School Visits - a professional development tool

School Visits - a professional development tool

When we think of continuous professional development for teachers, learning through school visits is a must.

It can be a powerful part of a professional learning plan and a critical part of a school transformation effort. It expands your sense of what is possible and informs the path forward. There is a strong need to embed a culture of teacher learning visits because it will result in the development of a natural teacher coaching model. Teachers will critically consider their own practice regularly and seek improvements. They will think about all the great practice going on in the school behind closed doors and through school visits will open the door to new learning experiences for other teachers. It will empower teachers to share their ideas and teaching practice beyond the classroom and their own school and make them feel the deep impact of the wonderful teaching-learning work they do.

School visits are a valuable tool for staff professional development, particularly because the focus comes from the teacher. They build a community of trust and offer the chance to open classroom practice to an audience wider than just your students. One of the best ways to see deeper learning in action is to visit schools. School visits are not about judging each other but about learning from each other and sharing best practice. I regularly visit different schools that are innovative in instructional practices or are stellar examples of how to create stimulating and engaging learning environments for each learner in attendance. For me school visits are one of the best forms of professional learning. When I talk to inspiring leaders and educators, many say that they visited different schools to better understand what goal, vision and next steps made sense for their school community. The visits have inspired me to take on a new idea, help solve a common challenge or rethink what is possible.

In the field of education, one easily becomes tied to one’s own school building because you feel guilty to leave your own school and pupils behind to visit someone else’s school and pupils. But I have been strongly committed to visiting schools and learning about practices and programmes happening in other schools that could be beneficial to my own school.   It also helps me to gain perspective on different approaches to school leadership and how the process of change is managed in different contexts.  I’ve been struck by how open principals are, to letting me come and sit in classrooms at their schools and to make time to meet with me to talk about teaching and learning. It is a wonderful experience to walk in the classrooms or the learning corridors and watch what the students and adults are doing. I have enjoyed talking to heads of schools about their biggest success/biggest challenge in their role in the past few months and how they have dealt with it. It is nice to discuss what they would change about the school and why. I have learnt so much from these observations and conversations. They often spark ideas which I take back to my team. These focussed school visits have helped me gain insights into what others schools and teachers feel is important to achieve success in school.

Teachers need to see and hear about a school’s struggles just as much as they need to see the celebrations and successes. This is particularly true when implementing a new or innovative idea. Taking risks often comes easier when we understand the potential pitfalls and rewards. It is nice to dream big, but also to take time to learn from others doing similar work . Sometimes seeing is believing! Seeing schools that are in a transition period is also helpful for educators seeking to implement a new idea. Always seeing a finished product or end result without seeing the path to get there can be deceiving. Every great school we visit will always say they are a work in progress. Seeing that progress in person is grounding for educators embarking on implementation of an idea.

School visits also help teachers to step outside their own comfort zone. Visiting schools creates a possibility to envision something different for students, or even see oneself in a teacher or a leader you meet. I started out on school visits for collaborating on learning, but it also helped me to make connections that facilitated exchange of ideas. I learnt to acknowledge existing successes and celebrate progress. I saw great similarities with practices we are already using or innovative ideas that my school is already implementing well.

School learning visits help teachers to support each other. It helps to embrace peer support, coaching and empowerment. Learning new strategies from colleagues from other schools is one of the good things about school visits.