Top Tips for School Tours!
Updated: Jan 16, 2019
My Top Tips for School Tours.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent about countless hours visiting the international schools in our Trusted Schools Network. I plan to do at LEAST another 50 hours in the Yew Near!
While you can learn about a school’s facilities and curriculum online, visiting a school gives you the chance to get a sense of the more intangible stuff: a school’s learning culture, what the teaching and learning really looks like, how the school ‘feels’. I'm not talking about Open Days, which here in Malaysia are often run on weekends for parents' convenience - for me, these aren't hugely helpful. I need to see a school 'in action', with students and real teaching & learning taking place.
But some of the principals I met told me about families visiting them 3, 4 even 5 times! That really shouldn’t be necessary. One high-quality visit, that you’re well prepared for, should be plenty.
Here are a few tips to ensure you make the most out of any school visit.
Research before you go.
Aim to visit a school already having gleaned everything you can from their website: the school’s curriculum, their facilities, recent exam results, extra-curricular opportunities. Most of this information should be easily available. If you can’t find something online - jot it down so that you can ask about it when you get to the school.
Doing this research means that when you visit the school, you can focus on other things: how the school ‘feels’, the teaching and learning you can see, the teacher-student relationships on display.
Think about who & what you want to see.
School admissions teams generally do a fantastic job of sharing as much as they can about the school, but they are unlikely, for the most part, to know the answers to detailed curriculum, assessment, or timetable questions that you might have.
So, don’t be afraid to ask to meet with specific people during your visit: for example, a curriculum leader from your child’s year group/grade level, the head of the Sports programme, a Higher Education advisor. Don't be afraid to speak to more than one! The school might not always be able to accommodate your requests, but I can almost guarantee they will do their best.
Focus on teaching and learning.
It’s easy to be wowed by a fancy theatre, a lovely football pitch or a rock-climbing wall when you’re on a school tour. And of course facilities matter. But what really is going to have the biggest impact on your child’s academic progress and wellbeing? Their teacher (if you're interested in how I know this, read up on John Hattie's amazing Visible Learning research).
Often on a school tour you might be hurried along past classrooms - but ask your tour guide to stop so that you can observe some teaching and learning in action. You don’t even have to go into the classroom - just have a look through a window. And do this at least 2-3 times, in different areas of the school. But what are you looking for?
Look out for levels of student engagement. Do the children seem on task, busy and interested in their learning? If you see a child disengaged from learning, how does the teacher manage that?
Are all children doing the same thing, or can you see evidence of differentiation (different tasks for different abilities)?
Do the children look happy?
Does it look like an inspiring learning environment? Would YOU want to learn there?
Do the children seem comfortable asking for help from the teacher? Are they keen to answer questions? Can you see evidence of warm, positive teacher-student relationships?
Is the teacher actively engaged - or sitting behind their desk uninvolved?
You should be absolutely confident that the teacher who will be working with your child every day is passionate, qualified, experienced and able to support your child in every step of their learning journey. So, don’t be afraid to ask schools detailed questions about their teachers.
What qualifications do their teachers have? And if they join the school unqualified, is the school investing in training/supporting them to become qualified? (They should.)
How do they ensure the ongoing professional development of teachers? (The best schools worldwide offer weekly professional development and training for their teaching teams).
Do the teachers have time to plan and collaborate together regularly? (They should.)
How long do their teachers stay? (Schools should be willing to openly share their staff retention rate. If they won’t - that should ring alarm bells. Around 20% is normal for an international school, but the best ones often have turnover as low as 5%. That’s a great indicator that the school is a fantastic place to work!)