One of the professional expectations at our school is that we visit a departmental colleague and an out of department colleague at least once each year. I love visiting other classrooms and my job as chair makes it easy for me to ask in my department. I recently hosted a colleague in AP Calculus BC. She is a history teacher and a class dean and she chose the BC class because it fit her schedule and because I have some empty seats in that room. She joked that she would likely not be able to follow much of our conversation but she was excited to come and watch my rock stars in action. There are two main reasons why I love having someone come to my classroom. First, it reminds me to appreciate just what a high level most of my kids are operating on. In BC it is too easy for me to set REALLY high standards and then be disappointed when a few kids don’t reach them. Having my colleague visit and listening to her talk about the level of conversation – and the speed of the conversations – reminded me of how lucky I am to be working with this group of students. I also always appreciate the questions that my visitors ask about my classroom strategies. The past three teachers who have visited my room are all members of our school’s history department. They all commented on the fact that I use specific students’ names so often in our conversation. I’ll toss out a general question, pause, and then add something like ‘What did you do with this problem Greg?’ or I’ll field a question from a student and turn and say ‘Emma, how did you approach this?’ I am pretty sure that I picked up this technique in my classroom methods courses. I have always taught in independent schools – a story for some other time – and most of my colleagues do not have much background in ed classes as part of their college experience. I wonder if this explains why this practice of mine seems so striking to them. It feels like a natural to me as it allows me to remind my students that I know that they are there and that I want their voices to be part of the classroom.
At a time of year when it is easy to feel tired and run down, this visit really helped give me a shot of energy. How about your schools? Do you have much time to visit classrooms?