Peer Coaching at Walton High School

I have had the wonderful opportunity over the past two years to work with the teachers and administrators at Walton High School in Cobb County, GA.
After my most recent training session I posed the following questions to Principal Tom Higgins and Lead Teacher Suzanne Schott. Feel free to contact them or me your questions or thoughts.

Tom Higgins, Principal, Walton High School
tom.higgins@cobbk12.org
Suzanne Schott, Area Lead Teacher suzanne.schott@cobbk12.org

Description of Walton:
Walton is a suburban high school (grades 9-12) in the metro Atlanta area with a student population of just over 2600. It is part of a large district of 113 schools. Walton is a two time National School of Excellence and a conversion Charter. Walton’s combined SAT scores, with 100% of the seniors taking the exam, exceeded the national combined average by 186 points. Last year 960 students took 2058 AP exams.

Having attended the first Cobb County presentation on coaching, what caused you to want to explore peer coaching as a professional development strategy for your school?
We have a very talented staff and we were looking for ways to share the talent. We know that coaching is a critical component for the implementation of any new teaching strategies. We also saw coaching as a way to encourage and support the collaboration within the vertical and horizontal teaming structure that we already had in place at Walton.

What are your observations as you’ve had increasing numbers of teachers complete coaching training and begin peer coaching activities?
Teachers find a lot of value in learning from their peers. It’s probably the most common source of new knowledge for teachers, and peer coaching provides a structure for facilitating this exchange of ideas.

What resistance have you encountered and how are you responding?
Teachers do not like to take time away from their students even to learn new skills; however, our teachers are spreading the news about how valuable the experience has been by sharing their success stories and by explaining how they are now better able to meet their students’ instructional needs. We have also, very carefully, scheduled training for days when classes are not in session so that instructional time will not be interrupted.

What are your future plans? Why?
We are moving away from a traditional evaluation model for most teachers to a model where coaching is the norm. We feel that a checklist that a supervisor or administrator completes during an observation, in an attempt to assess a teacher’s competency, is not the most effective way to promote growth. We are asking teachers to pick a learning goal and then to specify the coaching they need to meet this goal. Why? Collaboration is the best way to leverage the talent in your building. We have found that more times than not the best way to provide professional learning on a continual basis is to structure effective ways for teachers to learn from each other. We currently have teachers in training who eventually will be in-house trainers for the collaborative peer coaching process.

Thanks Tom and Suzanne……. you reminded me of the following, written by Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers:

“Many daunting problems in education are borne of the isolation of teachers. Teaching requires the highest concentration of adults in the workplace of nearly any profession, and, ironically, it is the most isolating as well. There is no such thing as excellence in teaching when in solitude. By definition, excellence in teaching is a form of communication and group activity.”
(from Forward…Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching)

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One Response to “ Peer Coaching at Walton High School ”

  1. Cheryl Hungerford Says:

    We value the work that Stephen Barkley has done in our district to move us forward with peer coaching. Principal Tom Higgins and Area Lead Teacher Suzanne Schott have definitely taken Walton High School to a new level of peer collaboration.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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