Virtual Classroom Walkthroughs: 7 Tips for Effectively Observing Online Instruction

By Julia Ramsey

As online instruction becomes more and more likely to continue in the 2020-21 academic year, data has taken on a critical role in the urgent need to stop the COVID slide from widening. From identifying gaps in educator practice to monitoring the equity of instruction across campuses, collecting data about online instruction is essential to understanding what’s happening in the classroom.

Virtual walkthroughs can provide clear, actionable feedback about how professional learning efforts are translating into practice. Check out our top 7 tips for creating a walkthrough program in your district’s online classrooms — or download the free guide of practical look-fors adapted from the National Standards for Quality Online Teaching.

Tip 1: Emphasize Self-Reflection
Walkthroughs that are implemented well promote self-reflection at multiple levels. Educators, coaches, building leaders and district administrators have much to gain by continually asking “Why does this happen?” Intentionally spur this kind of thinking by including open-response questions such as “Glows and Grows” (“What areas of strengths did you observe?” / “What is one bite-sized next step you would recommend to improve student learning?”) on walkthrough forms.

Tip 2: Align Look-Fors to PD Goals to Identify Gaps in Practice
When designing your walkthrough, explicitly align look-fors to your professional learning goals. Think of this way: what would you need to see in a classroom to know your PL was successful? Answering the question “So what happened next?” tells us if PD supports are translating into the classroom.

Tip 3: Put Trust-Building First for Remote Teams
Regular walkthroughs can make school leaders more visible, engaged, and knowledgeable about the state of instruction in the school—an opportunity to build trust in leadership, and simultaneously a risk to morale if the foundation of trust isn’t there. Be transparent about how data from the walkthroughs will be used. Will it be anonymized or named? What follow-up will occur? How will the data be shared back with teachers? Answering these questions openly at the onset of a new walkthrough program is critical.

“We gather our teacher-leaders, our administrative team, and the crew that are going to be delivering the actual professional development to talk through our data collection together and say 'All right, this is the course change — and here's why.'”


Barbara Phillips

Director of Learning & Continuous Improvement, Windsor Central School District

Fast forward to 51:48 in KickUp’s 6 Common PD Data Mistakes webcast to hear Barbara Phillips of Windsor Central School District talk about how she handles top-to-bottom data buy-in for her district

Tip 4: Create Community Buy-In By Gathering Feedback
In addition to sharing the purpose and plan for classroom visits with staff, solicit feedback from teachers prior to observations about their priorities. Is there something specific that they would like support with? Something to look for? 

Tip 5: Emphasize Inter-Rater Reliability
Don’t skimp on training for observers! Make sure that observers are fully trained on the indicators and have internal consistency on what they look like. For example, observers could be asked to review a video of somebody teaching and rate the video using the tool. Responses could then be shared in a whole group and discussed, the objective being to norm on what a particular indicator looks like. When analyzing your data, compare across multiple observers to check for outliers who might need re-training on the observation rubric.

Tip 6: Use a Protocol with Frequent Touchpoints
A major benefit of virtual walkthroughs is that they can happen both synchronously and asynchronously. Either way, consider protocols that make walkthroughs manageable (e.g. dividing into teams of three focused on a single domain or enlisting educators for peer visits) so that you can collect a large body of data to debrief as a group.

Tip 7: Debrief Walkthroughs Using a Shared Dashboard
Close the feedback loop by sharing feedback with educators (e.g. automated KickUp email alerts) so they can reflect on practice or offer clarification to behaviors that weren’t observed. If you’ve previously collected self-reflection data, display the side-by-side comparison to demonstrate where leadership is in alignment (or out of alignment) with teachers. As an instructional team, share consolidated data in a report with coaches and principals to collaboratively identify trends, areas of needed support, and clear next steps.


Ready for the next steps?

Download the free expanded version of this guide with 22 concrete look-fors adapted from the National Standards for Quality Online Teaching:

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