Some Principles for Planning Effective School Visits

1. Build clarity around the purpose of the visit, among your critical friends and among colleagues, parents, and students in your school.

What questions do we have and how will a visit help uncover them?

  • What evidence will we ask our critical friends to look for or examine, to enable them to provide relevant feedback?
  • What steps should the school take in order to welcome the visitors and value their feedback?
  • What written background information will our visitors need? How can we use existing documents-the school’s restructuring plan, for example-to give this information?

2. Structure a visit that gives critical friends access to the information and observations they need to help the school.

  • How will we make our visitors comfortable (location of restrooms, bell schedules, a meeting room, a student guide, access to coffee)?
  • How will the visitors get to talk to students, teachers, and parents about student work (focus groups, candid interviews, meetings with leadership)?
  • Will there be samples of student work to look at? What data and evidence should be available?
  • How will the visitors get the “feel” of the school (student shadowing, teacher shadowing, classroom observations)?
  • How will we handle lunch (ask visitors to mingle, assign them hosts, arrange focus-group lunches)?
  • How and when can the visitors offer ideas about the design of the day’s activities?

3. Structure the feedback process so that as many people as possible can be involved in a non-threatening way.

  • Is there a time and a place in the agenda for visitors to discuss with each other what they have seen and talk about the feedback they want to give?
  • What will our grouping strategies be (team reports to staff, individuals to small groups, team reports to representatives)?
  • What data will we collect from our visitors (charted feedback, personal reflections, notes on the feedback)?
  • What will people need to feel safe in the feedback process (ground rules, facilitation, room set-up)?
  • Who needs to hear this feedback?

4. Think through the follow-up activities.

  • How will this feedback get to a wider audience?
  • How will we provide information to the visitors on the value of the visit and the quality of their feedback?
  • Will visitors need a room to debrief and plan following the visit?
  • How does this visit connect to the other visits the school will host?

Thanks to the Bay Area Coalition of Essential Schools (BayCES) for developing this material.