Is your school ready for visitors? How to create the best experience for guests

Each year TIC Director Andrew Wigford visits many international schools across the globe. The main purpose of these visits is to establish a relationship with the school or Head, and to find vacancies to share with TIC teachers. But there’s another reason; to assess the school in terms of its fit for our candidates.

Much can be gleaned about a school even during a short visit. Prior to being TIC’s Director, Andrew was a Headteacher and he has worked in many different schools. Here he shares what he notices during a school visit, and his advice on creating a positive experience for visitors:

How am I greeted?

All schools, quite rightly, have security. During most of my visits, security staff are the first people I meet. How they greet me, and what they do before allowing me to enter, tells me how the school both protects its children, and treats its guests.

The best visits start with security staff who are aware of my arrival, greeting me by name and issuing me with a pass. It’s even more reassuring if they then remind me either verbally, or in written form, of the safeguarding guidance offered to visitors. The best experiences are when I’m then escorted to reception, offered a refreshment and use of facilities, and am informed about how long I’ll be waiting. 

This initial positive experience indicates to visitors that the school’s staff work in unison, that they inform each other, respect visitors, and take children's security seriously.

What does the Head point out during the tour?

My best school visits include a tour around the school by the Head. I always notice which parts of the school are pointed out to me. Is it the impressive new Makeaspace room or BlackBox theatre studio? Or is it an aspect of teaching and learning, such as a display or school project? Does the Head take me into classrooms, or do I watch from the outside? Am I only shown shared spaces such as the Gym, swimming pool or theatre? What I’m shown during a tour can often be an indication of what the Head values and where the Head's priorities lie.

How is the Head greeted?

How the Head is greeted by children and adults as we walk around can sometimes reveal the strength of his or her relationships. On some tours, teachers have expressed surprise to see the Head of school out of their office, for others its completely natural for the Head to walk into their classroom unannounced. In some schools, I’ve seen teachers stop what they are doing, and make the children stand up to greet the Head in unison. The way Heads are greeted by staff and students tells me a lot about their leadership style.

Are the children engaged?

During the tour, I look to see how engaged the students are; the most positive school visits are when I can feel the buzz of excitement in the classrooms. I also notice how the children’s work is displayed and whether the rooms are organised to be learning focused (this applies to the Secondary classrooms as well as Primary). What I see in the classroom reveals a lot about the teaching and learning values of each school.

How are the children behaving? 

It’s possible even on a short tour to observe how the children treat each other. I watch how they interact, especially away from the gaze of the teacher or Head. 
It's unusual to see unacceptable behaviour and even more unusual to see teachers walking by bad behaviour without correcting it. When it does happen more than once, I tend not to recommend the school to our teachers. 

In many international schools, children's behaviour is exceptional. They show respect and kindness to each other and to adults. The best visits are when it’s evident that the students have great relationships with both their teachers and their Head.  

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