Dissection of a school visit – (1) The preparation.

Old Andrew wrote an interesting piece for Academies Week about giving teachers more time and they will use it wisely. For the first time in 7 years I was given time off school to do something of interest for myself with regards to my teaching. I was allowed on a school visit.

A big area for me to improve at the school is increasing participation in competitive extra-curricular sport. Its something I believe in deeply, but It’s one of my own performance management targets and is linked in someway to the school development plan. In my time in charge I have introduced a sports personality celebration dinner, end of season sports awards, school colours for sports, sports tours, a twitter feed and regular reports in assemblies and on the school website. I’ve made some but little improvement. I wanted to see how a similar school who has much more success both in numbers and winning events was approaching the issues I faced. My school visit was focused around that.

This was the first school visit I had been on for a number of years, and going through the process I learnt a few things to make it more effective. Here are my top tips to improve the quality of your school visit. Like any good PE Teacher I’ll break it down.

Prep

 

Preparation

Be clear about what you want to view. My focus was on how they delivered competitive sport in a state school to a high standard. However I would also be interested in their PE Curriculum, Academic PE, Teaching and Learning provision, but that would be secondary to my key focus.

Understand why you want to go. There are a number of key issues that make the delivery of my job difficult; funding, ethos, support from staff outside of the PE department. Having spent seven years in my school I had run out of ideas to change them. I wanted to visit a school that had found potential solutions to my problems.

Send your key questions in advance. For me this involved meeting with the rest of my department, explaining why I was visiting the school and asking about their thoughts on the issues that affected us. Together we thrashed out 10 key questions we wanted possible answers to by the end of my visit. I sent them a week in advance to the school I was visiting.

Choosing the right school to visit. For me this is done in one of two ways. Either pick a school that has a great reputation in the area you are interested in or find a school that is similar to you. This school will probably have similar issues to yours and then you can see how they approach the area of your focus. Being local or in easy travelling distance is going to be important as well.

 

Execution

Be understanding. The teachers you are probably going to see and speak to are unlikely to have a full day off, they’ve probably have tried to fit you in around their busy work schedule. As a teacher yourself, you know how stressful that can be, and that school life and children have a funny way of throwing a curveball when you least expect it. If they have deal with an important matter, be supportive.

Don’t just talk to the key player. Obviously for me my opposite number, the Director of Sport, would understand the pressures and constraints of the role. However take the opportunity to talk to as many people as possible. On my visit I spoke to Head of PE, students, SLT, admin staff, teachers outside the PE Dept who coached sport, ground staff and two parents. I was intrigued to hear different the different viewpoints on my area of focus. That gave me a much deeper understanding of why they were successful.

Take all the opportunities presented to you. Although I arrived smartly dressed as you are not only representing yourself but your school, I had packed for all eventualities. I was offered the chance to team teach Year 8 Rugby and watch a far more experience and qualified coach than me prepare the 1st XV for a national tournament. These opportunities allow you to have a better understanding of the culture, ethos and approach. Be prepared for your subject!

 

Follow through

Write it all up and share. This is time consuming but a key part of the visit. Whilst it’s great to have fresh ideas in your head, it is far better to share. I wrote a full report and sent to Head, Line Manager and all in department. With regards to Department I put my visit on the agenda of our next departmental meeting and there was really good discussion that came from it. You might want to run it as INSET or a presentation to a group of people with a vested interested in the focus of your school visit.

Develop action points from the visit, within the context of your own school. Obviously not all the solutions are going to be possible with in your school. Different aims, funding streams, resources as well as any other number of issues may prevent you from adopting the approach that the school you visited may have. However if there is something you think will improve your current practise look to plan to build it in, but don’t change for the sake of changing.

Be thankful and reciprocate the offer. There were three staff at the school I visited that gave up a considerable amount of time to welcome me into their school and share with me what they do. I wrote them all a card and sent them a present to thank them for this. I also offered that if they ever want to have a school visit to my school they would always be welcome. Teachers have a surprising amount of information and good practice stored in their head, much better than outside CPD agencies. Building partnerships and links like these could be far better professional development for teachers.

The next step would be to review all the relevant information I gained.
 

What would you add to the list to make a school visit a success for your own professional development?

 

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