Updated: Jul 22, 2020


INTENTIONALITY: System and School Learning Walks and Talks Answer: ‘How do you know all students are achieving?”

A system’s progress can only be as rapid and sustainable as that of its many schools; a school’s progress can only be as rapid and sustainable as that of its many students in its many classes. In each case, two of the many potential limitations to the capacity required are a lack of clear expectations and not being INTENTIONAL in modelling and articulating that all students will learn.

How well do you know the FACES of your learners: students, teachers, leaders and parents? While gains in student achievement occur inside the classroom and are directly influenced by the effectiveness of the teacher, large system change is only possible when everyone in the organization sees him- or herself as responsible for the success of each student - their own and others or what we call Parameter 14: Shared Responsibility and Accountability (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012). Each class contributes to the school targets, each school contributes to the system targets, each system contributes to the state targets and each parent wants to know how his/her child is doing. Everyone must know the answer by having a ‘line-of-sight’ to every student.

There are two ways of authentically monitoring student progress and teacher collective capacity-building:

1. Developing and maintaining working Data Walls (Part 1 in this series) leading to Case Management Meetings (Part 2 in this series); and,

2. Engaging in daily Learning Walks and Talks (Part 3 in this series).

Frequently, when groups are discussing different aspects of our Learning Walks and Talks (Sharratt, 2008-2018) in schools, those groups will be seen in front of their Data Walls (Part 1 of this series), checking out pieces of data. The Data Wall is a constant reminder to them of the power in having the data visible to challenge assumptions, test hypotheses and align their collective and relentless focus on improving learning outcomes for every student (Sue Walsh, in personal communication, 2018).

As well, during regular, ongoing Learning Walks and Talks leadership team members informally check-in with the classroom teachers and the students following Case Management Meetings (Part 1 of this series) to check their progress and ask if any support is needed.

Principals and teachers conduct Learning Walks and Talks daily to look for evidence-proven, agreed-upon assessment and instructional strategies discovered through their collective Collaborative Inquiries. While some educators advocate and train teams to use clipboards, tablets and to “wear” an evaluative demeanor in their clinical-style invasions of classroom spaces, in Learning Walks and Talks there are no notebooks, paper and no conversation with teachers in the moment. There is no perception of invasion. After each Learning Walk and Talk there is an opportunity to record reflections away from the classrooms so that the Learning Walk and Talk process is not seen as evaluative but as growth-promoting to strengthen practice together.

Leaders become even better instructional leaders by becoming keen observers. They collect and record data after Learning Walks and Talks that will better inform conversations with teachers about what practices are or are not working in classrooms and why. The purpose is also to be unobtrusive, to observe and interact with students during a very limited 5-8-minute time frame (but replicated many times in different classrooms during each week to get a complete data collection picture of the school). The anchor chart in Figure 1 below clearly demonstrates what a Learning Walk and Talk is and is not.

Figure 1: Defining Learning Walks and Talks

Source: Lyn Sharratt, Diocese of Parramatta, NSW, Australia, 2017.

A highly focused snapshot of how a teacher is making a difference for each student is made by asking students five critical questions that check for the ongoing use of assessment “for” and “as” learning approaches (Sharratt, 2019). The five questions are:

1. What are you learning? Why?

2. How are you doing?

3. How do you know?

4. How can you improve?

5. Where do you go for help? (Sharratt 2008-2019)

School leaders who conduct daily Learning Walks and Talks (Sharratt & Fullan, 2012; Sharratt & Harild, 2015, Sharratt & Planche, 2016, Sharratt, 2019) gather evidence of teachers’ intentional teaching and of students’ improvement when they ask students the five questions above. Student answers make teachers aware of how explicit their teaching is and often necessitate unpacking the questions with students. Leaders, teachers and students who can accurately describe their learning and how to improve, close the achievement gap. After many walks, conversations with teachers ensue.

The 5 questions assist us in knowing more about our learners, how they learn and what further instruction and support they may need. After leaving the classroom, the small group of Walkers briefly make their notes, quietly (and privately) discuss their individual data collected and, reflect on what they each heard from students and what they noticed in the learning space to answer the above questions.

In leaders’ daily Learning Walks and Talks, they are looking for:

  • the explicit intentionality of the lesson;

  • the CLARITY of the Learning Intentions and evidence of co-construction of the Success Criteria;

  • strong and weak examples to guide students in their own decision-making;