Learning Walks (but of a different sort)

How often do you get out-and-about on your school campus? Aside from the obvious – arriving at school, moving between classrooms, going to the lunch hall, doing a duty, going to a meeting and leaving school, when else and why else would you/should you be out-and-about? Have you paused and considered what impact your presence and visibility has on the school community? I would argue this is an important reflection point for all educators, but particularly leaders.

Teaching is a very busy, constantly changing and challenging job. So why is being out and around on site of any real importance? Is there any research and evidence in some toolkit somewhere which points to the value-add? There are a multitude of reasons that can prevent us from being ‘out there’. Rarely, if ever, do teachers kick-back and enjoy a quiet few moments, they fill those gaps and voids (‘free’ lessons, break and lunchtimes etc.) with ‘stuff’ such as admin, emails, marking, catching up with students etc. Time is a precious commodity, something we certainly don’t wish to squander

For school leaders in particular, visibility is important for all sorts of reasons. Some of those include:

  • Presence as site and student safety and security
  • Fulfilling scheduled duties – they are after all part of ‘the team’, they shouldn’t be immune from this task
  • Conversing with students, taking an interest and building positive relations – something leaders CAN do and that we are not confined to secret squirrel business in some ivory tower
  • Sometimes finding students to relay messages to
  • Be present and in the moment with visitors and parents to inform, answer questions etc.
  • Being visible can engender trust in colleagues (Browning 2014) as you are a presence.

I would argue however, that being visible is also an education for leaders. It can provide moments of real clarity, reflection, affirmation and evaluation. Spending time touring the campus can also generate some perspective about how the many varied elements of schools – people, buildings, resources and spaces co-exist and coalesce to create both the functional and educative dimensions of school.

One powerful perspective that hit me recently when conducting a tour of school was that of ‘contribution’. I consider myself a grounded person who knows what side his bread is buttered and has always sincerely valued and acknowledged the contributions of anyone who makes a school tick; teachers, parents, volunteers, IT support, contractors, grounds workers, cleaners, canteen staff, supply staff, non-teaching admin colleagues, past students/alumni, sports coaches, I could go on.

However, for the first time in a while, I had the chance to walk a route through school with prospective parents, verbalise the life and culture of the school, celebrate the many valuable contributions people make, appreciate what we have, all because I was talking about places, spaces, resources etc. that we passed. I understand that the values and life of the school are encoded in the behaviour of people, built form, activities that occur and routines that play out. I genuinely had to enjoy the moment, but also pause to appreciate what was around me and acknowledge that I do not get out and about enough.

Teachers are all too aware of the wellness benefits of ‘downing tools’, stretching the legs, getting some fresh air, having conversation, having refreshment and trying to clear the head. They deserve that. I don’t do this nearly enough. I really should do. I am glad the experience reminded me that I am just one small piece of an intricate tapestry of efforts and collaboration to make my school work. I am reminded and humbled by the immense contributions of the many. I am glad I got out, reflected and took stock.

My challenge to leaders reading this:

what is stopping you getting out, walking around, having conversations with people, pausing, refreshing and appreciating? Can you do this from an office or from behind the desk? What does you visibility on campus say about you?

3 thoughts on “Learning Walks (but of a different sort)

  1. A former principal was always out and about, always conversing with staff and students. We all felt so connected to her, and valued by her. She really did build that community “one conversation at a time”, and I will always think highly of her for that. Being a visible, positive presence in the school creates such a wonderful sense of connection, and it is such a simple, yet powerful, thing to do.

  2. Robert Schuetz

    Hello Jon,
    As usual, you give us substance and insight we can chew on, and learn from. I agree with your key concept, “contribution”. Transparent contribution, whether that’s face-to-face, or virtually through the web, runs the serious risk of pushing learning and relationships forward. Besides, my mind reaches into new thinking when I am moving. Are there others out there like me? Thank you for providing this contribution forum! Bob

  3. I feel that there is such a big element of trust. When there is not a culture of unobtrusive learning walks, it can be felt that any visit is a case of ‘checking up’. Maybe not the case all the time, but certainly a challenge. I really like Kenneth Duhrum’s effort to provide clear and timely feedback based on his learning walks http://kdurham.com/site/2014/10/12/a-guide-to-using-google-forms-with-autocrat/ I think that this is really powerful and helps to create trust by making it clear and open.
    Something that I was wondering while reading your post was where ‘learning walks’ sat with other teachers. I love that Jason Borton releases his teachers to do the learning walks armed with a checklist that is about learning spaces etc … rather than teacher appraisal http://jbortonrps.edublogs.org/2014/04/20/how-do-you-know-if-effective-teaching-is-occurring-in-your-school/ However, I love Amy Burvall’s call for teachers themselves to share stories and think that this activity would be so empowering https://amysmooc.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/pd-walkabout-a-tourist-in-ones-own-land/.
    Thank you once again for sharing Jon.

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