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Column: Peer coaches helping teachers and students succeed

By Gerald Oehler, District 518 WORTHINGTON -- Teachers work hard to educate students to prepare them for success. They are always seeking new tools and strategies that will help them achieve success with their students. To help support teachers, ...

By Gerald Oehler, District 518

WORTHINGTON -- Teachers work hard to educate students to prepare them for success. They are always seeking new tools and strategies that will help them achieve success with their students.

To help support teachers, Worthington School District has peer coaches who work in collaboration with teachers with a shared goal of preparing students for success. Peer coaches work with teachers to positively impact student achievement by providing ongoing instructional support. Peer coaches with Worthington are teachers on special assignment. This means they are teacher peers and do not formally evaluate teachers. The peer coaching process in District 518 began three years ago with the passage of state statutes that outlined additional teacher growth, development and evaluation requirements.

Traditionally across the United States, professional development has been achieved through school meetings and workshops as well as teachers attending workshops. Workshops and conferences are a great way for teachers to enhance or learn new strategies and tools to use in the classroom. Through workshops and conferences, teachers get to learn directly from educational experts as well as from teachers who are using those strategies and skills in their own classrooms -- not to mention the networking that takes place where teachers can collaborate with peers after attending a workshop or conference.

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However, years of research has indicated teachers believe traditional professional development does not offer opportunities for collaboration, feedback and reflection. As a result, educators have come to the conclusion that only using traditional workshops and conferences for professional development is ineffective. Research shows workshops and conferences do not provide sufficient time, activities or content to promote meaningful change. Less than 15 percent of teachers implement new ideas and strategies learned in a traditional professional development setting. Teachers have indicated this is because they do not feel they have the support or feedback to apply what they have learned. Teachers receive the information and there is no follow-up. This is why peer coaching is so vital to the professional development process. Workshops and conferences are still an important aspect of teacher professional growth, but should not be the only support the teachers receive.

The purpose of peer coaching is to impact student achievement by creating a culture of continuous instructional improvement through collaboration, observations and reflection. Effective professional development is an ongoing process, embedded in the teachers’ classroom work. Peer coaches work in collaboration with teachers to reflect on instructional practices.  

The idea of peer coaching in education is not a new concept. It is a concept that has evolved since it was first used in education in the 1960s. Now, more and more school districts nationwide have a peer coaching program to support teachers enriching a teacher’s professional practice to enhance student learning and achievement.

  At Worthington, each teacher is assigned a peer coach and they meet several times a year. At the beginning of the year, teachers meet with their peer coach to review and discuss their growth and development goals for the year. Teachers also meet with their peer coaches to plan and review an upcoming lesson that will be taught. Then, the peer coaches observe a lesson taught by a teacher and meet after in a post-observation conference where the peer coach can provide insights and feedback to teachers. This process also includes giving the students an opportunity to weigh in on their perceptions in the classroom. The students complete a survey on the class, and the feedback is shared with the teacher. The ultimate goal of peer coaching is to provide ongoing support to teachers.

The peer coaching process is being adopted by school districts across the nation due to the benefits it provides. It helps increase student achievement and growth as teachers gain a deeper understanding of best practices in teaching and learning. Teachers build a wider repertoire of instructional strategies and resources, which has a positive impact on student achievement and preparing students to be college and career ready. None of this can be possible at Worthington Schools without having great teachers in every classroom, and the teachers need to be appropriately supported so all students can be successful. Worthington School District is able to provide each teacher with a peer coach.

Gerald Oehler is staff development/peer coach in District 518.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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