School holidays – the perfect time to learn from other schools

“I don’t know why you would even think about going near any school while you’re on holidays”

This is what one teacher said to me when I told them that I was going to spend half a day visiting a school during the school holidays. At the moment it is the Term 3 school holidays in New South Wales, Australia. For me teaching isn’t something I can switch off. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my down time and I think this down time is important for all teachers’ wellbeing. But I personally like to take advantage of the school holidays and use the time to visit schools that are outside the NSW public education system. Especially schools that are drastically different to the one I currently teach in because what I’ve learnt is that almost every school faces a similar set of challenges whether it is student engagement, student wellbeing or finding ways to develop students higher-order thinking. I find that when I visit schools that have different circumstances than my own, I am exposed to different solutions that I can adapt to my own school and my own classes.

Over the past two years I have been able to visit schools outside of New South Wales and outside of Australia, and they have been some of the best professional learning I have ever had. While some of these visits were done during term time, most visits were done during school holidays. Here are some of the schools I’ve visited and what I’ve learnt from them.

During my time with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning team in 2012, I was able to travel to Auckland, New Zealand and visit Ferguson Intermediate School and Howick College. These two schools kick-started my journey and my faculty’s journey into using the Structured Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) framework, learning intentions and success criteria to design learning for the new science syllabus for the Australian Curriculum. Howick College is also where I saw the fantastic Julia Breen and got ideas from her on how to use green screens in student-produced videos.

I took a week of without pay from school in December 2012 and travelled to London and visited ACS International School, Egham. I ‘met’ the Principal of ACS International School, Egham online via LinkedIn and he was kind enough to take time out to show me his school for half a day. I was also privileged enough to speak to their Head of Science and observed a part of a middle school science lesson. During this visit I learnt more about the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program and how technology was integrated into the school’s middle years science program.

Just last week I was able to visit two schools in Canberra – Brindabella Christian College and Dickson College. I was able to further connect with two passionate educators who are part of my online professional learning network on Twitter, Melanie Spencer and Betty Chau. From these schools I took away ideas for learning space design, how to drive change and how to further develop the digital leaders team at my own school.

Visiting other schools is one of the best professional learning that I undertake. If you’re a teacher and you have some spare time in the school holidays, ask another school if you can visit them and then return the favour to them 🙂

Incidentally I am planning to travel to Tokyo, Japan in the April school holidays in 2014. Would love any suggestions of schools in Tokyo that I can visit.

5 thoughts on “School holidays – the perfect time to learn from other schools

  1. Hi Alice..Thanks for the post. Agree wholeheartedly about the learning from others. And I have no doubt that they also learn from you: even at the fundamental level of reflecting on practice to be more able to respond to your curiosity.
    I loved the chance to also follow up on a LinkedIn contact, (initially connected as an outcome of a conference keynote in Colorado a couple of years ago), and visit Albemarle County in Virginia this year and spend two days with fabulous leader, Superintendent Dr Pam Moran and a number of the great team and subsequent culture she has gathered around her. And, always great to reflect on our own systems and practice while observing others. It’s amazing what leverage that good examples of putting that fulcrum somewhere out there away from where we stand now actually provides, isn’t it?
    Great stuff! and thanks for sharing! (again 🙂 )

    • Thanks Roger. I just love seeing completely different school systems because they give you different ideas in how to approach your own challenges. Whenever I get the chance to go overseas, I always try to find a school to visit. Your journeys through USA schools sound really interesting.

  2. Alice – teaching can be a really isolating experience unless we get out and make connections. Our PLNs have sure changed that, but time away from class to visit another classis tough to get.
    I applied for an international teaching fellowship for 2014 and will be swapping schools, classrooms, and homes for a year with a teacher from NSW. The chance to spend an entire year in another country in a different school with a different educational system is going to be a real challenge and a great learning experience.
    Really looking forward to taking advantage of PD opportunities and hopefully being in the same space at the same time as my Aussie PLN!

    • How exciting! If I can help you out with anything in your Aussie teaching adventures, let me know. I agree that it’s really difficult to take time out of class to visit another class in the same school, let alone a class in another school. That’s why I spend a day out of the school holiday blocks to go to other schools. However I also recognise that not all teachers can do this.

  3. Hi Alice, I wish more teachers would do exactly this. It doesn’t even have to be in another state or country – simply taking an afternoon or morning as a professional learning session and going down the road could be just as valuable.

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