Observing Instruction

“To reflect on practice we must first observe practice.”

Learning by Heart, Barth 2001

I have learned over many years that before one begins to have instruction observed in schools either as an individual teacher, teaching team or whole school its important to create protocols so that the observer has clear goals and guidelines and the person being observed feels safe to receive feedback and take risks to adjust their practice. I have spent years both studying classroom observations and engaging with teachers and school leaders in the work.

As a principal I would seek feedback on the protocols, the shared data and adjustments made by teachers before re-commencing the work at the start of the following year. I found it important to include teacher voice at this early stage so that expectations on all parties were clear.

There were 3 observation protocols used:

  • walkthroughs,
  • learning walks, and
  • instructional rounds



Walkthroughs is a practice in which principals and or lead teachers can gain a sense of what instruction is happening in classrooms and give positive yet specific feedback to teachers, a team or the school. The strategy has a number of defined parts: pre – e.g. notifying teachers, deciding upon the specific focus, discussion on what we might expect to see in the classroom – e.g. walk the walls to look at the instructional supports, listen to the teacher providing feedback or asking questions, asking the children and finally post: e.g. discussing what we saw, deciding upon teacher feedback strategies.

The strategy was brought to prominence by Carolyn Downey who was an associate professor in the educational leadership department at San Diego State University.

At the start of each year we would conduct walkthroughs on the social / emotional aspect of schooling where class teachers build a sense of community with their students. We looked for the unpacking of school values, sets of expectations or norms in classrooms and respectful relationships between teachers and students and their peers. This work was modelled at staff meetings and resources provided for ideas.

As a leadership team we committed to at least 1 school wide walkthrough a term. Given the size of the school (600 plus students) it would take us several days to complete all the observations (over a week) and we would give feedback to the staff at the following staff meeting.

Walkthrough Resources

2006 Presentation to DET Principals in Geelong

Other resources principals asked me to share were:


Learning Walk

These observations had a different focus, usually determined by an individual teacher or team. They were conducted by a trained teacher or lead teacher at the request of a teacher or team of teachers seeking feedback on a specific focus. They went for longer than the walkthrough 3-5 minutes and often for only part of lesson the teacher or team wanted feedback on. Teachers in past years used our 5E Instructional framework to frame the observation. It could be the Explore Phase of lesson or series of lesson where teachers posed more open-ended inquiry questions or the Explain Phase where they were presenting new information.

Instructional Rounds

These observations were part of a data wise cycle where teachers having analysed student assessment data had posed a problem of practice they were seeking feedback on to adjust their practices as a team.

At one stage I was conducting Instructional rounds across a network of schools as part of my Masters course and I created this wiki which has some useful links.