Staff go on Learning Walks

E, News Editor

You may have seen them, walking around the school and sitting in the back of your classrooms, observing. In January, Ross Matheny and a group of about ten other teachers participated in a program allowing them to learn from their peers that he calls “Learning Walks”.
“Staff will spend about 10-15 minutes minimum observing a classroom. The whole point is to find one thing you want to do differently in your own class. Afterwards, the group will discuss their thoughts on the observation, but you don’t mention the class you just observed. This way, it isn’t evaluative and the teacher doesn’t feel like they’re being judged,” Matheny said.
Like Matheny said, the program was not intended to evaluate, but rather to observe and to see how things could be implemented in their own classrooms. Brittany Fannon, who teaches AP Human Geography and World History, enjoys the walks because of what she can learn from her peers.
“The walks provide us with a new way of looking at a lesson or how to approach students. Even if we observe a math lesson and teach social studies, good teaching is good teaching. By observing others, we are able to better our own practice,” Fannon said.
A few years ago, the school district paid The BERC Group to come into schools and train staff. Staff would spend the day on Learning Walks at various schools in the district. Since the district stopped funding the program, it fell out of use, and staff didn’t choose to go on Learning Walks after the fact. Matheny loved it so much that he decided to revive it this year at Liberty.
Because the program was organized to be used across the country, it wasn’t customized to each school. In restarting it at Liberty, Matheny chose to change the format.
“Their protocol allows for discussion with kids if it feels natural and not disruptive, but I didn’t give a lot of instruction regarding that,” Matheny said. “They’re more rigid than we would like to be here.”
In some cases, like with Liberty’s English department, the learning walks weren’t much of a change to their current policy. Henry Level, head of Liberty’s English Department, has a program similar to it in place in the department.
“The English Department at Liberty has always had an ‘open-door’ policy. So if one of us is doing a cool lesson, we send a note out and invite people to come in. It was inspired by the first round of learning walks, and I’ve tried to encourage it within the department since then,” Level said.
Matheny has hopes about where the program could go in the future and plans to have another day of learning walks in second semester. Some of his ideas include having office staff involved in the walks, as well as Mrs. Abbey’s Teaching Academy students.
“Creating more opportunities for learning walks is the best way to get more staff and students involved,” Fannon said. “By observing others, we are able to better our own practice.”