Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Anxiety and the Classroom Walk-throughs

A few weeks ago, I was visited by several individuals from our district office. They were conducting “walk throughs”, an activity that is exactly as it sounds: administrators, board members, and superintendents walk through classrooms to observe what is happening within the classes of the school. They will sometimes ask students what they are learning about on that particular day, or they sometimes just slip into the classroom quietly, whisper to one another in a very conspicuous way, and then slip out again as quietly as they arrived. When you revisit those moments in your mind, you often ask yourself if they were even there – as if they were part of a mirage or a group of specters.

It can be a little intimidating to teachers, when superiors arrive with an entourage of people to showcase your classroom and you feel like you are under the microscope. Many times, there aren’t formal introductions because these individuals don’t want to interrupt your instruction, even though you feel like these people are getting to know you and your classroom somewhat intimately. More times than not, I might only recognize 1 or 2 people within the group of observers and I am left feeling like I was just involved in a one night stand. And you often wonder what they thought of you and your kids – were they impressed? What do I need improvement on? Were they completely appalled? Having a summary meeting with them all might be a beneficial venture because I am all for constructive criticism. Alas, there is no official (or unofficial, for that matter) wrap-up session because I can only imagine how overwhelmed these observers must feel after being chauffeured around campus into dozens of classrooms throughout a school day.

Most of the time, the administration will alert you to the district’s presence on campus, sometimes the day before or the morning of. They remind you to make sure specific actions are taken which not only makes you look good, but it also makes the school look good – and c’mon, don’t you want to look good to the people who make the executive decisions?

I think it is important for those “higher-ups” to visit schools and actually observe what is happening within the district. I hear people mutter all of the time, “What do they know?! We’re down here, in the trenches, working our butts off and they keep asking more and more of us!” Yeah, we might be where the action is (the trenches, so to speak – albeit air conditioned and technology equipped trenches), but you can’t tell me the administration and the personnel at the Landings don’t work their butts off too. I think visitation is important, but I also don’t believe that a walk-through can provide a clear picture to what a school is all about.

A 5 minute visit (at most in some cases) only provides a snap shot of a teacher, their philosophy, their methodology and the interactions between students. And they’re lucky to see just one of those! What if a group of administrators walked in to see me working one on one with a student who has Tourette’s – but they wouldn’t know this just simply by looking at her. Or what about the amount of time it takes to hand back graded papers?

What I am trying to convey is that yes, walk-throughs are essential but always not reliable or should we even venture to say VALID?

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