The school visit toolkit provides an immersive and reflective experience that interrogates how equity plays out in school environments committed to equity.

Description

Step 1: School Walk (Adapted from National School Reform Initiative)

In teams of three walk through the host school for 20-30 minutes. Make non-evaluative observations, avoiding qualitative judgements about what you see. As you walk, discuss the following questions:

ENCOUNTER:

  1. What do you see? What don’t you see?
  2. What do you wonder about?
  3. What do you think this school is working on?

If you work with the school, don’t give a tour, explain, apologize or show off. Look at your partner school and participate with a beginner’s mind.

Step 2: Classroom Observations (For the Observer)

Remaining in your triads, go to your first assigned classroom. Quietly try to find a seat that does not disrupt the flow of instruction. Observe the class from an equity lens with the following questions in mind (jotting down notes is encouraged):

  1. Is it clear what teachers want students to do?
  2. Who participates?
  3. Do only certain students readily ask for assistance? Are there commonalities among this group?
  4. Does the teacher only engage with certain students? Are there commonalities among this group?
  5. Are students engaged in classroom discussion or are they responding to teacher?
  6. Is differentiation apparent?
  7. Is there a cohesive summary to the end of class?

Repeat in second assigned classroom. Triads return to meeting room. Debrief observations.

Step 3: “Fireside Chat” with Host School Leadership and Observers

Conversation between the school’s leadership team and observers:

Reflections on partnership experience

  1. How is this school emblematic of equity challenge?
  2. How does this school represent the possibilities of “what can be”?
  3. Quote from Leading for Equity: Discussing the commonalities between schools that moved the needle on their achievement gaps: “…all of these school teams worked on implementing systems and processes that required their staffs to engage in behaviors that were consistent with the belief that all students can master high-level content, and that it is the role of the adults in schools to help them do just that.” (p. 116)
  4. Quote from Leading for Equity: Discussing the commonalities between schools that moved the needle on their achievement gaps: “…all of these school teams worked on implementing systems and processes that required their staffs to engage in behaviors that were consistent with the belief that all students can master high-level content, and that it is the role of the adults in schools to help them do just that.” (p. 116)
  5. How does or can a commitment to equity inform your hiring decisions? What successes do you see? What challenges still exist?
  6. What is the conversation about race/ethnicity/language status in this school? (administration-teachers; teacher to teacher; teacher-student; student to student)

Step 4: Debrief School Visit With Your Team (Observers)

Individual reflection and share out

  1.  Ah-has
  2. Learning
  3. How does [SCHOOL] and this visit inform your organization’s equity work?
  4. What level (system, organizational, individual) is there inequity operating if you saw any
  5. What system level policies and practices create inequities
  6. What organizational level policies and practices create inequities.
  7. What adult practices and policies create inequities (individual)

Time Required

2.5 hours + 2 Class periods

Required Materials

School walk - 20-30 min

Classroom Observation - 2 class periods

Fireside Chat - 50 Min

School Visit Debrief - Varies

Hosting School:

  • A room to do the fireside chat, or discussion with the visiting team and individuals from the hosting school.

Visitor:

  • Pen and notebook for recording observations

Preconditions for Success

For Hosting School:

  • Prepare which classrooms/periods the visiting team will be observing. Make sure you have gotten the permission of the teachers involved in these classrooms beforehand.
  • This activity is not meant to be evaluative, so do not feel the need to showcase exceptional practice.
  • Make sure that what you want the observer to notice is actually happening. 

For Visiting Team:

  • Have a clear understanding for why you are visiting this school. Through internal reflection, identify a specific area or challenge that you/your organization aims to focus on. Then identify a bright spot, or a school or other organization that excels in the focus or challenge area that you have identified.
    • How to identify a brightspot:
      • Could be a school or organization that was mentioned in an article or another medium
      • Could be through personal/professional connections
  • Decide who from your organization/team should do the school visit. The decision on who to go may depend on your organization’s focus area or the specific question you are trying to answer with this school visit.
  • Throughout the visit, ask yourself the question, “What is the work here that I can bring back to my organization?”
  • Keep your role as an unobtrusive observer
  • Take a learner stance. The focus of this activity is not to provide criticism. As the observer, you are the one who is doing the learning.

Connection to Equity

The school visit activity provides educators an opportunity to encounter another learning environment. By observing another school, educators could reflect on other contexts that are similar or different from their own, identify strategies other schools are using, and utilize this experience to inform their own approach to their equity challenge. This activity can also act as an initial entry point for schools to partner with each other and create meaningful networks under the common goal of addressing equity.

Preferred Citation

School Visit Protocol developed by UChicago Consortium on School Research using FYAS developmental experience lens.