Literacy Walks: How an Open-Door Policy Can Transform Our Teaching

Classroom visits can equate to positive change.

Teaching at its core is a learning process; it’s getting curious about problems and framing teaching as problem-solving

When I first started teaching, keeping my classroom door shut and not allowing anyone to watch me was how I rolled. And it was the norm back then. I cringed whenever someone walked into my room, whether it was the literacy coach or the principal. I tried to pretend I was doing everything right. All was A-OK, but I am certain that they could see I needed help. I was a new teacher; who doesn’t need help when they are new? In fact, who doesn’t need help even when they are not new?

Understandably, that’s where it gets tricky─experienced teachers feeling they are beyond a learning phase. But when you cultivate a schoolwide culture of collegial PD, everyone feels on the same plane. Now I am so used to literacy walks. I invite colleagues to watch me teach, and I welcome their feedback. It makes me a better teacher; it helps me ensure my students are learning. In fact, my heart flutters when my friends stop by and sit with me while I teach. I always look forward to their feedback.

Might the answer to many problems of practice be as simple as opening a door? Yes. We can make positive change by brief visits to one another’s classrooms, where we observe what students are doing in response to instruction. I added italics to emphasize that these observations are about noticing what helps learners progress—we have to stop thinking about them as gotcha moments. Literacy walks (and walks in other content areas) are a great tool to transform our practices.


Looking at Lessons, Practices, and Content

My area of expertise is in literacy learning, so the examples I share in this blog are related to that, but these walks can be done in any content area. No matter what, a first step is for administrators and teachers to all agree that the purpose of a walk-through is to understand how a lesson leads to student learning. You are asking: What do the students know, and what can they do because of either that lesson or previous lessons? Notice in this language that we are focusing on a lesson, the content (perhaps the routines baked into it), and the students’ response to it all. In other words, it’s not squarely the teacher in the hot seat! Everyone is constructively looking at methods, pedagogies, and teacher interactions. Teaching at its core is a learning process; it’s getting curious about problems and framing teaching as problem-solving.

Literacy Walks are: Literacy Walks are Not:
Learning opportunities for teachers and administrators Evaluation of teacher by administrators
Time to gather qualitative data about students’ actions in response to instruction Time to judge students’ actions in response to instruction
Collegial, developmental, and school-based experiences for growth Evaluations or judgments of teachers by other teachers and colleagues
Occasions to reflect on practice in teams Occasions for one-size-fits-all professional development
Experiences that help to determine next-step actions and needs Experiences that don’t lead to reflection or cause feelings of anxiousness
In-context professional learning Out-of-context professional learning

What You Do Before Your Literacy Walk


In a literacy walk, we visit one another’s classrooms, taking clear and accurate notes about what teachers are doing and how students are working. Before a walk, team members set up a schedule to visit classrooms and establish a focus for what they are going to notice and note. For example, you might examine practices such as:

  • Interactive read alouds.
  • The gradual release of responsibility model.
  • Small group reading instruction.

You might decide as a grade-level team to look across at:

  • How different teachers implement the same lesson.
  • What teacher actions positively affect student learning during and after the lesson.
  • The learning occurring (or not) in peer interactions.

Possible Equity Lenses

You can also use these walks to address complicated layers of race, ethnicity, class, gender, learning style, etc., of each and all our students. Students of color have been historically underserved, which means, too often, their educational needs are not met over time (Fergus, 2016). We need to ensure students of color excel in literacy (Husband & Kang, 2020). We need to ensure students receiving special services do, too. We need to ensure that we guide students to read and write well, regardless of who they are and where they come from. Literacy walks enable us to examine our practices and work to ensure we’re making our instruction and learning environments as equitable as possible.

Some fruitful look-fors in supporting student agency, engagement, and a sense of belonging include:

  • Looking at our classroom libraries to ensure diversity, abundance, and lively use for instructional and independent reading.
  • Noticing the teacher practices that promote high levels of student talk and inquiry.
  • Getting curious about the “engagement EQ” of the content. How might we tweak the texts, the questions, the tasks so they are highly relevant and connected to our students’ lives (Harris, 2021)?

An important side note: use all your senses as you observe. I admire Laura Robb and Gravity Goldberg’s use of the term “Listen and Look-Fors,” as it reminds us to tune in to the teacher and students’ oral language.

What To Do After Your Literacy Walk

After the walk, educators gather to debrief their notes, thoughts, and ideas. For everyone involved, this data is rich and nuanced, providing fodder for discussion and further inquiry. The feedback can lead to something as finite as a teacher tightening a mini-lesson or jotting down the steps of a process for students to see—or the feedback may lead to deeper overhauls of our practices.

To literally and figuratively get everyone on the same page, I suggest you use customizable tools like this read-aloud look-for bank. If you are excited to try Literacy Walks, check out my just-published book from Scholastic. The book outlines the process and practice of literacy walks and provides tips for how you can work on your own or with a team to lead your own professional development. The book is loaded with tools for planning literacy walks and gives how-to tips.

Want more? Check out why I believe handing the reins over to kids earlier makes sense.

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Literacy Walks: How an Open-Door Policy Can Transform Our Teaching