How to Set Up Peer VisitationsRead Now
My previous post highlighted the benefits of visiting other teachers’ classrooms. If you haven’t read that post yet, check it out to learn why peer visitation is a powerful form of professional development.
Once you’re ready, let’s dive in and address the question: How do I make this happen?
Below are a few ideas to get you started. (Note: Most of these ideas don’t require administrative action. Teachers can set this up on their own!)
First, you’ll need a way to get the word out.
Use pineapple charts. I had no idea these had a name until recently! (I learned this from Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy blog.) Basically, teachers create a public document with different dates/times they are willing to host visitors in their classroom, and they write down what they want to showcase (e.g., Socratic Seminar, a lab experiment, station rotation, a new tech tool). The last school I taught in had network-wide digital versions of pineapple charts, so teachers could visit classrooms in other schools, which was really fun. You can norm whether visiting teachers sign up (to limit the number of visitors at one time) or just drop by when they can. This can be super informal with no paperwork or reflection required. Alternatively, you can add more structure if desired. Next, we’ll look at what structural pieces you may want to consider.
Next you’ll want to consider some structural basics.
Before we dive into these, I want to emphasize this again: if you’re just starting out, keep it really low-stakes. Get the inspiration flowing, and then you may want to add some structure to amplify the learning.
If you want to add some structure, here are some questions to consider:
How will you determine the focus of the visit? It’s helpful to be clear on what the visitor and the host want to get out of the visit, even on a general level. In the pineapple chart example, the showcased activity or topic somewhat answers this question. Perhaps the host teacher adds a guiding question to this chart to further clarify their goals for the lesson (and what they want feedback on). A focus question could be: How can Socratic Seminar enable all student voices to be heard? Then, teachers could sign up for the topic and question in which they are most interested. Alternatively, visitors and host teachers could touch base briefly (in person or via email) to decide on a focus question together. Either way, it’s important teachers are at the heart of this decision. This should not be imposed by administrators. (Although, one clear year-long vision that administrators consistently reinforce may influence which topics teachers choose. An example of a focused vision could be: This year, as a school, we want to create classroom cultures that are student-centered.)
What norms do you want to set for the visit? Determine if this is decided by individual teachers participating in the visits or on a school (or network) level. For example, I think it’s helpful for visiting teachers to be able to walk around the room and talk to students, but you may want to norm how and when this is done (e.g., only during independent work time when the teacher is not giving directions, should the visiting teacher help struggling students or just observe how they’re working). You may want to provide a loose structure for visiting teachers, maybe a simple note-catcher like a student-focused notice and wonder T-chart, or sentence stems like: the teacher did ___, then student(s) did ____. Maybe you don’t want a formal tool, but I would still norm that the “look fors” are student responses to the lesson. This reinforces that we’re not visiting to critique teacher moves, we’re seeking knowledge around how specific teacher moves impact student learning.
How long will a visitor stay? Determine if there is a minimal length of time visitors should be in the class, and at which point in the lesson visitors should leave. This might be best determined by individual host teachers, as it might be lesson-specific. For example, a Socratic Seminar lesson may need to be a whole class period visit, as visitors will benefit from seeing how the teacher sets up the class for success, the actual seminar in action, and the debrief. However, a visit focused on a new tech tool that’s only being used for 25 minutes, would only require teachers to visit for those 25 minutes the tool is in use.
How will you debrief the visit? I have participated in visits in which there is minimal debrief, but I’ve always found immense value in face-to-face debriefs where possible. You’ll want to determine what will be shared. Do you want it to be a Q&A, where the visiting teacher asks clarifying questions of host teachers to better understand the context or set up for a lesson? Will the visiting teacher offer feedback? If so, I recommend having a structure that ensures feedback is low-inference and student-focused. Notice & Wonder is a simple protocol you can use, (“I saw X during my visit. I’m wondering about Y.”) In visits focused on offering helpful feedback to the host teacher, have the host teacher share what they noticed first. Another really low-stakes option would be to have the visiting teacher share 1-2 takeaways (i.e., “I’m going to try ___ in my class.”) This is a really quick way for the visiting teacher to communicate thanks to the host teacher and also highlight things the host teacher is doing well.
Administrators or teacher leaders may want to explore specific peer visitation models.
The bottom of this Education World article shares several popular peer visitation models. My favorites are Lesson Study (teachers plan the lesson together), Peer Coaching (less formalized structure), Critical Friends Group (highly structured—regular meetings of 8-12 teachers, admin, and instructional coach), and Learning Walk (group visits several classrooms to get a sense of broad school trends).
No matter how formal the collegial visits are structured, the important thing to remember is that the goal is personal professional growth, not critique of other teachers. The best way to keep this in mind is to structure all visiting teachers’ “notices” or feedback on what they see students doing or saying. A teacher could deliver a beautiful lesson, but if the students didn’t understand anything, it’s useless. Both the visiting teacher and the host teacher learn and grow when they can see the impact of particular teacher moves on students.
So, eye on the prize: let’s get inspired to learn and grow as teachers so that we can inspire students to learn and grow as well.
I made a little starter kit to get you up and running. It includes a visitation sign-up form you could print and place in the main office as well as a simplified note-catcher to provide some light structure for visiting teachers during the lesson.
I would love to hear how you are doing (or plan to start doing) teacher visitations!
Share in the comments below or on our private, educators-only Facebook group.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.