1. We built relationships with peers solving the same problems and celebrating the same successes. When we got to UMS, they rolled out the red carpet. We were greeted by their wonderful Virtual Learning Coordinator Christin Skidmore who had organized collaborative time for each of our representatives with their respective peers at UMS. My English Department Chair commented on the way back from the trip “it is nice to meet with someone going through the same exact problems and process that we are in our English classes.”
2. School leaders can see a strategic initiative in action at a peer school and save lots of headaches when implimenting change. I went to UMS to view their partnership on Virtual Learning with Florida Virtual School as we contemplate a similar initiative with blended learning at Trinity. As soon as I walked into their virtual classroom and met with Christin, several critical details became much clearer to me. If I had not visited a peer school like UMS, a year or two ahead of us in the process, I would have wasted a lot of time with inefficient steps.
3. The collegiality built on a school visit trip among your team is priceless. We do a lot at Trinity to build collegiality from prayer groups, to book discussions, to peer observations, to division gatherings with food. We even go as far as gathering for an annual bowling competition against our rival school’s faculty. However, on this trip, four of us had the opportunity to share hopes and dreams over a long walk and dinner in Mobile’s lovely downtown that was reminiscent of being in the French Quarter. During the conversation, I learned more about my colleagues than I have in two years greeting them in the hall. We were relaxed and were able to share tales of travel and eduational study. We began to understand what made each of us tick. We were a French teacher, an English teacher, an Art teacher and a principal. I have now done three school visit trips as a principal in two years (Dunham School in Baton Rouge, Mount Vernon Presbyterian near Atlanta, and UMS) and each time I have come back with a much greater understanding of the faculty members who have gone along with me. I have no doubt such an understanding will pay dividends as they and I work together to promote innovation and achieve meaningful goals.
4. You learn as much about what you are already doing well as you learn about improvements your school could take on after a school visit. In a world where websites, social media, and word of mouth offer potent, but superficial reflections of school cultures, it is important to go and see what other schools are really doing well and what they struggle with each day. I had a wonderful host in Doug Barber and he was able to be frank with me about the inevitable challenges they face at UMS each day even though it is widely regarded as one of the best schools in Alabama and the Southeast. There were several items my faculty and I came across where we said “I’m glad we don’t do it they way they do it.” On a school visit, one immerses oneself in another culture and has the opportunity to embrace much of the other culture while still holding on to roots of one’s own. Ultimately, our folks were glad to see some of areas where we were ahead of the game and such affirmation left them fired up to get back to Trinity.
5. The process of looking outward helps one focus on what is truly important. As we left school Thursday afternoon to travel two and a half hours south to Mobile, I had left a number of things undone at school. The inevitable lifes of principals and teachers means that each day there are loose ends left. Yet, on the drive down with my colleagues I had the chance to let my brain unwind and explore their hopes and dreams. When we got to UMS, I had the chance to hear their aspirations for an ambitious 1 to 1 Apple MacBook Integration that would take place next year. Since Trinity had already done that, I was able to relax and listen as they explained their process and the worries that came with it. My team and I were able to express empathy for their path ahead and gently offer some suggestions. We had the chance to forget our own challenges and help another school. It was an unintended, but very beneficial consequence of going out to seek guidance of our own. We were able to help as well.
I am truly grateful to the UMS-Wright team of collaborators with whom we shared time:
Christin Skidmore, who arranged the whole event
Doug Barber, who offered the invitation and shared the UMS vision
Academic Dean Keith Rice, who graciously spent most of the day with me
Head of School, Dr. Tony Havard who stopped in to check on us and ultimately gave these folks the freedom to host us
UMS Teacher and former Trinity colleague Donna Lamberti, who made it so nice to see a familiar face at another school
Brent Daughtery, who shared the school’s tech vision
UMS Teachers Mirella Chavez, Laura Roborts and Debra Guyton, who shared their time and classrooms
The College Counseling Staff and all of the people on both ends of the process at both schools who made it happen.
We at Trinity welcome all who would love to come and collaborate to do so in the near future.