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District Focus Walks Aim to Improve Student Achievement

A relentless drive to improve teaching and learning has led the Huntington School District to initiate “focus walks” in classrooms. Conducted by instructional leaders, they are informal and brief in duration, offering a quick snapshot of classroom activities or “look-fors.”

The new practice kicked-off September 18. As of last Friday, there had already been more than 125 walkthroughs in all eight district schools. The classroom visits last 10 minutes or less.

Administrators use either an iPad or another mobile device to compile information for each focus walk using a Google form that was developed collaboratively in the district. The information is immediately returned electronically to a Google Drive spreadsheet and a report is generated that can be shared with others for a variety of purposes.

“The purpose of the focus walks is to gather evidence of system-wide implementation of the Common Core learning standards, shifts in instructional practice and best practices related to implementation,” Assistant Superintendent Kenneth A. Card, Jr. said. “The information gathered is used to facilitate discussions at the district level and with building and district administrators around differentiated professional development activities to support teachers as they transition to the Common Core.”

The focus walks are being conducted by Dr. Card, Superintendent James W. Polansky, principals, assistant principals, directors and chairpersons. “We do not collect data about individual teachers,” Dr. Card said. “The process is strictly to ensure we are aware of classroom practices that promote student learning and to further support our students and teachers.”

A “look-for” is a specific learning outcome, student behavior or instructional strategy of which the observer is seeking evidence of while in the classroom. The walks are not intended to formally evaluate teachers. They are an opportunity to engage in reflective feedback and are aimed at improving student achievement.

The district’s plan is to maintain the focus walks as a permanent practice. “The focus walks can be adapted to accommodate any and all ‘look-fors,’” Mr. Polansky said. “The district-wide ‘look-fors’ have centered on Common Core elements, with administrators conducting the walks in buildings other than their own. There are other walks taking place within various buildings that are focused on such items as student engagement.”

Huntington administrators participated in three summer workshops to gain a better understanding of the Common Core learning standards shifts, using the sessions to develop focus questions and “look-fors” to answer those same questions. “We have conducted three rounds of focus walks so far and will continue throughout the year, refining our questions and “look-fors” to ensure we are providing our teachers the appropriate level of support,” Dr. Card said.

The benefits of the focus walks for the school district, teachers and students are many:

School benefits: Acquire additional data about teaching and learning; Determine the incorporation of new curriculum and instructional initiatives; Promote collegial and collaborative discussions.

Teacher benefits: Reflect on their own instructional and curricular practices; Engage in collegial and reflective conversations; Identify own professional development needs.

Student benefits: Sharing with observers what they are learning; Participation in school improvement; Teaching targeted to meet student needs.

“In sum, the process is adaptable to any learning environment or targeted instructional strategy,” said Mr. Polansky about the focus walks.

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