At the start of my first year as a literacy coach, I was more than a little overwhelmed by my new role. I needed to quickly build relationships with teachers, learn seven grade levels of curriculum, and become familiar with the unique cultures of my schools. Then one of my principals told me that they would like me to visit classrooms unannounced for 5–10 minutes at a time with the intent of getting to know the teachers and notice what was happening in terms of literacy instruction across the school. This did not sit well with me, nor did I think it was something teachers would appreciate. Quite honestly, to just show up and observe in a teacher’s classroom felt like spying. However, if this was what I was being asked to do by administration, I would need to try it.
The first year of doing these “drop-ins” was awkward. As I entered classrooms and sat on the rug with students during a lesson, or knelt down at their desks as they worked, I felt like I was intruding. Some teachers would greet me quickly and invite me to be part of the activity, others would keep teaching after seeing that I didn’t need them right away, and others would seem quite anxious about my arrival. In the classroom I would listen, glance around a bit, watch the lesson or see what kids were doing, and then leave. Sometimes I would leave a little sticky note with a message of “kudos” for the teacher, but that was about it. I did gain some information about what instructional practices were present throughout the school, but these drop-ins were not successful in building relationships. In fact, it felt like they did the opposite.
Fast-forward a few years, and my approach to and thoughts about drop-in visits have changed. I began to realize how many benefits there are to spending just a few minutes at a time in classrooms. I learned that success in implementing drop-in visits that feel supportive relies on being respectful, transparent, and collaborative.
Steps in Conducting Successful Drop-in Visits
- Talk with teachers.
- Make it a habit.
- Put visits into your schedule.
- Take pictures/document.
- Share openly with teachers.
- Leave a note (and chocolate!) .
- Follow up in person with questions (if needed).
Talk with Teachers
Transparency matters. Teachers need to know what you are doing and why you are doing it to build trust. I share with teams that these visits are meant as a way to get a quick view of literacy across the school and are not meant to be a “gotcha” in any way. Because of this assurance, teachers now feel free to talk with me during visits, ask questions, or highlight work they are doing with students.
Make It a Habit
For drop-in visits to feel like part of the routine, they should happen consistently. I find if they occur less than once or twice per week, the visits can become more of a distraction to the classroom. When students and staff are used to you dropping in for a bit, they will be less distracted by your visit and will begin to see you as a part of the class.
Put Visits into Your Schedule
I tend to plan drop-ins around my other coaching obligations such as in-class cycles and meetings. I keep a Google calendar of the literacy class times in my schools so I can pull it up where I see open slots in the day. Then I tend to visit each classroom in the grade within the same window of time. To keep track of my visits, I keep a page documenting dates, subjects, and classrooms. This helps me decide where to visit next.
I carry an iPad with me everywhere I go. One thing I love to do is capture all the great work happening in classrooms through photos. During each drop-in I try to capture an image of the visit. It may be student work, a chart, or the teacher working with kids.
Share with Teachers
To share these images with teachers, I have created a note for each teacher on Google Keep where I store notes and images from coaching cycles and drop-in visits. The teacher is a co-collaborator on these notes.
Leave a Note (and Chocolate!)
I have never been able to write a quick note while in the classroom to leave for the teacher, so I write one later in the day and leave it in their mailbox with a piece of chocolate. Many teachers have expressed gratitude for the note (and the treat).
Follow Up in Person with Questions (If Needed)
One of the benefits of doing a series of drop-in visits is that teacher and student needs may be revealed. I might offer a small suggestion on the drop-in visit notes, but if I see a need to ask questions or offer more specific feedback after a series of drop-in visits, I always schedule a time to talk in person with the teacher.
I enter classrooms with a focus on what I can notice and learn from teachers and students. There are so many lenses that can be used when visiting classrooms. Here are just a few things to notice.
- Environment: seating arrangements, rug space, teaching space, doc camera/projector use, student access to materials
- Teaching: use of language, equity, pacing, lesson elements, reciprocity of skills, classroom routines, conferring/small-group work
- Evidence of PD or coaching carryover: elements of current and prior professional development or coaching cycles in practice
- Student needs: book bin volume, reading/writing stamina and volume, student engagement and independence, specific students needing support
- Classroom needs: library needs (diversity, equity, volume, engagement), diversity of read-aloud options, materials, evidence of student voice, systems to support independence
If used respectfully, transparently, and collaboratively, drop-in visits can offer another way for coaches to stay connected to teachers and students.