Guest Blog: Tracy Fasick
I have had the pleasure of working with Tracy and the staff at Manheim Central School District over the past five years. When I read her recent blog, I requested a chance to share it with my contacts and she agreed. Thank you, Tracy!
(Note- Manheim Central has adopted the term facilitator for teacher)
Manheim Central School District is located in south, central Pennsylvania. The district has approximately 3,000 learners, pre-k through grade 12. There are two elementary schools that have grades K-4, one Middle School with grades 5-8, and one high school with grades 9-12. Manheim Central has been on a journey toward customizing learning and breaking down weight-bearing walls since 2016-2017. In school year 2020-2021, the district adopted a new ELA program from the American Reading Company. As part of this work, district administration, along with an American Reading Company Coach, principals, and our own Elementary Instructional Coach did scheduled walkthroughs four times throughout the year to gage implementation of the new program. From those walkthroughs, leaders could not stop talking about the great instruction happening in different classrooms throughout the district. We kept saying, “I wish there was a way for our facilitators to be able to visit each others’ classrooms so they could see the awesome practices happening.”
From there, we developed the concept of Learning Walks and began implementation of them in school year 2021-2022.
Elementary Instructional Coach, Melissa Troiano, leads a debrief after Learning Walks. Facilitators discuss and collaborate after Learning Walks.
WHAT ARE LEARNING WALKS?
Learning Walks are a collaborative opportunity for three to four facilitators to be able to visit the classrooms of colleagues for about 20 minutes in each classroom and then meet with the Instructional Coach and Director of Curriculum and Instruction to debrief and have conversations surrounding instruction in a safe, supportive and risk-free learning environment. The group usually visits four to five classrooms in a two-hour span and then participates in a 1.5 hour debrief. Group norms are established and much of the focus of the observations have been around student production behaviors. This has allowed for the conversations in the debrief to be around what learners are doing and less about what the facilitator is doing.
The Learning Walks occurred three times throughout the 2021-2022 school year: September, November, and March. The first round of Learning Walks focused on the District’s Core Values that were developed as a result of comprehensive, strategic planning in 2020-2021. Facilitators used a graphic organizer to record examples of these Core Values in action in classrooms they visited. Discussion in the debrief that followed centered around these Core Values.
In November, the Learning Walks centered around effective feedback and was a replication of what occurred in September as far as timing and structure. Facilitators in November provided positive feedback to the classrooms where they visited. In March, the goal was to provide facilitators with more choice in what they wanted to observe. Facilitators for this round of Learning Walks worked with the instructional coach to plan for what and where they would visit. This was a great learning experience that was targeted on individual needs and the desire to grow as a practitioner in a certain area of instructional practices. Many facilitators from fourth grade chose to visit the Middle School in fifth grade classrooms to see what the expectations were for their learners for next year. Other facilitators chose to visit multiage classrooms that we have in first/second and third/fourth throughout the district to experience how this type of instruction looks and feels compared to their own classrooms. In addition, many of our facilitators chose to visit classrooms throughout the two elementary schools that are utilizing learning progressions and self-paced math. By allowing the facilitators to have voice and choice in where they visited, the Learning Walks felt more personalized and the conversations around what was observed were rich and have led to many inquiries and discussions about changing practice.
WHAT HAS OCCURRED AS A RESULT OF LEARNING WALKS?
So much has happened as a result of learning walks!! The benefits have been numerous! We have observed a greater sense of risk-taking and collaboration amongst grade level teams. Many facilitators chose to visit classrooms that were fully using learning progressions and doing self-paced math in grades K-4. Due to the learning walk visits and the visitor’s ability to see firsthand the positive effects on learners, several facilitators have come forward and are interested in tackling the challenge of implementing learning progressions and self-paced math in school year 2022-2023. Those already doing learning progressions and self-paced math were able to share their learning and process for implementation with others which enabled them to grow their leadership skills and confidence as they were validated for their efforts. Manheim Central is very excited about the benefits of Learning Walks and plans to implement them again in school year 2022-2023!
FACILITATOR FEEDBACK CONCERNING THE LEARNING WALK EXPERIENCE
After each walkthrough experience, facilitators were provided a chance to share their reflections. Below are just a few of the comments:
“It was beneficial to see facilitators teaching during this time of year. It is nice to observe and then implement similar things in my classroom.”
“Being able to observe members of my grade level teaching the same content that I am currently teaching was helpful. It provided me with the opportunity to see different ways to teach the same content, and provided me with ideas that I can use in my own classroom. And even though our grade level does a great job collaborating between both buildings through the use of Google Drive, it was great to see everyone’s plans and ideas in action.”
“I was able to gather new resources for instruction and new ideas. I also find our discussions to be beneficial as well.”
“I was able to see different styles of organizing materials, and see how math progressions work.”
“I love spending time in other classrooms to validate things that I am teaching and to get ideas to use in my own classroom.”
“I had a chance to receive new ideas from other teachers.”
“Seeing instructional practices from others and seeing other teachers’ classrooms is always beneficial.”
“I love being able to observe other people and learn new things.”
“It opened my eyes to different ways to approach teaching.”
About Tracy Fasick
Tracy currently works as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Manheim Central School District. With areas of interest in professional learning and literacy, she previously worked at the School District of Lancaster and as a Literacy Consultant for IU 13. She also taught 1st and 2nd grade at the Elizabethtown Area School District for over 16 years. Her education background includes a degree in Elementary Education from Grove City College, Reading Specialist Certification from Millersville University, and an Educational Administration Master’s Degree and K-12 Principal Certification from Temple University.