One of the most inspiring activities I’ve been part of at Mason City Schools is Walkthrough Wednesday. Every Wednesday, the Chief Academic Officer, Chief Innovation Officer, academic coaches, innovation coaches, and I travel to a building within our district and walk through classrooms. We spend time looking for Mike Rutherford’s 23 Artisan Themes and reasons to celebrate our teachers! As a central office administrator, you wear many hats and the majority revolve around decisions that impact teachers and students. Walkthrough Wednesdays help build a connection and give us the opportunity to build an understanding of what teachers encounter on a daily basis.
In our middle school, I spent time in Laura Tonklin’s physical science classroom. Upon entering her classroom, she quickly glanced up to see if there’s anything we needed; we quickly explained that we’re walking through. Her expression was actually one of delight, not that of trepidation. We witnessed students working on different activities throughout the room. Laura and a small group of students squeezed into what was once a storage closet, but now served as an extension of her classroom. Inside, she had turned old cabinets into whiteboards filled with formulas and clusters of chairs made the space feel cozy, warm, safe, and welcoming.
As we ventured into our early childhood building, it was evident the staff works to set all students up for success. The hallways hosted multilingual signage, stimulus stations, student art work, and adult artwork promoting a growth mindset. What a great start for our young learners in Pre-K through second grade. Many teachers, through the help of our Innovation Catalyst Grants, sported flexible furniture breaking free of the traditional, industrial classroom environment. Below, see how Ragan Reeves uses dance and mindfulness to ensure all students have a great start to their day exemplifying the Artisan Theme of Neural Downshifting*. Students grinned from ear to ear, dancing with Poppy from Trolls, then strategically moving into yoga where they calmed their minds focusing on breathing techniques.
In our high school, another example of neural downshifting and delight occurred between classes as high school teachers gathered to dance in the hallway and like a flash mob, students squeezed in smiling and throwing their arms in the air.
Summing it up!
As we walk through classrooms, we provide feedback for our teachers on a form containing the 23 Artisan Themes that gets emailed to them after we submit our data. If students are working independently or in small groups, we take a few minutes to ask them about their learning. Walkthroughs represent a celebration of effort and recognizing teachers for honing their craft. We often send out Tweets, shouting from the rooftops, the greatness we experience in our classrooms.
Walkthroughs build a stronger culture, connect administrators with teachers, and reinforce great work. Work gets hectic and it would be easy to skip walkthroughs but they fill our bucket and I hope it fills the teachers’ buckets too!
* Neural Downshifting. The ability of the teacher to reduce stress and threat in the classroom environment to avoid “survival mode” thinking and to increase higher order thinking