TeacherSquared Site Visits:
A toolkit for Teacher Prep consultancies
by christian sparling
After our first year of engaging in teacher preparation programming, it became clear that each institution’s list of problems-to-solve overlapped consistently. Where one program excels, others can learn. And where one program struggles, others can support. With few exceptions, our collective universe of problems is an overlapping list with different levels of priority and urgency for each institution. Your problems are my problems, too!
To facilitate cross-institution consultation, we developed a 1.5 day in-person protocol: the TeacherSquared Site Visit. Simply put, the TeacherSquared site visit aims to capitalize on the expertise that already exists within our network to help solve each other’s most pressing problems of practice. Unlike formal third party inspections or evaluations, the TeacherSquared site visit is non-evaluative. Friends with a critical eye visit a site to probe for evidence, offer recommendations, and use their professional judgement to give high leverage feedback.
The site visit process we developed is flexible, efficient, and maximizes the valuable time of all participants. While our partner institutions used this process mainly for consultation on defined problems-of-practice, this protocol could easily be adapted for various other purposes, such as kicking off communities of practice, monitoring quality assurance, deploying evaluation systems, gathering evidence to support strategic planning, or onboarding senior leadership.
Below is a summary of the TeacherSquared Site Visit process and protocol, as well as open-source tools and resources.
The TeacherSquared Site Visit
TeacherSquared has created an open source site visit process & toolkit that enables a single teacher preparation provider (TPP) - or a network of TPPs - to engage in a 1.5 day on-site consultation event with peers in the field to solicit evidence and action steps aligned with high-leverage areas of growth. We have piloted this process at each of our five partner institutions - Alder GSE, Relay, Sposato GSE, Teaching Excellence, and Urban Teachers. While each specific event was tailored to the hosting institution’s needs, here is the refined 1.5 day structure we used consistently throughout all site visits.
In order to maximize the benefits and outcomes of the site visit, the site visit host must first determine the focus of the site visit. This includes the following items:
- Self-Reflection: The host self-reflection is a narrative written by the host institution that provides a history and context of the institution, along with reflections on areas of focus for the site visit. This is provided to the site visit team prior to the visit.
- Site Visit Team: Based upon the self-reflection, the hosting institution will identify 6-9 site visitors to be part of the site visit team. Ideally, the site visit team is a diverse set of individuals both local and non-local who have prior experience in the specific areas of focus identified in the self-reflection.
- Site Visit Schedule: From the areas of focus identified in the self-reflection, the host institution will need to identify the types of activities most applicable, and then create a one-day schedule incorporating school visits, interviews, and other activities.
- Interview Scripts: In order to facilitate streamlined evidence collection by the site visitors, the host institution can create a set of questions for each area of focus and each specific audience to be used during interviews or document reviews. Pre-scripted questions with institution-specific lingo or themes enable site visitors to get right to the meat of the conversation without wasting any time,especially for site visitors who are less familiar with the host institution.
Day 1: Evidence Collection
The site visit kicks off on Day 1 with a short meeting of the site visit team early in the morning to receive some framing for the site visit and to familiarize themselves with the schedule and tools to use throughout the day. After this short meeting, the team spends the full day in groups of 2-3 engaging in a series of activities and interviews to to inform their feedback and recommendations. Generally, groups will spend the morning within K-12 partner school sites, and then the afternoon back at the host institution home office. Here is a non-exhaustive list of example activities:
- Teacher candidate/alumni classroom observations and personal interviews
- K-12 school leader interviews
- Teacher candidate and coach observation/feedback conversations
- Host Institution faculty interviews
- Teacher prep course observations
- Document review
- Video observations
The day ends with time dedicated for the site visitors to synthesize their notes and thoughts in preparation for Day 2’s debrief and feedback session.
Day 2: Debrief and Action Planning
The second day, a half-day, focuses entirely on providing the host institution with feedback and actionable steps for their identified areas of focus.
In the first part of the morning, the site visit team refines their feedback. The team prepares to formally present accolades - things worth celebrating, quick hits - small problems worth a mention, and 3 big rocks - evidence-based problem statements that illuminate the scale and impact of major issues requiring significant attention. Not surprisingly, big rocks often align with the host’s self-reflections.
In the second half of the morning, the host institution leaders join the room for the formal presentation of accolades, quick hits, and big rocks. After reviewing all evidence, the host chooses two of the big rocks to focus on, in the interest of time. The host has an opportunity to offer more context, especially regarding what has already been tried for each big rock. The group then engages in a brainstorm session to build a list of recommended solutions. The group then votes on this brainstormed list, crowdsourcing the most promising solutions to the top of the list. The host can then choose which action steps best align with their vision for improvement.
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What We Learned
- Leaders from Peer Institutions Give Great Advice: Unlike firm-based consultants, professionals who live the life themselves can share their own lessons learned and results from related initiatives. Peers can also offer advice on pitfalls to avoid, often based on past personal experience. When voting on potential solutions, peers in the work have a highly-tuned gut with a strong sense of what will actually work vs. what looks good on paper.
- Learning Goes Both Ways: All of our host sites found their site visits to be incredibly productive and useful for improving their institutions. However, we also discovered that at each visit, the site visitors also found their experience to be illuminating and a great professional development opportunity. Given that the site visit requires 1.5 days (and potential travel) for the site visitors, framing it in this manner increases the value and outcomes for all. Many senior leaders remarked that site visits were the some of the best professional development opportunities available to them.
- For Networks, Some Consistency is Beneficial: For any TPP networks aiming to host site visits at multiple institutions, we found that having a core group of visitors (one member per institution) who attend all site visits, in addition to the local, TPP-specific visitors, can be very beneficial. The experience of seeing all institutions collectively helps provide a different perspective, and allows the group to continue learning with each other.
- Launching a Community of Practice: In hindsight, the TeacherSquared community would have been better served to launch our collaboration with a series of site visits to learn more deeply about each other from the start. The site visit process would be a great way to launch a community of practice or technical assistance initiative since there is so much evidence collection and context building.
Site Visit Toolkit
Over the course of our five TeacherSquared site visits, we have developed a set of tools to guide and facilitate the entire event. These tools are used by the site visitors and host institution during the site visit to manage their schedule, track notes, and synthesize findings and evidence. Feel free to use and adapt our generic template versions of each tool for your own use.
- Site Visit Handbook: This handbook outlines the entire process of how to plan for and successfully facilitate a site visit at your institution.
- Site Visit Schedule: Use this generic example template for participants to easily see their schedule and access relevant links.
- Site Visitor Playbook: This template is used to create personalized “playbooks” for each site visitor that outlines their own specific schedule for Day 1 and includes addresses, interview scripts, and spaces to take notes. As a Google doc, the site visitor can access and edit their playbook from any place that has internet access.
- Site Visitor Worksheet: This worksheet is used throughout Day 1 by site visitors to track their accolades, quick hits, and takeaways. On Day 2, the “Big Rocks” tab guides the group through identifying big rocks and then providing evidence and potential solutions to the host institution.
- Host Summary: Use this generic template to consolidate all the notes and feedback from the site visitor Worksheet into a more user-friendly, shareable document for the host institution at the conclusion of the site visit.
If you choose to pilot any of the tools above, please share your experience with us!
About the Author
As deputy director for TeacherSquared at Relay GSE, Christian’s work focuses on operational support for cross-institutional initiatives that support data-driven improvement, DEI, and teacher educator development. Prior to joining Relay, Christian worked at Uncommon Schools as Associate Chief Operating Officer serving North Star Academy in Newark, NJ. He started his career teaching 1st and 2nd grade in the Bronx, NY through Teach For America.