Go and See Program - Real World Learning
Salisbury, NC
Rowan-Salisbury Schools
Support & Sustainability

Go and See Program

We’ve spent the last several years sending our teachers and administrators out of the district to go and see places all over the country where they can observe best practices that we can learn from and adopt. The goal is for teachers to learn not only from other schools and districts, but also from experts in higher education and industry. We want to learn from ethical businesses and focus particularly on what quality means to them and how they think about innovation.

Connections to Real World Learning Roadmap

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One of our core beliefs is that learning should be fun for teachers and students, and that happens when learning is student-centered. We pay attention to the natural curiosity of teachers and students and empower them to follow their passions. We have three areas of focus:

  • Academics: We focus on the academic standards that we believe are most critical to student success so that we can go deeper and spend more time on those areas.
  • Interpersonal Skills: We focus on seven interpersonal skills (creativity, leadership, teamwork, civility, work ethic, communication, problem solving) and encourage students to think and act in specific ways and reflect on their thoughts and actions;
  • Differentiation: We focus on what makes each learner unique, helping our students identify and define their interests, and connecting those interests to real-world learning experiences.

We don’t expect our students to fill jobs. We think our students will create the jobs of the future. We do not believe that standardized approaches to education serve students well in the modern world.

Implementation: How We Did It

We created a Go Visit playbook and challenged teacher-led design teams to identify areas of interest and potential growth and create a plan for their own professional learning. To create the playbook, we started by making lists of all of the places and examples we wanted to see. We thought about what teams would need to do before, during, and after each trip to maximize their learning. Then we thought about how we could support the trips financially. We sought initial funding so we could seed the program.

A group of principals traveled to California on a five-day Go and See trip. They visited Lindsay Unified School District to learn how they made a systematic shift toward personalized learning and read their book, Beyond Reform. They also went to Stanford University and visited Apple’s headquarters. They bonded as a group and spent time talking and reflecting on what they could learn from each of their visits and how they could apply it in their schools.

Teacher teams have gone to charter, public, and private schools across the country to learn about best practices and bring them back to our district. We have learned that everybody’s journey is different. Teachers and leaders need to think about their learners in their community and what will serve them best. We’ve also learned that many organizations are doing things we don’t want to replicate, which has helped us to reflect and focus on our own priorities and goals.

Related Resources

Community Partners
Professional Learning

Community Partners

We have funding partners to support our work. One foundation gave us enough funding to send teams from all of our schools somewhere. Prior to that, we had several individual companies or philanthropists who funded specific trips. At one point, I wanted to send a group of leaders on a trip, so I sent out an email to eight community partners and received immediate response and commitment. Program updates are often shared through the local newspaper and social media and are also sent directly to the funders. Funders also receive thank you notes from teachers.

The program does not inherently rely on the same relationships from one trip to the next. The playbook was created so that school teams could plan their trips without assistance, based on their needs and interests. It provides examples of different schools, businesses, and organizations that staff members can connect with, and suggestions for points of discussion.


The Go and See Program sparks new ideas for our teachers. After identifying areas of interest and designing a plan for their professional learning, teachers can gain first-hand experiences that they then translate and integrate back into their curriculum and instruction. Below are a few examples of how teachers have successfully integrated real world learning into their classes.

Elementary Example: Some of our teachers were inspired by Expeditionary Learning to develop and implement expeditions for English language learners in order to connect their learning to the real world. We are using expeditions rather than remediation, because when students are highly motivated, they do well. One team took students to the lake so that they could learn to fish. Another team designed an expedition focused on rebounding in life. To launch the expedition, they took students on a trip to the state capital to see a basketball game. Many of the students had never been to the capital. The teachers connected the trip to math by focusing on how many miles the trip would be, how much gas they would require, etc. The students did their own research and checked out every book in the library about basketball.

Middle School Example: Our schools have introduced large blocks of time during the day for students to participate in activities that speak to their passions (e.g., crochet, fashion, gardening). This helps us understand what our students are interested in, so we can think about how to make learning relevant to them when we focus on standards in the content areas.

High School Example: We’re blending together academic courses, rather than teaching subjects in isolation. For example, we’re teaching Math 2 and Carpentry in a block, and teachers are working together to figure out how to give students real world learning experiences. Another combination is Marketing and Social Studies. Having teachers working together in these ways forces the question, “How can students use what they’re learning in their lives outside of school?”


When teachers have control over what they’re learning, they do more than you would ever expect. We are most interested in the attitudes and excitement that teachers have as a result of these experiences. Teams bond through shared experiences, which is difficult to measure but critically important. This energy and excitement translates into the work our school leaders and teachers do with our students.

Our saying is “Rethink Everything.” We ask ourselves why we do things and how we can think about things differently. Measurement has been a challenging area, because we’re trying to figure out to measure the success of being a learner-centered organization. t One of the things we’re going to try to report to our community is the number of students who are enrolled, enlisted, or employed in the program. Previously, we had many students graduate without a plan for where they would go next. By the time that they graduate, we want all of our students to have a plan for their first step after graduation.

Under interpersonal skills, we are looking at whether students know when to apply specific interpersonal skills and whether they have the ability to reflect on them. One of these skills is leadership. We ask students whether they understand what it means to be a leader and if they circle in and out of leadership, understanding that there are times to lead and times to follow, and be reflective.

Under academic standards, we’re taking a holistic approach to mastery and looking at three criteria:

  1. Does the teacher think the student has mastered the standard?
  2. How does the student perform on a mini-identifier (test)?
  3. Does a sample of the student’s work reflect mastery?

Professional Learning

Initially, we created a Go Visit Playbook for teacher teams to use to design and plan their own professional learning experiences. Now, we share the experiences that Go and See teams are having on FaceTime Live, so that other teachers and leaders can observe what the teams are experiencing. We have organized Think Conferences where teacher leaders can share their experiences,what they’ve learned, and how they’re applying it. This has led to sharing of podcasts, books, etc. between educators.

Support Structures

At the urging of our superintendent, the State of North Carolina passed HB 986, enabling qualifying school districts to become a renewal district, which gives them more local control. The local Board of Education approved Rowan-Salisbury becoming the first renewal district in the state. This has enabled us to rethink everything about how we approach teaching and learning. We have been very fortunate to have local philanthropists and foundations give us funding to support the work. We have also looked at our budget and prioritized professional development.

The Future of this Work

We haven’t finished creating everything we need to make this work sustainable yet. Procedures and systems are hooked together, and it is a complex process to take apart existing systems and procedures to design new ones. For example, if we want our teachers to work toward our vision for renewal, the teacher evaluation system must be rewritten. We also have to rethink how we pay people and how our district office is organized. We are rethinking everything, not just teaching and learning. We have to recreate all of the systems around our organization so that we don’t fall back to the traditional standardized mechanism for education. That’s a long process, and we are in it for the journey.

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