Elementary teachers join in peer coaching program

October 05, 1994|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

Hampstead and Manchester elementary schools are joining in a program that allows teachers from one building to pair up with teachers in the other and coach each other on better ways to do their jobs.

Principals of the two schools heard their teachers saying they wanted more opportunities for professional feedback in nonthreatening ways, in addition to the evaluation that administrators do.

So Hampstead Principal Judy Walker and Manchester Principal Robert Bruce wrote a grant request to the county superintendent.

They got $4,653.

The money will pay for substitutes to cover teachers' classes while they go to observe the partner teacher in the other school.

"You get to see how someone else sets up their classroom," said Mary Alice Steger, an 18-year teacher at Manchester Elementary School.

Ms. Steger was a co-chairman of the school's improvement team that sought a program for cross-fertilization of ideas and teaching methods.

"After being in your own room for a while by yourself, you kind of do your own thing," Ms. Steger said. "You look at someone else and say, yeah, I could do it that way, too."

This grant and the program will make formal the relationship and give teachers more time to observe each other and talk.

But that already happens informally.

For example, Hampstead fourth-grade teacher Lisa Passarello learned a new strategy from her counterpart at Manchester Elementary School last year.

Teacher Carolyn Phillips at Manchester puts up a big time line on her walls and charts events on it as the children study them in their Maryland history units.

"That's something that's not in the curriculum guide, but that she does," Ms. Passarello said.

So this year, Ms. Passarello is trying it.

"It's really working well," she said. "The children see 1994 and they don't realize 1634, when people first started coming to Maryland, was so long ago until they see it on the time line."

The program is voluntary.

After a few meetings during the fall, teachers who want to pair up as peer coaches will each spend two to three days next semester visiting their partners.

"Children learn best in a positive, supportive environment, and that extends to teachers," Mr. Bruce said.

"Student achievement between two schools should not be a competition. It should be collaborative," he added.

Mr. Bruce and Ms. Walker said the program is built on the belief that teachers have a wealth of expertise they can share with each other.

"Sometimes you just have to get out of the way and let teachers teach, and we believe this will do that," Mr. Bruce said.

The theme for the teacher pairing and training is a copyrighted nationwide model called Dimensions of Learning.

All Carroll County schools subscribe to the model and incorporate it into their school-improvement efforts.

For example, the first "dimension" involves the classroom environment, such as fostering a positive attitude among children so that they can learn better, said Monica Smith, assistant principal at Hampstead.

The second and third dimensions involve the way children think, the content of the classroom activities and higher-level thinking skills.

Because each of the two schools was going to be studying this model anyway, they decided last year to start joint training sessions, and the idea for the coaching program grew from that.

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