Featured Article


User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

Learning walks are full of potential to support awareness of the quality of learners’ experiences, provide opportunities for reflection, and get teams excitedly making the improvements they seek. Yes, full of potential, but are they really achieving this? This might be the intention, but I have to ask, what have learning walks become?

It’s worth noting that the term ‘learning walks’ is one adopted by providers to describe quite different things. Often they’re a collection of visits to many different classrooms one after the other, but some use the term to refer to something that isn’t really ‘walking’ at all but visiting just one class at a time. In some cases, these are followed by discussions with the teaching team, and for others the teacher gets some form of individual feedback. It seems the only common denominator is the duration of the visit to a single classroom not exceeding 20 minutes.

We might debate about the different methods and which is superior, but really, there isn’t necessarily a single best way. What is important is that the way we walk meets our purpose, so that’s what we need to be clear about. And this is what I have to question.

Many providers talk about how they’d like learning walks to create more of an open door policy, helping teachers feel less pressure to perform, or to identity what learning is like on a day-to-day basis. But if that’s the case, we really have to question how they are sometimes carried out. Although providers usually seek something that’s more informal and distinctly different to those traditional observations, the reality is they sometimes become just ‘miniature observations’.

Let’s break down these common aims for more clarity and to challenge what we do:

Purpose: Learning walks to get a more accurate picture of the quality of learners’ day-to-day experiences.

Ok so going to classes more often might give you a more thorough picture than just one or two observations a year but is it anymore real?

Ask yourself:

  • Do we tell teachers when we will be walking?
  • If we do, are we sure we are seeing sessions in their natural, usual state?
  • Do we walk at lots of different times of the year, days of the week and times of the day?
  • If we don’t, what else are we doing to get a well-rounded picture of the learners’ experiences?
  • Do we pounce when we notice something that isn’t quite as we would like it to be or take time to find out more about how typical this thing is for that group of learners, and for others?
  • Do we actually decide where to look based on finding out about learners’ experiences or do we decide which teachers’ classes to visit?

Purpose: To help teachers feel they are not being judged and that learning walks are an opportunity to begin sharing.

Ask yourself:

  • Who does the learning walks?
  • Is it only or mostly managers?
  • If so, what message does that give?
  • Is there anything teachers are missing out on?
  • Are you feeding back to individual teachers?
  • What does this create?
  • If so, how does this differ to observations in terms of how it feels for teachers?
  • Do you make judgements about what you see in those short spaces of time?
  • If so, is it at all possible you are making any assumptions?
  • Are you ensuring that what is found during learning walks is used to aid teaching team sharing and reflection?
  • When and how does this happen, and what is the impact of it?

Purpose: To create a culture where learners welcome other educators into their classroom (the ‘open door’ policy).

Ask yourself:

  • Do you take a clipboard or computer in with you and / or take notes in the room where the session is taking place?
  • If so, how does this feel to teachers?
  • How does this differentiate from the note taking because of the need to capture evidence in full observations (Just to be clear, I’m not saying there is a need to capture evidence in full observations, but that is often how they are carried out)
  • To what extent does this support the culture you are trying to create?
  • How pleasant do you make the experience?
  • What efforts do you make to ensure the teacher feels more at ease?
  • How do you stay open-minded and demonstrate to teachers that you are learning too?
  • Do you walk in the room and say ‘I’m on a learning walk?”

I have to ask about explaining the entry to the lesson as “I’m on a learning walk’.   If we use this term to describe this thing we are doing and we then surround it with clipboards; individual feedback (telling the teacher what went well and what didn’t); punitive knee jerk reactions when we see something we didn’t believe to be good enough; entering the room and somehow failing to even talk to the teacher; and making up our minds about things with little evidence, what do we expect will happen?

When we do this, could we simply be saying ‘I’m on a learning walk. It is something to be wary about. I am the authority here and you dear teacher, are at risk’. You might not intend that but could it be that’s how it’s perceived? Is that at all possible? Countless times I have heard those carrying out learning walks enter a room saying ‘I’m on a learning walk’ (always against my advice). Where this happens, it often goes hand in hand with hearing teachers nervously saying ‘Are you on a learning walk?’ It’s become a thing. A negative thing. A thing filled with fear. It’s become a miniature observation. Something that teachers feel is done to them rather than with them. And if that’s what it’s become, good luck in using it to get that meaningful sustainable improvement we are seeking.

It isn’t always this way of course, but we do need to question the extent our ways of working support our intentions. We need to be consistent through and through.

Improvement does not simply occur by identifying the quality of learners’ experiences in different sessions and then feeding back to teachers about it. We know this, right? It has a chance to occur when we create a culture in which improvement can thrive. So, we should be asking the question, how could we create a positive improvement culture? This is where learning walks, carried out with real consideration, can play an important role.

As culture changes, the way in which you interact with teachers and the strategies you use to support improvement can change. But, if it’s getting that positive improvement culture you are after, you might start by carefully thinking through your intentions. These might be to:

  • Let teachers know you're genuinely interested and passionate about learning and the learners
  • Let teachers know you are there to help
  • Make teachers feel valued
  • To find out about some good experiences learners have
  • To find positive or inspiring things to share
  • To find things to start a dialogue with teachers
  • To find out about, and explore the positive experiences of a particular 'type' of learner?

The idea here is that if you are aiming for a positive, enthusiastic, and inquisitive teaching team, you simply demonstrate positivity, enthusiasm and an inquisitive mind.

It really helps to develop some guiding principles such as trust, empowerment, kindness and humility. Once you have really explored the principles to support the culture you seek this will help you answer some of the detailed questions and possible conflicts that arise as you go about your walks.

So often, we forget our guiding principles and intentions. That’s one way of getting things horribly wrong. If we say to teachers that dropping into classrooms is to help us learn more and work together, we need to ensure that our actions match our words. Knee jerk reactions, assumptions, and ego are often our biggest downfalls.

There’s a lot to consider in order to really get it right. If you want to explore developing a positive culture of improvement, using learning walks more effectively, or dealing with some of the challenges along the way, I am always happy to chat.

Deborah McVey, Managing Director, Deborah McVey Ltd

Sign up here for free resources related to: positive improvement culture, observation and improvement of learning, teaching and learning resources for use in lessons as well as other interesting education articles, hints and tips from Deborah McVey Ltd.

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 1 hour 37 minutes ago

Kickstart 30 job threshold removed from 3rd Feb 2021 and over 120,000 jobs created so far: The 30 job threshold for… https://t.co/wzff6KC2Gb
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page