Schools Learning from Each Other

School Redesign Network

The School Redesign Network, based at Stanford University, is a powerful collaborative that provides resources both for creating small schools and for redesigning large schools. The School Redesign Network’s web site is exceptionally useful, with lessons and ideas for small school design, guidelines, research overviews, video clips from scholars and practitioners discussing small school development, access to online discussion and email groups, and other resources to support small, high-performing schools. Its generous, comprehensive Field Guides, which gather multimedia materials aimed at supporting and stimulating school redesigners, are a valuable and rich synthesis of readings, school stories in print and video, interactive activities, and artifacts from schools. The website also features a section devoted to making the most of school visits. The School Redesign Network sponsors various offline “real life” events, including the study tours discussed in this issue’s “Sustained School Partnerships: Mentoring, Collaboration, and Networks.”

Connected Learning Communities: A Toolkit for Reinventing High School (Chapter 7)??”Jobs for the Future

This final chapter of a much larger report on community- connected learning created by Jobs for the Future and the U.S. Department of Education’s New American High Schools Initiative makes the case for “design studios”??”school visits that last for several days during which planning teams do their crucial planning work at the host school’s site. This chapter provides a planning guideline, a worksheet for the host schools designed to help them identify how they can help visitors, sample schedules, observation worksheets, trip reflection worksheets, and an action planning guide meant to be used to capture ideas and energy while at the host school site. For schools that have the opportunity to collaborate with their hosts prior to an intensive visit, this chapter is a valuable resource.
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Guide to Going on Site Visits??”New Visions for Public Schools

New York City’s New Visions for Public Schools offers this concise framework for site visits on its website. Geared toward New York schools in particular, the guide nonetheless is generally useful for any schools planning visits elsewhere, with suggestions for preparation, sample agendas for half-and full-day visits, school visit guidelines, and a sample site visit report.

Seeing Progress: A Guide to Visiting Schools Using Promising Programs??”American Federation of Teachers

The American Federation of Teachers offers this 28-page guide to planning school visits, aimed at schools that are evaluating various improvement programs. It’s not, therefore, relevant for helping to build deep and sustained relationships, but it’s a great resource if you want a framework to think methodically about visiting schools. Among other materials, “Seeing Progress” contains a sample letter to send to a school that your team wants to visit, a detailed planning checklist to usher a visiting team through the process, a guide to questions to ask during a visit, a classroom observation overview, suggestions for how to create a planning team, and a sample visit debriefing packet. It’s a worthwhile framework to use to think step-by-step about how to evaluate other schools.
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Student Learning in Small Schools: An Online Portfolio from What Kids Can Do

Most of the resources featured here concern “real-life” visits to schools for the sake of learning between school communities. Other possibilities for learning from other schools include visiting them online, and What Kids Can Do, in conjunction with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has created “Student Learning in Small Schools,” a particularly rich and useful virtual school visit site. This online small schools portfolio devotes its four sections to the Minnesota New Country School (Henderson, MN), the Met (Providence, RI), Urban Academy (New York City), and High Tech High (San Diego, CA), with an additional area devoted to small schools resources. The site was created to complement Thomas Toch’s High Schools on a Human Scale (see review, page 16). While the four school portraits aren’t structurally identical, each is focused on student work, and each gets at the heart of what makes these schools work well for students. “Student Learning in Small Schools” demonstrates how these schools take advantage of the favorable conditions that smallness creates for maximum personalization and personal challenge. As well, the site provides a wealth of direct materials (forms, curricula, schedules, etc.) that practitioners can use to shape their own schools’ efforts. home.html

Site Visitation Toolkit??”National Association of Secondary School Principals

This succinct toolkit, a collection of six documents, pays dual attention to the needs of visiting schools and host schools. Most visit resources don’t deal with what host schools can and should do to prepare for visitors, so “Quick Tips for Hosting a Site Visit” may be of interest to schools expecting to open their doors to educators and others. The toolkit provides a three-page questionnaire for hosts to use to learn more about visiting schools??”a helpful way to get past surface exchanges of information and onto more substantial matters. It also offers a checklist matrix for observations, organized along the Breaking Ranks/Turning Points framework, that is clearly organized and easily adaptable.

Specific Changes in the CPSS Visit Protocol??”New England Association of Schools and Colleges

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Public Secondary Schools uses three-day on-site visits by peer evaluation teams as one of the central avenues to school accreditation. “Specific Changes in the CPSS Visit Protocol” provides an overview of the visiting team’s schedule at a school that is seeking accreditation, describing activities designed to immerse visitors in the life of a school: meetings with teachers, receptions with representatives from the school community, evaluations of student work, custodian- and student-led building tours, shadowing students, and classroom observations. Along with other material from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Public Secondary Schools web site, the CPSS Visit Protocol is useful for any team aiming to employ an evidence-based model of observation.

Overview of Site Visit Protocol??”High School Alliance

The High School Alliance, a partnership of over forty education-and youth-related organizations based at The Institute for Educational Leadership, has created a Site Visit Protocol designed to guide visitors through an evidence-based evaluation of a school. The Site Visit Protocol prompts visitors to look for specific indicators within five areas: shared norms and values, collective responsibility for implementing shared norms and values, focus on student learning, de-privatization of practice, and collaboration. A sixth section — which could stand alone as a school visit observation framework??”looks at the structures and conditions that support good practice in a school: leadership, school autonomy and shared decision making, time for teacher planning and analysis, and professional development.
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Looking at Student Work

This web site hones in on the effort of looking at student work collaboratively, a practice that many Coalition educators believe is at the heart of interschool collaboration and mutual improvement. It offers a strong collection of protocols, books and other research materials, teacher-generated research based on student work, and links to other organizations that focus on student work. For those who want to move deeply into sustained connection with other schools, the Looking at Student Work materials constitute a path of inquiry and discovery based on what’s really happening in the realm of daily learning and student growth.

The CES School Benchmarks

Designed primarily for schools to evaluate their own progress as they move more deeply into CES practice, the CES School Benchmarks cite achievement indicators for each Common Principle organized by descriptions of students, learning environments, organizational practices, community members, and school leaders. Teams that want to develop their own observation frameworks for school visits that aim to assess a school’s incorporation of the Common Principles will find the Benchmarks indispensable. This isn’t a ready-made resource??”the benchmarks need to be adapted for an observation framework??”but this document is a singular guide to understanding CES philosophy as it lives in schools.
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