Monday, March 8, 2010

School observations

In a couple of weeks, I'm going to visit three other schools to see why they're so great and we're not. I've had this planned for about 3 weeks but I've finally got all of the schedules worked out.1

Although it'll be nice to actually see another science teacher teach a class2, I'm primarily going to look at the stuff those schools do that create a successful school culture. Well, that and to look at anything assessment related of course.

I've never done this before and am making it up as I go. I've scheduled the schools so that I'm observing a class and then I get to talk with a teacher during his/her prep. I have about 2.5 hours at each school. I've written out a ton of questions to ask and things to look for but I'm looking for help from anyone out in cyberspace.

I have my assessment-related questions, mainly pertaining to common assessments and use of data. I have teacher collaboration questions. I have school structure questions (interventions, advisory, scheduling, class placement).

Two of the schools were on a Schools to Watch list maintained by the CDE. One of those schools I'm specifically going to for the way they've built collaborative time into their schedule.The other one I selected based on a big science CST score jump.

The reason I wanted to visit other schools in the first place is because my school still takes the every teacher for her/himself approach. We do our own things with little regard to what everyone else is doing. I understand the need to unite under a core vision and have everyone working towards that vision, I'm just unsure of how to do that on a school level.

Any questions  I should definitely be sure to ask? Anything I should look for or ask about? Is there anything that your school does that's great and I should know about?

1:My principal was all for it, but now she's a little less so because I started mentioning it to people and we've got four of us going now. We're not a school that easily gets substitutes and four people out is probably about double our number of capable subs.

2: I was a university intern. I don't know if other states have these but I taught full-time while taking classes at night at the local university. That means I never student taught. By my second year I was the most senior 8th grade science teacher and I'm currently (my fifth year) the second most senior teacher in my grade level. I haven't had a lot of any mentors. One of the many reasons I turned to the internet for support.


  1. I teach at a great school and just got back from visiting another great school. Even when the quality differential is small, it can be overwhelming to take in all of the great things (or not great things) that you see. My advice would be to pick a couple of things that you're really going to look out for, try to identify specific things that you can actually implement, and spend some time right after writing down your thoughts/reflections/general impressions. And be sure to post your big take-aways!

  2. Ask them about their collaboration time - is it voluntary? setup by the administrator? Look closely at how the administration has purposefully (or not) helped established ground rules & norms for collaboration. It's one thing to collaborate, it's another to collaborate for the right reasons - learn from each other, create common assessments, etc. Whatever questions you decide to ask, I hope you'll blog about it!

  3. Thanks for the comments. My focus is definitely going to be on collaboration and of course, assessment.

    @rtkelly - I'm really excited about this. I've only taught at one school in one classroom and I'd love to be blown away.

    @Matt - Yeah...collaboration time is one of my all time "I understand it, but I don't know how to actually do it" problems. Our higher ups are constantly saying the right things about collaboration but haven't changed any of our school structures to make that happen. Telling us, "You should get together and collaborate" isn't going to make it happen.

    My other issue is that of expectations. We are a low performing school and I definitely feel like we allow our children to fail. I don't know how to prevent that but clearly there are schools that just get it done.