.
Challenge #3: Team teach a lesson. Teach together.
Teach a lesson side-by-side with another educator. Two teachers, teaching together, in one classroom is powerful! Imagine, two teachers who are teaching back and forth. One teacher is leading instruction for a minute or two. What is the second teacher doing during that time? Learning! Reeling in strategies, questioning techniques, new methods, twists on existing strategies – and then, a few moments later, trying them out! And while the second teacher is trying out those strategies, what is the first teacher doing? Observing, learning, seeing how another teaching personality is using strategies in a new way.
How can I do this?
- Invite another teacher to come to your classroom to teach with you; or,
- Ask a teacher if you can come teach together in their classroom.
- In the absence of finding someone to teach your class while you step into another classroom, simply combine your classes. Two teachers. Two groups of students. One very full classroom. A powerful learning opportunity.
Challenge #4: Create the opportunity for teachers to visit classrooms.
Perhaps you are not a classroom teacher. You may be a coach, a principal, a vice-principal, a superintendent, a TOSA, or in another role that is focused on doing all you can to support fellow educators. In short, you don’t have your own classroom. However, what you do have is a tremendous opportunity to support teachers in meeting any of the 3 challenges listed above. You have the opportunity to provide space for teachers to visit one another’s classrooms during instruction.
How can I do this?
- Send out an invitation to teach a class so that the classroom teacher can visit other classrooms.
- Pay for one or more substitute teachers to cover some classes in the morning, allowing teachers to visit other classrooms. A few full day substitutes may effectively allow one group of teachers a full morning of visiting classrooms, followed by another group of teachers a full afternoon of visiting classrooms.
- Teach a class, and be willing to be observed. This is a powerful learning opportunity for you, and it models precisely the kind of risk that classroom teachers will take by welcoming one another into classrooms during instruction.
Take the risk.
Learning opportunities are all around us. They are opportunities to empower our own instruction in new and exciting ways, and they are fueled by the community of educators that we work with every day. Take the risk. Visit nearby classrooms, and make this a possibility for fellow educators. You will be surprised at what you learn, and the benefits will reach both you and your students.
- Which of the 4 challenges listed above most applies to you?
- What is one step you can take to turn that challenge into a reality?
I’ve now added “The Animated Learning Walks Series.” These animated videos will provide a clear picture of learning walks.
Scene 1: The First Step (1:50)
Scene 2: The Exchange (2:34)
Scene 3: The Return (1:27)
Scene 5: The Glimpse (1:39)