The 3-Minute Classroom Walkthrough in 5 Steps


There are several reasons principals should regularly conduct classroom walkthroughs.

  • First, they make it clear to teachers that teaching and learning are a priority for us.
  • Second, the more we know about the instructional decisions of our instructors, the more we know about the health of our schools.
  • Third, the more frequent the observations are, the more comfortable our teachers and students will be with the process.

Keep in mind that classroom walkthroughs do not need to belong, invasive or formal for them to be meaningful. If you simplify the observation process and stick to the five steps outlined in Countdown to the Principalship, your observation should really only take about three minutes.

The 3-Minute Classroom Walkthrough in 5 Steps

Observe Student Engagement

It only takes a split second to observe whether or not students are engaged in their work. Are they listening, writing, interacting with the teacher or other students, or working alone?

Observe the Lesson and Learning Objectives

Assessing what is being taught and determining whether or not the objective of the lesson is aligned with curriculum and ethical standards is where you should spend most of the next couple of minutes.

Observe Teachers’ Instructional Strategies

Now that you understand the curricular focus, you are ready to look at the teacher’s instructional strategies. Is s/he using Socratic questioning or giving feedback? Are students working alone or in groups, are they taking notes, problem-solving, etc.?

Always complete the first three steps and do your best to withhold judgment; you are simply gathering data and looking for patterns in classroom instruction.

If time permits, conclude your walkthrough with the following two steps:

Does the Lesson Connect?

During this step, you should be looking to see if you can make any connections between this lesson and previous learning objectives. Ideally, every lesson should build upon the preceding lesson.

Observe Safety and Health Issues

Are there any noticeable safety or health issues that need to be addressed?

If you decide to make brief classroom walkthroughs a regular part of your routine, you’ll want to inform your staff first. Here are five things you might mention to your teachers:

  • How often you will be stopping by their classrooms and how long you will be there.
  • What the visits are not: Explain that three-minute walkthroughs are not a part of the formal evaluation process, nor will they be used to judge or critique teachers.
  • What the visits are: Teaching and learning are the two most important things that happen in schools—walkthroughs are simply a way to honor their importance. Many of us have taught at schools where there were months, maybe even years, when the principal did not step foot into the classroom. What this suggests to many teachers is that what they do is not important to the principal. Explain to your teachers that this is not the message you wish to send.
  • That you have a lot to learn from teachers: One of the best ways to learn about learning in schools is for you to be in classrooms regularly. You may be in charge, but that doesn’t mean you have all the answers.
  • What teachers should expect from the walkthrough: Explain to teachers that when you stop in, you will only be there for three minutes—unless the teacher indicates that s/he would like you to stay longer. During this time, explain that you will be observing three things: student engagement, content and the methods used to teach the content. That teachers are welcome to talk to you after the visit if they want specific feedback.

Download our FREE Principal Coaching Gui

Ryan Thomas is a teacher from Ferndale, MI.