How 2024’s AP of the year is redefining PD for teachers

”At the end of the day, we’re in it for kids,” says Courtney Walker, assistant principal at Carrollton High School. “Anything I can do to support them in doing that to the very best of their ability is what matters the most to me.”

In Northwest Georgia, nestled right on the Alabama state line, lies Carrollton High School, home to a wealth of advanced placement and career and technical opportunities for students. The school also boasts top-notch professional development resources for teachers, spearheaded by Courtney Walker, 2024’s National Association of Secondary School Principals Assistant Principal of the Year.

Courtney Walker pictured with NASSP CEO Ron Nozoe (left) and Carrollton City School Superintendent Mark Albertus (right).

District Administration recently sat down with Walker to learn more about her leadership philosophy and celebrate her prestigious award. Here’s what we learned.

Outlining priorities

Over the last five years, Walker says she and her team have prioritized improving student outcomes by collaborating with teachers on data-driven instruction. ”This year, our goal was to improve our professional learning opportunities in a way that empowered teachers as leaders in our building,” she explains.

We also quickly discovered Walker’s passion for creating educator PD that’s engaging, meaningful and personalized. This made it even more critical to invite teachers to the table.

”Their feedback to us was that we offer differentiated instruction for our students and our teachers are no different,” she says. “They all have unique needs and areas they would like to grow in.”

The 5 professional learning pathways

Walker and Carrollton’s teachers created five new professional learning pathways that reflect the mission of the high school and revolve around the importance of relationship-building and improving literacy. This year’s five pathways include:

  • Professional knowledge and instructional planning
  • Instructional strategies and differentiated instruction
  • Assessment strategies
  • Positive learning environment and communication
  • Academically challenging environment

The second pathway, for instance, covers strategies for reaching English language learners and struggling readers using the SEE-KS model, a framework for reflective practice and measuring student engagement.

”They video themselves teaching in the classroom, but the video is not of the teacher but the kids,” she explains. “It’s looking at who’s engaged, who isn’t engaged and what can we do to increase student engagement.”

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Redefining PD as an administrator

Nationally, less than 15% of teachers report that their PD opportunities offer expertise on instructional materials, RAND Corporation data from the 2021-22 school year suggests. This is a significant predictor of whether teachers say the PL benefits instruction and student learning.

Walker believes it’s an administrator’s job to remove barriers for teachers and listen to their needs so they can best serve their students. ”At the end of the day, we’re in it for kids,” she says. “Anything I can do to support them in doing that to the very best of their ability is what matters the most to me.”

During her first couple of years working at Carrollton, she says much of the PD opportunities were district-driven. However, conversations with leadership led to a shift where teachers became the primary voice in the decisions surrounding these PL pathways.

”We sat down to write our school improvement plan as a collaborative team rather than our administrators developing that and our teachers drove its development,” she says. “Out of those conversations came this need for personalized professional learning.”

Reflecting on this award

We asked Walker if the award provided a sense of reassurance that she and her staff are making things happen for their students. She says it confirms that she’s exactly where she belongs.

”The application process lets you tell your story not just as a leader, but your school’s story as well,” she says. “For me, it was affirming that I’m in the right place—a place that really cares about kids by innovating and looking at new ways to best serve students.”

Courtney Walker receiving NASSP’s Assistant Principal of the Year award.

She says her next step will be incorporating student voice into the professional learning equation. “I think our teachers can learn a lot from listening to kids,” she says. “If we can figure out how to get the student voice to improve the teaching and learning process, we’ll be in a great spot.”

Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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