Creating Job-Embedded Professional Learning

Ventura Park Elementary School has taken a new approach to using the school’s Professional Growth Funds the past few years. Rather than use the funds to send teachers to workshops or conferences, a common use of these funds, the Site Council took a more comprehensive, school-wide approach to improve instruction and support the School Improvement Plan.

Starting in 2012-13, teachers at Ventura Park began participating in peer observations, taking the time to watch their peers teach and invite peers into their classrooms to watch them teach.

Ventura Park Principal Jakob Curtis said the drive to engage in peer observations was to support various aspects of the curriculum to drive core instruction. In 2012-13, participating in observations was optional.

Based on the resounding positive feedback he received, Mr. Curtis worked presented the Site Council with a plan to expand peer observations so all teachers could participate. The Site Council decided to commit 80 percent of its 2013-14 funds for peer observations. The Educator Effectiveness Grant also supported the school with additional funding that provided all teachers in the observation — those observing and those observed — time to debrief and reflect together.

In 2014-15, Ventura Park continues to expand and strengthen their peer observation process with ongoing support from the Educator Effectiveness Grant. This school year, all educators in the building including music, P.E., and special education teachers will have the opportunity to engage in peer observations.

Additionally, the school will set highly focused goals for the peer observations tied to their Professional Learning Team, grade level and School Improvement Plan goals. They will identify what practices they are observing, why they are observing them and what they hope to learn from the observations. They will also collect data on whether the peer observations led to the changes in adult actions and student learning teachers expected.

Peer Observation Protocol

Ventura Park teachers would begin their peer observations by first meeting with School Achievement Specialist Leah Starkovich to discuss what they wanted to look for during the observation. They would also discuss how to collect evidence during the observation for reflection purposes.

The observations lasted 30 minutes and teachers would take notes on what they saw and what they wanted to try in the classroom. Following the observation, the observed teacher would meet with the observers who would share what they saw and ask questions. They also talked about what they learned and what they planned to do because of the observation.

Aligning Goals

With the advent of Student Learning and Growth Goals, many teachers have felt overwhelmed by the number of goals they set and track. The peer observations helped Ventura Park teachers create a cohesive framework for all the goals and help to align the vision all teachers have for success.

Teacher Alethea Mellor said the peer observations helped teachers see how the various goals of the school ranging from student learning and growth goals to 100 percent meetings and the school improvement plan all fit together. This alignment was a side benefit of the peer observations teachers discovered in the 2013-14 school year, Ms. Mellor said. Starting in 2014-15, teachers now have goal alignment at the forefront of their peer observation planning.

To learn more about the program at Ventura Park Elementary School or to consider how to rethink professional learning at your school, contact the Educator Effectiveness team at