The Power of District "Walk-Throughs"
Downey Unified School District is now in its fourth year of using the Focused Schools Improvement Framework and has established a District Instructional Leadership Team (DILT) of writers and presenters, including teachers and administrators with the purpose of developing elementary and secondary Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) professional development. Now in an effort to achieve district coherence, they have conducted two “Walk-Throughs”, where 13 elementary schools have been visited by elementary ILT members and the middle and high schools have been visited by secondary ILT members.
They are now beginning the work of conducting vertical “Walk-Throughs” and quite recently Downey’s middle and high school ILT members visited their feeder elementary schools. What took place was quite remarkable!
Walk Through Purpose, Reflection and Debrief
I was assigned to visit Williams Elementary and was able to capture the reactions and comments from the visiting team that included a middle school principal, her ILT members and a few teachers on special assignment. The visitors were asked to find evidence of First Best Instruction for feedback back to the school’s staff. Throughout, two powerful essential questions set the purpose of visits, reflection and debrief:
• How does your feeder Elementary Focus work connect with our Focus work?
• What evidence of effective instruction did you see at the Elementary level that supports our work?
What We Saw!
• Students are given autonomy and feel safe to take risks. – For example, students are given choice on how to solve math problems, using different strategies and not just one strategy but challenge themselves to find challenging ways to find solutions. They are also given opportunity to create their personal learning goals and know how to track their own progress.
• There were many examples of student discourse used frequently and models for how students speak to one another. – Sentence frames posted to help students state opinions, explain why and even “respectfully” disagree. These, and other Kagan strategies so that students are now familiar and comfortable speaking to one another.
• There was strong evidence of collective agreements and expectations that are consistent within and among the elementary schools. Some examples include use of data, posted data, student goal setting, common assessments, Growth Mindset, and teacher collaboration.
• The use of technology is pervasive in all classrooms. – K-3 students are taught at an early age to use technology as tools for learning, engagement and critical thinking practices.
• And so much more!
The feedback from the evaluations provided closure to an incredible day of learning. ILT members were “inspired” and were sincerely appreciative of the opportunity to see the hard work that is being done with “so much heart and preparation” by elementary teachers. Many comments were made to suggest that more secondary teachers need to see elementary and the secondary teachers also mentioned that “we need to step it up!” The journey continues as we take next steps to provide all students with a 21st Century education that ensures they are college and career ready, globally competitive and citizens of strong character.
Everyone had left, evaluations were read and the Secondary DILT was reflecting on what this day had meant when Dr. Garcia, the superintendent, had one last thought for the team. He had been a part of the walk-through, visited a few of the elementary schools and listened intently to the responses by secondary ILT teams and principals. He prefaced by saying he hadn’t used this word yet this year and for the first time could say: “This was truly transformational.”
We are now looking forward to our visits on Friday from our elementary feeders. It will be another opportunity to create district coherence and reciprocity of learning!