Sunday / July 21

Three Remarkable System and School Improvement Practices, Part III: Intention


In this three-part series, I write a lot about three of my favorite educational words and concepts: PREVENTION, INTERVENTION, and INTENTION. Each represents power-packed strategies that are a result of my research, evidence, and experience; they are the ‘how tos’ that finish incomplete, well-meaning educational advice telling us ‘what’ to do. In this series, Part 1 is PREVENTION: Data Walls Reveal ‘the Real Story’ of System, School and Student Performance; Part 2 is INTERVENTION: Case Management Meetings Provide System and School Knowledge-Building Forums; and Part 3 is INTENTION: System and School Learning Walks and Talks Answer: ‘How Do You Know All Students Are Achieving?”

Part 3: Intention

System and School Learning Walks and Talks Answer: ‘How do you know all students are achieving?”

A system’s progress can only be as rapid and sustainable as that of its many schools; a school’s progress can only be as rapid and sustainable as that of its many students in its many classes. In each case, two of the many potential limitations to the capacity required are a lack of clear expectations and not being INTENTIONAL in modelling and articulating that all students will learn.

How well do you know the FACES of your learners: students, teachers, leaders and parents? While gains in student achievement occur inside the classroom and are directly influenced by the effectiveness of the teacher, large system change is only possible when everyone in the organization sees him- or herself as responsible for the success of each student – their own and others, or what we call Parameter 14: Shared Responsibility and Accountability (Sharratt & Fullan, 2009, 2012). Each class contributes to the school targets, each school contributes to the system targets, each system contributes to the state targets and each parent wants to know how his/her child is doing. Everyone must know the answer by having a ‘line-of-sight’ to every student.

There are two ways of authentically monitoring student progress and teacher collective capacity-building:

  1. Developing and maintaining working Data Walls (Part 1 in this series) leading to Case Management Meetings (Part 2 in this series); and,
  2. Engaging in daily Learning Walks and Talks (Part 3 in this series).

Frequently, when groups are discussing different aspects of our Learning Walks and Talks (Sharratt, 2008-2018) in schools, those groups will be seen in front of their Data Walls (Part 1 of this series), checking out pieces of data. The Data Wall is a constant reminder to them of the power in having the data visible to challenge assumptions, test hypotheses, and align their collective and relentless focus on improving learning outcomes for every student (Sue Walsh, in personal communication, 2018).

As well, during regular, ongoing Learning Walks and Talks leadership team members informally check-in with the classroom teachers and the students following Case Management Meetings (Part 1 of this series) to check their progress and ask if any support is needed.

Principals and teachers conduct Learning Walks and Talks daily to look for evidence-proven, agreed-upon assessment and instructional strategies discovered through their collective Collaborative Inquiries. While some educators advocate and train teams to use clipboards, tablets and to “wear” an evaluative demeanor in their clinical-style invasions of classroom spaces, in Learning Walks and Talks there are no notebooks, paper and no conversation with teachers in the moment. There is no perception of invasion. After each Learning Walk and Talk there is an opportunity to record reflections away from the classrooms so that the Learning Walk and Talk process is not seen as evaluative but as growth-promoting to strengthen practice together.

Leaders become even better instructional leaders by becoming keen observers. They collect and record data after Learning Walks and Talks that will better inform conversations with teachers about what practices are or are not working in classrooms and why. The purpose is also to be unobtrusive, to observe and interact with students during a very limited 5-8-minute time frame (but replicated many times in different classrooms during each week to get a complete data collection picture of the school). The anchor chart in Figure 1 below clearly demonstrates what a Learning Walk and Talk is and is not.

Figure 1: Defining Learning Walks and Talks

Source: Lyn Sharratt, Diocese of Parramatta, NSW, Australia, 2017.

A highly focused snapshot of how a teacher is making a difference for each student is made by asking students five critical questions that check for the ongoing use of assessment “for” and “as” learning approaches (Sharratt, 2019). The five questions are:

  1. What are you learning? Why?
  2. How are you doing?
  3. How do you know?
  4. How can you improve?
  5. Where do you go for help? (Sharratt 2008-2019)

School leaders who conduct daily Learning Walks and Talks (Sharratt & Fullan, 2012; Sharratt & Harild, 2015, Sharratt & Planche, 2016, Sharratt, 2019) gather evidence of teachers’ intentional teaching and of students’ improvement when they ask students the five questions above. Student answers make teachers aware of how explicit their teaching is and often necessitate unpacking the questions with students. Leaders, teachers, and students who can accurately describe their learning and how to improve, close the achievement gap. After many walks, conversations with teachers ensue.

The 5 questions assist us in knowing more about our learners, how they learn, and what further instruction and support they may need. After leaving the classroom, the small group of Walkers briefly make their notes, quietly (and privately) discuss their individual data collected and reflect on what they each heard from students and what they noticed in the learning space to answer the above questions.

In leaders’ daily Learning Walks and Talks, they are looking for:

  • the explicit intentionality of the lesson;
  • the CLARITY of the Learning Intentions and evidence of co-construction of the Success Criteria;
  • strong and weak examples to guide students in their own decision-making;
  • the gist of the Descriptive Feedback – is it merely motivational in terms of comments such as “great work”, or is it really digging deeply in terms of the steps that students need to take to move forward; and
  • is there evidence of students’ ability to peer- and self-assess and set their own goals for learning?

The data collected when Walking and Talking are reflections on the impact of the ‘leading’ in the system or the school. They shape leaders’ on-going conversations and Professional Learning sessions with teachers. This leads me to conclude that leaders who conduct Learning Walks and Talks and observe classroom practice daily have the stamina and consistency to persist, resist, and insist – which is needed to manage complex change.

Data Walls showing growth and achievement (Part 1 of this Series), Case Management Meetings to find solutions to identified learning problems (Part 2 of this Series), and Learning Walks and Talks to look for evidence of teacher and student learning (Part 3 of this Series) are key ‘remarkable’ approaches in putting FACES on the data and taking ‘just-right’, timely and precise action. Experiences and observations during Learning Walks and Talks become data to be shared with the school staff and with the schools from which some walkers have come join the improvement conversations.

When Data Walls, Case Management Meetings and Learning Walks and Talks are focused on instructing each FACE, a visible difference is noted in developing consistent, high-quality classroom practice, leading to Prevention, Intervention and Intention.

For more information about Learning Walks and Talks, you can see Lyn Sharratt’s website,


Sharratt, L. (2019). CLARITY: What Matters MOST in Learning, Teaching, and Leading. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Sharratt, L. (2008–2018). Learning walks and talks [Training materials]. Australia, Canada, Chile.

Sharratt, L., & Fullan, M. (2009). Realization: The change imperative for deepening district-wide reform. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sharratt, L., & Fullan, M. (2012). Putting FACES on the data: What great leaders do! Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sharratt, L., & Harild, G. (2015). Good to great to innovate: Recalculating the route to career readiness, K–12. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Sharratt, L., & Planche, B. (2016) Leading collaborative learning: Empowering excellence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Written by

Dr. Lyn Sharratt is a highly accomplished practitioner, researcher, author, and presenter. She holds a Doctorate from the University of Toronto and coordinates the doctoral internship program in the Leadership, Higher and Adult Education department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto, Canada. Lyn has worked in four school districts across Ontario as a school superintendent, superintendent of curriculum and instruction, administrator, curriculum leader, and teacher. Lyn has taught all elementary grades and secondary-aged students in inner-city and rural settings. She is lead author, with Michael Fullan, of Realization: The Change Imperative for Increasing District-Wide Reform (Corwin, 2009) and Putting FACES on the Data: What Great Leaders Do! (Corwin, 2012, published in English, Spanish, and Arabic). Lyn is lead author of Good to Great to Innovate: Recalculating the Route K–12, (Corwin, 2015) with Gale Harild, and of Leading Collaborative Learning: Empowering Excellence (Corwin, 2016) with Beate Planche. Lyn’s fifth book: CLARITY: What Matters MOST in Learning, Teaching, and Leading (Corwin, 2019) is currently ‘in press’. As well as an author and practitioner working in remote and urban settings worldwide, Lyn consults internationally, working with system, school, and teacher leaders at all levels in Australia, Canada, Chile, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

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