Blast walkthroughs: how to build protocols that make the most of observation data

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One of the most powerful data collection strategies a district can employ is walkthroughs. They can provide clear, actionable feedback about how professional learning efforts are translating into the classroom. But making them effective requires setting up strong protocols and building a culture of teacher buy-in so that they can serve their purpose as formative assessment without feeling too evaluative to teachers.

About Blast Walkthroughs

In this article, we’re focusing on walkthroughs that are short visits to several classrooms. Although such walkthroughs may also be referred to as learning walks or instructional rounds, we use the term “blast” due to their nature–continuous, numerous, and brief.

Customizing Blast Walkthroughs to Fit Your Context

Before you start implementing blast walkthroughs, how will you gather support from your staff? Consider hosting a meeting to establish clear expectations on the purpose, process, priorities, and information-sharing for the walkthroughs.

Defining priorities

Define your scope and area of focus, making sure these are explicitly shared with teachers before the walkthroughs start.

Guiding Questions:

  • What are your instructional priorities? Does your school have a shared instructional language/framework for teaching and learning? Walkthroughs should be explicitly aligned to your district strategies and framed in language that is familiar to teachers.
  • What will those strategies look like in the classroom? Break down strategies into “look-fors” that are clear and observable. There are many publicly available existing resources and templates on which your team can build. Keep in mind that visits are short, so be wary of time-sensitive look-fors that may not naturally occur on a typical day or outside of a specific portion of the lesson (i.e. completing an exit slip).
  • Are teachers being set up for success? Walkthroughs aren’t meant to be pop quizzes; define your “look-fors” ahead of time. In the same way we define objectives for our students, teacher should be able to clearly identify what observers will be looking for–and ultimately, what success would mean in their classroom.
  • Are your observers clear on their priorities? Provide observers with clear and explicit instructions for their look-fors. When possible, focus on whether/how often something is occurring instead of questions that are more subjective.

Timing and frequency

In general, visits should be short and unannounced to give you the most accurate reflection of a typical day.

Guiding Questions:

  • How often will you conduct walkthroughs? On average, 1-2 times per month per classroom is sufficient to understand the climate of the school. Six classrooms per week is a good goal if you’re building walkthroughs into an ongoing data collection process.
  • How long will you spend in each classroom? 5-10 minutes will give you a good idea of the classroom climate, but up to 30 minutes may be needed if your priorities address higher-level thinking. Adapt your schedule to reflect your look-fors and consider whether or not your look-fors are best observed during blast walkthroughs or will require a different method.
  • What types of classrooms will you focus on? If you’re looking for trends, you may choose to group your classroom visits by grade level, subject, area of focus, etc. or choose to simply gather a random sampling from the building.
  • How will you ensure the walkthroughs are “unobtrusive”? We recommend keeping the specific times and locations of walkthroughs unannounced so that your presence doesn’t prevent you from observing a typical day.


Your purpose should define who conducts the walkthroughs.

Guiding Questions:

  • Who will be doing the walkthroughs? Will there be one or multiple observers? If you are considering multiple, will the groups be homogeneous or heterogeneous? (e.g. principals, principals and teachers, or principals and district office leaders)
  • Whose perspectives would be valuable? What is the relationship between the observers and the teachers being observed? You may choose to bring only administrators, for instance, or include instructional coaches to give them an in-depth look at what’s happening. Some teams may even choose to bring teachers to build investment, gather a new perspective, or encourage peer learning.

Sharing data

What you do with the data you’ve collected afterward will define the success of your walkthroughs. Consider how the information will inform your professional learning approach and also how you can tighten the feedback loop to build teacher buy-in.

Guiding Questions:

  • How will you analyze the results? Will it be an immediate debrief with observers? How will you conduct analysis and who will be part of that process?
  • How will you share school-wide trends? What are the “shareable bites of data,” or the key metrics and trends that should get shared school-wide? What opportunities do you have to share trends (emails, PLCs, team meetings, faculty meetings, board meetings)? How will these decisions impact teacher mindsets about non-evaluative walkthroughs?
  • What kind of feedback will you share with teachers? Even if the primary purpose of walk-throughs is to build an understanding of schoolwide priorities, teachers often appreciate a brief thank you, or in some cases, a copy of the feedback that was recorded.

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