3 Not so Scary Ghost Visit Tips when Observing Classrooms

Derek Severson

With Halloween just around the corner, there will be plenty of scares coming your way. Trick-or-treaters, haunted houses, scary movies are just a few ways to make you scream.

Teachers are well built for Halloween scares. It’s part of the job. It’s a given each year at least one student will conspire to add some fright to your day…and fail miserably. As scary as students think they can be, some need to realize they should have rethought the whole “Incredible Hulk” idea when they need another 300lbs of muscle to fill out their costume.

Costumes may not scare teachers, but what about classroom visitors? Some teachers might say anyone stepping into their classroom without a backpack can be a frightening experience. This was me early in my teaching career. Hearing the sound of 6 inch heels walking across the gym floor was a sure indicator my principal had entered my classroom with her observation team.

If you’ve never experienced a visit like this as an educator, I guarantee the first time can be nerve wracking. I soon realized these visits were not to evaluate my teaching, but to look for concrete evidence of student learning in my Physical Education classroom. My observers were performing a Ghost Visit.

Ghost Visits are a non-evaluative method to observe learning in the classroom and is used as an opportunity to open up classroom practice by visiting EMPTY classrooms. Yes, that’s right. Empty classrooms. The purpose of a Ghost Visit is to help participants focus on identifying evidence of learning in the classroom. This observational practice is used within school based learning communities as an introduction to peer observations.

Empty Classroom

Ghost visits can be conducted by anyone in education. Teachers can visit their colleague’s classrooms in their own building, or sometimes, in a different school. I’ve had the luxury of making ghost visits in classrooms all across my district supporting my Health and Physical Education Team.

Prior to each Ghost Visit, I’ve used these 3 “Not so Scary” tips to ensure my observation time is meaningful for both myself and the observed teacher.

Tip #1: Understand Your Objective

Ghost visits are performed to assist educators to improve their instruction with students and amp up the quality of their teaching. Prior to visiting classrooms, take time to create a list of “look fors.” The goal for this exercise is to build a common understanding of what learning indicators you or your observing team should be looking for. To complete your objective, make note of similarities and differences observed during each visit.

Creating a list of "look fors" prior to a Ghost Visit provides a clear focus for the observers.

Tip #2: Make a Game Plan

Time to visit classrooms can vary from 15 minutes to a whole day. However much time is allocated for your Ghost Visit(s), make sure you have a game plan. Before you start a visit, create a tentative agenda and consider the objectives you and/or your team want to accomplish. And don’t forget to plan visits to each classroom when students are not present.

During visits, allow 5-7 minutes per ghost visit followed by 3-5 minutes for debrief with the classroom teacher. Following up with the educator whose classroom you’re visiting is necessary to ask questions and seek clarification of what you are observing. Example, “What was this rubric and learning target used for?”

Following the last classroom visit, reconvene with your team and debrief on what was seen. Compile collected data and present it at a future professional development in your building. Observers can share which classroom environment indicators were present within each classroom visited.

After compiling the collected data, the last steps to complete your game plan is to “next steps” for your colleagues who you observed. Here’s what this could look like…

Initial Goal for Observation: Identify written learning targets in the classroom.

Possible Next Step: Highlight key words (underline, all caps, different color font, etc.) inside the learning target and emphasizing those key words in your instruction with students.

Questions the Observed Teacher can Consider:
How does the learning target enhance your instruction?
How does the learning target support your planning instead of replacing the time spent preparing?
How do you let the learning target live in your classroom?

Tip #3: Know the Indicators Ahead of Time

The most effective feedback teachers can receive from others making a ghost visit is one particular area. Too much feedback can overwhelm the observed teacher. Plan your visit with the intention that there will be one focus area. Maybe the purpose of your visit is to see how learning targets are being utilized into instruction and assessment. Implementing this strategy will provide the best data and feedback for teachers being observed.

Next time you plan to make a Ghost Visit, try implementing these 3 tips throughout your process.

I am always looking for new ideas I can share with the Health and Physical Education teachers I support in my district. If you conduct Ghost Visits with your colleagues, what are your recommendations? Don’t forget to share your experiences with any colleagues looking to visit another classroom!

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The opinions expressed by the CORElaborate Bloggers, guest bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), Ready Washington or any employee thereof. PSESD is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Washington State Teacher Leader or Guest Bloggers.