Why It Is So Important to Visit Other Schools (and how to do it right)

I recently lead a team of six Middle School teachers and our Middle School Principal on a school visit. We are just starting a Chromebook pilot with our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Language Arts teachers, and this visit was to a school district that has a 1:1 Chromebook initiative running from 5th-12th grade.

It was an awesome visit, well worth the two-hour round trip.

Our teachers were engaged in meaningful discussion with each other (filling up a shared Google Doc throughout the visit). Had fantastic questions for the teachers they observed (some of which we planned ahead of time). And most importantly, were able to see firsthand what was kinds of learning activities were “possible” with ubiquitous technology.

The host school did not put on a show. They let us come in and see exactly what a normal day looked like. A few minor tech glitches here or there didn’t stop the students or the teachers (what a great thing to see!), and the entire school was welcoming of our team from the Principal and Tech Director to the teachers and the students.

As we discussed the benefits of coming on the visit during our follow up lunch, one of my teacher’s made the comment that this was their “first time” visiting another school district. A few others shared that it was their first experience doing this as well. Each of them remarked how valuable it had been and how valuable it would be moving forward…which got me thinking:

Why don’t we visit other schools more often?

It seems silly that we wouldn’t visit other schools, but this is an area of education that many teachers never get to experience. Often it boils down to whether or not the culture values these types of trips, and sees value in these types of trips.

For instance, how often do teachers get out of their own classroom in your school and visit/observe other teacher’s classes?

If the answer is “rarely” or “never”…I’d ask, why not?

Leaving the bubble of our own classroom and seeing what others in our own school are doing is the first step to broadening our understanding of instructional practice.

Going on a school visit takes it a step further. Teachers and administrators are able to see what types of learning activities and experiences are valued in other schools. Our teachers were there to see Chromebooks in action…but that was just the tip of the iceberg. How that tool was used was important, but also what it was being used to do curricularly was just as important.

Doing it the right way

I don’t believe there is one “right” way to do a school visit, but I know there are a few specific steps we took to make it a valuable experience.

1. A Specific Purpose

We wanted to see Chromebooks in action. I reached out to this school because they had been using Chromebooks in the classroom for a few years and would be a great resource to learn from for teachers and administrators. This made our visit have purpose, and made it easier to make a case for why this was so important.

2. Touch Base with All Stakeholders Ahead of During Planning

I made sure to reach out to the Principal and Tech Director to get us all on the same page. Then our Middle School Principal and I did a good job of touching based with all of our teachers ahead of time to “save the date” and start thinking about the visit…as well as making sure others at our district office knew why we were going on the visit.

3. Short Planning Meeting Before

Our teachers and principal got together to talk logistics (who was driving, when they were leaving etc) and also come up with a set of questions that they’d like to ask during the visit. This proved to be a great resource during the visit and made things go smoothly.

4. A Detailed Visit Schedule

Their Principal and Tech Director worked with me to put together a succinct schedule of four classroom visits followed by a debriefing time. This kept us moving along and also gave time for questions and discussion at the end of the visit.

5. Notes and Follow-Up Talk

We took shared notes throughout the visit on a Google Doc, and followed up with a discussion of our own over lunch. We’ll continue this discussion a week later in grade level meetings to talk about how we can use this visit to move forward in a few specific areas.

I believe school visits (just like going into your peers’ classrooms) are an important way for us as educators to connect and get out of our bubble. There’s no reason not to do more of these visits…but make sure they have a purpose, and are planned appropriately.

What you’ll get out of it is a valuable learning experience that goes beyond the main purpose, and will be a frame of reference and conversation as you move in new directions!

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