Classroom walkthrough program yields gains

When the state of Florida gave the Manatee County School District (MCSD) a B grade based on the overall performance of its 51 schools, district head of academics Dr. Lynn Gillman wasn't satisfied. For while the overall grade was good, some schools within the district were consistently receiving grades of C on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

Dr. Gillman had the responsibility of making sure that struggling schools aimed for a B grade or better and that schools already achieving Bs were moving toward an A. Although the schools used informal classroom walkthroughs, Dr. Gillman found that they were not obtaining the data required to effectively make decisions on how to best deliver instruction. She decided that the district needed more systematic walkthroughs, as well as a way to store and analyze the collected information.

Dr. Gillman had heard about Teachscapefrom the Florida Department of Education, which awarded a statewide contract to Teachscape in 2005 to offer tools, resources, and training around improving instructional effectiveness. In 2007 she investigated Teachscape’s Classroom Walkthrough professional development program and concluded it was a great fit for the district. “It had the components that we believed in and the strategies we were looking for,” she said.

During the 2007 summer break, 23 administrators received training on walkthrough procedures. After their Teachscape orientation, these leaders spread the information to every MCSD supervisor or administrator. In addition, the district’s professional development department conducted month-long training on instructional best practices at each school. Each school has a required number of walkthroughs per week: 40 for middle and high schools and 20 for elementary schools.

“The more walks you have, the more reliable the data,” explained Dr. Gillman. In addition to individual walkthroughs, assistant principals and principals conduct cluster walkthroughs so that classroom practices and conditions can be observed from multiple viewpoints. Those observations are recorded on handheld PDAs and smartphones that synchronize easily with Teachscape’s online software.

As important as the walkthroughs are, it's what is done with the data collected that determines the success of the program. At MCSD, principals share their findings at faculty meetings and the staff collectively chooses an area of priority to focus on for the next 1–2 months. If educators identify a deficiency in instruction, they can review Teachscape’s online learning modules containing video clips which demonstrate exemplary practices in the relevant area. Faculty members are now learning how to integrate alternatives to whole-group instruction such as cooperative learning, one-on-one instruction, and shared-pair reading.

In 2008, MCSD’s schools experienced an overall increase in FCAT scores. Dr. Gillman cites two high schools that moved from a B grade to an A, a feat that she attributes in part to their high number of walkthroughs. She has also noted more evidence of best practices being implemented in classrooms on a daily basis. For example, Teachscape’s reports have shown that teachers throughout MCSD are now more regularly stating lesson objectives, applying higher-level questioning skills, and using graphic organizers, even in kindergarten.

“A veteran elementary principal told us that although he has been at his school for 27 years, he has never known more about what is going on in his classrooms: what instruction is taking place and what lessons they are on. Teachscape truly has made our principals into instructional leaders.” said Dr. Gilman.