Superintendent in the Classroom: After Initiating a System of Walk-Through Observations of the Classrooms in His District, Mr. Schomburg Found That the Important Information Gathered and the Connections Made with Staff Members and Students Are Strong Arguments for Other Superintendents to Get out of Their Offices and into Their Schools

By Schomburg, Gary | Phi Delta Kappan, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Superintendent in the Classroom: After Initiating a System of Walk-Through Observations of the Classrooms in His District, Mr. Schomburg Found That the Important Information Gathered and the Connections Made with Staff Members and Students Are Strong Arguments for Other Superintendents to Get out of Their Offices and into Their Schools


Schomburg, Gary, Phi Delta Kappan


As I passed quietly through the open door of the second-grade classroom, the students were gathered on the floor around their teacher. Even with my best effort to be unobtrusive, the teacher caught my entry out of the corner of her eye, turned her head, and smiled. The alert second-graders followed her gaze and saw me standing there, taking notes on my yellow cards. In this elementary school, seeing a man enter the room in a business suit, wearing a staff ID badge, and taking notes was an unusual sight.

The teacher sensed the students' curiosity and chose to stop class for an introduction. "Class, this is Dr. Schomburg, our superintendent of schools," she explained. Like most second-graders, this group smiled and waved, with several attempting to repeat my difficult name. Choosing to make this a teachable moment, the teacher asked, "Does anyone know what Dr. Schomburg does as the superintendent of schools?" A confident young man shot his hand up and replied, "He is here to check us for head lice!" Thus I came to learn that second-graders view all "doctors" as medical practitioners.

Scenes similar to this one occurred frequently during my second year as superintendent, when I began a practice that enabled me to be more active in instructional issues and increase my visibility in the schools - walk-through observations. This activity had its genesis in table talk during negotiations with the leaders of the teachers' union. During one of the sessions, the union leaders expressed a concern about the clinical observation plan in use in the district and stated that they would like to see administrators in classrooms more often than just for the clinical observations required by the contract. Also during those talks, these same labor leaders gave me to understand that, while I was a good communicator, in their eyes I wasn't visible enough in the buildings. I took these comments as constructive criticism, and the following school year I sought to improve in these areas. The means I settled on was the walk-through observation.

Walk-through observations stem partly from the theory of "management by walking around," made popular in the 1980s by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, authors of In Search of Excellence. Their research showed that, in successful companies, the executive stayed close to the work, rather than remaining isolated in an office. Educators have enhanced this concept by adding data gathering to the "wandering around," including taking note of specific instructional practices during short visits to classrooms. These visits and data gathering allow principals to engage in dialogue with teachers regarding instruction in ways that go beyond the required formal observations.

Early in the school year following my talk with the union leaders, I asked all district administrators who had any connection to classroom instruction to join me in attending training sessions on walk-through observations. This training consisted of a review of the research, an overview of legal concerns related to the evaluation process, specific recommendations on a consistent method of note taking, and recommendations on providing feedback to teachers. To practice the process during the training sessions, teams principal meeting, a practice that continues to this day. By conducting monthly team walk-through observations, the district sends the message to the building principals that this is important and that we want them to continue this practice at other times. Teachers also receive the clear message that we are serious about improving the quality of classroom instruction.

Following our initial training, building principals engaged in team walk-through observation at each monthly principal meeting, a practice that continues to this day. By conducting monthly team walk-through observations, the district sends the message the building principals that we want them to continue this practice at other times. …

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Superintendent in the Classroom: After Initiating a System of Walk-Through Observations of the Classrooms in His District, Mr. Schomburg Found That the Important Information Gathered and the Connections Made with Staff Members and Students Are Strong Arguments for Other Superintendents to Get out of Their Offices and into Their Schools
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