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Learning Journeys, Learning Stories: Re-envisioning Instructional Learning Walks

Learning Journeys, Learning Stories: Re-envisioning Instructional Learning Walks

Personalized Learning  |  Coaches  |  School Leadership

There isn’t a lot of convincing you need to do to get these two former English teachers talking about the power of stories. Whether it was unpacking The Danger of a Single Story, weaving together narratives into a photo essay about the Children’s Crusade, or crafting original 6 word memoirs, our classrooms were built around stories. 

Stories are a powerful tool to connect, teach, and inspire. Organizations are full of complexities and oftentimes making sense of that complexity is daunting. Our classrooms are full of stories, but often we don’t have opportunities beyond quick anecdotes in passing to share them with our colleagues. 

As Elena Aguilar shares, storytelling and reflection have the power to increase collective resilience, which is a key driver in how we respond to change. How then, might we craft moments to hear experiences across a team to build a richer picture of a community and deepen our resilience as an organization?


One way at Education Elements we have tried to create structures to leverage the power of storytelling is through Learning Walks. These experiences bring a team together to walk through a community and see stories across classrooms unfolding. Many times, the team is made up of teachers and leaders from within that school as well as across the district as a whole. The purpose of learning walks is to gather practices around a focus area, identify trends and understand how we can better support as a team. 


We have partnered with Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia since 2016, and have worked with over 90 schools to grow personalized learning practices across the district. Learning Walks have always been an important part of that journey, and in 2020 we had to reimagine how to continue to gather stories of practice given the barriers of the pandemic. When we first talked about shifting in-person learning walks to virtual, there was a lot of apprehension. How could we ask teachers to open their classrooms in a year of so much uncertainty? How could we make this impactful and meaningful instead of feeling like “one more thing” in a year where there was already so much on everyone’s plates? 


In true personalized fashion, Loudoun pivoted and responded by reimagining what Instructional Learning Walks could look like in this space - and the results were transformative. Here are three ways Loudoun empowered their teachers by enhancing their sense of ownership and choice:


  • Digital Portfolios: 

Format: Teams collected artifacts from classrooms and assembled portfolios for observers to view and analyze.  

Impact: Teams were able to curate exemplars of Personalized Learning while giving teachers coaching feedback throughout the entire process. 


  • Asynchronous Learning Walks: 

Format: Teams recorded lessons for observers to watch while noting key moments of Personalized Learning throughout the class session.  

Impact: Allows for flexible scheduling and access to longer periods of instruction versus the usual 10 to 15 minutes. 


  • Teacher Panels: 

Format: Teachers and observers engaged in Q & A sessions in which teachers were able to articulate their Personalized Learning process while observers were able to gain more insight through probing questions.   

Impact: The dynamic and organic nature of this conversation enabled teachers to engage in reflection about their process. 


By making time to share our stories, we can deepen our community ties and potentially shift practices or mindsets. Research from the University of Buffalo has shown people are more likely to try something new when they hear personal stories of others. Learning Walks are a space where we can hear about and see experiences outside our own to then bring back into our own practice. This year was an opportunity for us to reimagine Learning Walks -- as we move forward, we are excited to continue our reflection on this core practice and gather new stories to tell. 

About Elizabeth Lambert & Cristina Strunk

Cristina is devoted to creating meaningful learning experiences for students. She loves walks with her dogs Scully and Mulder, and spicy foods. Beth comes to Education Elements after 20 years in the classroom. Beth lives in Atlanta with her husband, son and two dogs.

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