Ponticell, Olson, & Charlier 1995 Peer Coaching as Catalysts for Professional Growth in Urban High Schools

Ponticell, J. A., Olson, G. E., & Charlier, P. S. (1995). Project MASTER: Peer coaching and collaboration as catalysts for professional growth in urban high schools. In M. J. O’Hair & S. J. Odell (Eds.), Educating teachers for leadership and change: Teacher education yearbook III, pp. 96-10. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

This chapter describes a study of 80 high school teachers who engaged in peer coaching in an urban high school. The authors instituted a peer coaching model for high school teachers and found it to be a powerful professional learning approach. Teachers found peer observation more valuable than having others observe their teaching. Teachers noted changes in their own practice that included increasing student involvement, student-teacher interactions, classroom discourse, monitoring student performance, wasting less time, purpose-clear lessons, and attention to student thinking. By participating, teachers also learned how to collect and analyze classroom data, and how to have conversations about data on classroom practice.

“Only after classroom doors were ‘open’ to colleagues did trust develop, and with it, motivation and willingness to risk looking more closely at classroom teaching” (p. 103).

“Five key features of the peer coaching process emerged as important in helping these experienced teachers to refocus their attention on the effects of their teaching: (a) the control of the individual teacher over the focus and purpose fo the observation; (b) the noninspection context of the peer relationship; (c) the tailoring of the process to aspects of the individual teachers’ own teaching; (d0 the training provided in descriptive data collection and nonconfrontational conferencing techniques; and (e) the in-house support from university faculty and central office staff that demonstrated a value for change over time, rather than change on a deadline” (p. 110).

“…small successes with at-risk students rekindled their belief in their own instrumentality in promoting student learning” (p. 110).

“The commitment of university faculty and central office staff to work in schools and with teachers was perceived as value placed on urban classroom teaching, and this was instrumental in renewing teachers’ dormant respect for their own teaching” (p. 110).

“Teachers’ increased trust in turning to colleagues to ‘offer and request help’ promoted risk taking and ‘shook’ the tendency to equate classroom observation with inspection. Rather, observation and professional, collegial dialogue became a tool for ongoing professional growth” (p. 111).

“Teachers perceived that there was a ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’ to teaching, mostly because their experiences with classroom observation were linked to evaluation for inspection. The peer coaching process and collegial dialogue provided teachers with a broader vision of teaching” (p. 111).

“Peer coaching, collaborative teacher study groups, and problem-solving networks present strategies for better utilizing teachers themselves as resources. Such strategies provide a context in which teachers can exercise choice; explore their potential for growth and influence; gain recognition of their successes; enrich skills and develop new competencies; and enhance the trust, support, and collaboration that reduce professional isolation” (p. 112).

Peer coaching can break barriers of professional isolation.

“This project demonstrates that when teachers take control of their own professional growth, their sense of instrumentality in promoting successful student learning increases” (p. 113).


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