It was the third session of the conference. My rear end at this point had become numb from sitting on the hard gymnasium floor. But the discomfort I was feeling did not break my concentration for the superb presenter, who happened to be a good friend of mine. He and I had presented together before, so I already knew he could captivate an audience. He was energetic, extremely positive, clear and precise, and oozed “master teacher”. It made me wonder how he was with kids. Although among his peers he was excellent, how would he be with his true population? Did he teach somewhat the same? Would these great and innovative activities translate over to a real class? I was sure that he had to be roughly the same, and only hoped that I could one day get that chance.
Little did I know that the thought would soon be put in motion. Sitting next to me was my co-worker, another excellent teacher in his own right. We were both excited by the activity he was presenting, one which involved turning the gym into a living, breathing city with money, jobs, banks, etc. Kids worked cooperatively, incorporated fitness and other skill-related activities. It was a knockout.
My co-worker leaned in close and whispered, “Donn, you know this guy, right?”
My concentration now broken, I tried to brush aside my annoyance long enough to answer him and get back to business. “Yup, I know him. He is a former New York State Teacher of the Year”, I quickly replied regaining my focus.
“He is good right?” My co-worker did not wait for my reply. “Do you think that this would fit in our gym?”
My brain feverishly broke away from the presentation, scanning my current schedule, class dynamics and other logistics for a response. “With some tweaking, yes I think it could work for us. How about we ask him if we could come for a PE site visit?” We both looked at each other and instantly knew that was we needed to do.
For professional teachers, one of the most beneficial things you can do is see what others do in their schools. You are on their turf, different facilities, kids, equipment. Just putting yourself in a different environment and seeing how that teacher works with their kids could make you a better teacher. What may work for them may not work for you and vice versa. We had a reason for visiting him, as we were both very much impressed with the activity he had presented. However, I also wanted to see him in his school. We now had the opportunity to witness his nuances with the students, his overall teaching style, things that he posts on the walls of his gym, and other tells of his trade. Although this might not be exactly how he is on a day-to-day basis, I got a very good impression within a short period of time.
This made me think going for a PE site visit was not only good for our program, but good for ourselves professionally…and it was. We were able to get some valuable information to bring back to our school, and implement in our curriculum.
Thinking back, there are a few key items that made this visit a success:
- First, you need to ask the person you want to visit.
- This seems automatic, right? Well it’s not. Most professionals would be very willing to share what they are doing with others, especially one who presents materials for hundreds of educators. But, for you to actually go to their school and see them with children? That might be a different story. This opens them up to seeing both the good and bad, not just the dynamic stuff. What happens if they have a difficult population? Their facilities are falling apart? Administrators who are not physical education-friendly? These are all signs that might become apparent the minute you step on school grounds. So, it is not a guarantee this would happen. My friend had absolutely no problem allowing us to come, and yes, he was as awesome with his kids as he was with adults!
- Know what you want to get out of the visit and what you are going to watch. Don’t just go to see another person teach.
- Go if they are not only amazing, but run an outstanding program. I knew of a person who arranged for a PE site visit, but happened to come during a unit where the material was extremely similar to what they do. Probably should have discussed their goals a little better with that person, huh? Sometimes scheduling may not work in your favor, so do your homework. Are there any staff development days without students? What about half days for parent-teacher conferences? Is there a program that runs a certain time of year?
- Obtain approval from your Administrator.
- Be clear, concise, thorough, and RATIONALIZE. We sold both our Athletic Director and Principal on our PE site visit because of how we presented it to them. We informed them about the program we were going to see, the teacher’s credentials/background, how it would relate to our children/program/school, and why it would be a detriment for us to not go. We sold them on the idea that this program massively incorporates the common core, and is very appropriate for our kids.
- Take lots of notes, or even videos if they allow it, and ask questions.
- You only get one shot at this, make it count. While my co-worker took picture after picture, I wrote copious amounts of notes and diagrams. I asked questions to the kids participating, the teaching assistants, as well as my friend teaching the activity. We wanted to make sure that we knew this program inside and out. And no matter how well we re-created it in our gym, we wanted to be armed with as much information as possible.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for another one.
- Anything that will make your program better you should do. I try to get a PE site visit at least once a year, or every other year if possible, but I don’t push my luck either. I do not want my administrator getting the idea I just want a day without kids. I want my visits to count, and have significant meaning for our program.