Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Power of Classroom Visits

Time is always tight for educators, but collaboration doesn't have to be time set aside for an official meeting. It can be as simple as popping into a colleague's room, observing, and having a conversation. As I have seen more and more educators welcome others into their classroom, it has opened up conversations and spread great ideas. But how do you get this culture to happen?

A couple different ways have spread across my district and social media that would help teachers welcome classroom visitors.

1. Site Visits
A few years ago when our district went 1:1 Macbooks, we started to host site visits from outside districts to come see what we are doing with our program.  We received the Apple Distinguished Program honor for the work we are doing to transform learning using technology and it helped turn attention to our schools. When we first started, people asked why we would spend our time opening our doors? Why not! We have amazing things going on in our classrooms that are worth talking about. When you know visitors will be in and out of your classroom, teachers have a chance to showcase their teaching and look to always enhance their practices. Staff and students take pride and ownership in what they are doing. At the end of the visit, we invite administrators and teachers to debrief with us. This process is very reflective and allows us to keep coming back to why we do this.

We have learned so much from the visitors. Simple comments about programs used or another perspective on how to implement something could spark a great idea to make us even better. Wonderful educators like George Couros, John Antonetti, Saba Quidwai, and Carl Hooker have been able to tour many of our schools and share their expertise on ways we can improve even more.

Site Visitors interacting with students. 

Site visitors viewing students projects. 

2. Pineapple Chart

The idea from Jennifer Gonzalez, author of Hacking Learning and blogger at Cult of Pedagogy, has begun to spread across the district. She explains the charts very well in her blog post. The pineapple is a symbol for welcome. This chart allows teachers to post things going on in their classroom to welcome others to come see their lesson. At Hiawatha Elementary School and Freedom Middle School, you can find a Pineapple chart in their common area. Hiawatha Literacy coach, Leah O'Donnell wrote a blog post about how they use the chart as Hiawatha. Teachers can even put a pineapple on the outside of their door as a symbol for others to come into their class.

New pineapple chart at Freedom Middle School by Amy Gorzkowski.

Pineapple chart in use at Hiawatha by Leah O'Donnell.

3. #ObserveMe
Robert Kaplinsky has a call to action for teachers that is catching on. In his blog post, he challenges teachers to post a sign on their door inviting teachers to observe with explicit points of feedback they would like to receive. To further collaborate outside the school and spread the idea, he asks teachers to post on social media using #observeme. The point here is the feedback portion to help the teacher grow. Visitors will walk away with a new idea as well, so it's a win for both teachers. This idea is new to our district, but I have seen teachers with a sign that invites you.      

Sign on Angela Gonzales door that creates a welcomes others. 

Most teachers are humble and many are risk takers that are confident enough in their abilities to allow others to come in and give them support. Observing another teacher's classroom is a benefit for both educators involved. Try one or all of these ways and see what amazing things come from it! If you have done any of these I would love to hear your experience!

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