The Other Side of the Fence: A Visiting Team’s Norms for Gathering Evidence

Before Michigan schools may join the Coalition, they must first compile a portfolio demonstrating the school’s learning about the Ten Common Principles; present an exhibition about that work to parents and community members; host Essential school colleagues from around the state as they visit classrooms and meet students and faculty; and present a dilemma to the visiting team for its help and feedback.

The visiting team, too, has its obligations: to gather evidence of school-wide commitment to implementing the Common Principles; to analyze its capacity for self-analysis and collaborative problem-solving; and to observe its commitment to documenting the impact of its efforts on student learning.

Just as the host school must think through its visit (see sidebar), so the visitors must prepare for their evidence-gathering. One Michigan visiting team, for example, came up with the following agreements beforehand:

  • The purpose of our evidence-gathering is not to compare or evaluate, but to provide the school with accurate information they can use to decide “next steps” in their quest to become an excellent school.
  • We are “critical friends,” no more experts than the folks at the school we are visiting. We only provide an external and more objective “lens” through which they can view their own progress, their strengths, and the challenges that lie ahead for them.
  • Try to enter the process as a “tabula rasa,” a blank slate. Avoid imposing your own philosophy, pedagogy, or practices on the school.
  • Think in terms of teaching and learning, not teachers and students. The evidence we seek consists of:
    • Factual data you are given or told about (for example, “68 percent of our students take part in some extracurricular activity.”).
    • Concrete observations you can describe (“Students in ninth-grade math worked in groups of four on a statistics problem using graphing calculators,” for example, or “Samples of illustrated student essays were displayed in hallways.”
    • Direct quotes (avoid paraphrases) taken in context (for example, “There appears to be strong support for reform at our school, though not everyone is on board”).
  • Evidence must be in written form, gathered in notebooks and posted for all team members to see.
  • The team must agree on any and all evidence that will be presented to the school. Any team member may challenge a piece of evidence. The team will discuss the challenged evidence and come to consensus about its inclusion.
  • When all evidence is gathered, posted, and agreed on, the team will form summary statements that reflect the weight of the available evidence.
  • The team will finally develop a set of questions to leave with the school, related to the Ten Common Principles, the school’s mission statement, or both, and intended to guide its further growth.