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Tom Wilson

All About Practice-Based Inquiry® 

How does Practice-Based Inquiry work?

This description of how a Practice-Based Inquiry visit works is from the Preface of the Handbook for Chairs of the SALT Visit, 2nd Edition (Catalpa and the Rhode Island Department of Education, 2005)

The visit is not a study of how a variable impacts a school, nor is it one step in a planning process that is supposed to make sure the school does the right thing. The visit is an inquiry about how well schools are performing. It is a pursuit of truth.

A visit chair does not say, "Whatever." A chair does say, "What is your evidence?"

A visit chair does not say, "Are you comfortable with that?" A chair does say, "Are you certain about that?"

A visit chair does not say, "Everyone's opinion is as good as everyone else's."

A chair does say, "What do we agree about as a team?"

A visit chair does not say, "What does RIDE or the curriculum guide say it should be?" A chair does say, "What is it, and what do you think about it?"
It is important that you, as SALT chair, have the know-how to conduct a good SALT visit. It is important that you are savvy about how schools and the SALT visit work.

The SALT school visit is a real, human event. A group of visitors, mostly teachers and administrators from districts other than the school, visit a school for five days while it is in session. The team members have never worked together before as a group. They often are complete strangers to one another. In the beginning they are bound together by their common experience as teachers or by their deep interest in schools.

The school is a complex place of continuous and frequently unpredictable interactions devoted to the complex tasks of teaching and learning. Team members often find themselves in spaces that the school considers private. It is quite extraordinary that in five days a peer team can report in 20 pages its conclusions ssabout how well it thinks a school is performing and that it can make these conclusions public. It is even more extraordinary that these conclusions are exceptionally accurate, fair, constructive and well written.

It is your challenge as SALT visit chair to lead the team so that it does this extraordinary work and does it well. Clarity and good humor make that possible. Teaching a team how the visit works as a methodology for knowing a school is the most important contribution you can make to the quality of its report. As the guardian of the methodology, the chair makes certain that the team's findings are accurate, legitimate and clear. The chair facilitates each team to use the methodology effectively to learn about a specific school.

More specifically, the chair is challenged to lead the team in making thousands of decisions based upon what the team members experience, see, discuss, agree upon and write. The chair continuously applies the abstract principles of the visit methodology for knowing a school to the real life of a particular team in a particular school. The chair effectively insists that the team proceed with thoughtful rigor. The chair's skill and knowledge about how to locate specific evidence in the school will make a tremendous difference in the team's work. The chair's goal is to help each team member, and the team as a whole, become adroit at using the ideas and procedures of the visit methodology as tools for understanding the school. This is what ensures that the visit will be an inquiry, not merely a routine process that requires the team to complete a number of set steps.

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