This quarter in my studies in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am studying the practice of peer coaching. I have arrived to the table unsure of this role and ready to explore the model alongside my cohort of peers who come from rich and diverse educational environments. So, I am starting with the basics.
What is peer coaching?
While I have not worked in a school with peer coaches before, I have heard the term used in the past. Unfortunately, I have been disinterested because of my perception that it was a form evaluation. In an age when teachers are often blamed for educational malpractice, it is easy to be defensive. Additionally, while the practice of observation is often highlighted as a helpful component of coaching, it is closely tied with evaluation. Since I might not be alone in this perception, perhaps perception is an important consideration when implementing a peer coaching model. In order to address perception, it is best to start with the what before the how. According to Foltos (2013), “A Peer Coach is a teacher leader who assists a peer to improve standards-based instruction by supporting the peer’s efforts to actively engage students in 21st century learning activities” (p. 3). Integral to this process is a coach’s ability to guide a peer towards autonomy (Foltos, 2013). It is also a collaborative process between two peers, not a hierarchy of superiority. Transparency in these goals can also perhaps go a long way in establishing an effective practice.
What is essential for successful coaching?
Based upon the work of Foltos (2013) and my own experiences, the following themes have become apparent.
A coaching relationship needs to consist of willing participants, who are open to building trust with one another (Foltos, 2013). This trust is the foundation of a working relationship that encourages risk-taking and growth.
It is important to set goals and norms collaboratively. While it can begin with a school or district goal, it can also stem from goals set by the coaching partnership (Foltos, 2013).
Establishing modes of respect is a separate consideration from participation. It is important to address time as a factor in a coaching relationship, and recognizing certification hours and/or compensation for work being done outside of the school day can properly value the process.
How do you create a peer coaching model that doesn’t suggest or feel like an evaluation system?
Coaching a New Teacher
As I consider my peer coaching plan for this year, one challenge I am facing is where to focus my energies. This year I am both a mentor to a new teacher, and an Educational Technology Lead running professional development with teachers interested in working on student-centered technology integration. I hope to reflect upon engagement in coaching practices in both of these arenas. Engaging in a coaching relationship with a new teacher might pose some unique challenges. First, the title of mentor unfortunately connotes a superior, rather than a peer. Additionally, new teachers often have many more daily goals associated with learning important instructional knowledge that can make falling into the role of advisor all too easy.
My own peer, Becky Todd, suggested a resource that immediately addressed the topic of working with beginning teachers. Biza, Joel, and Nardi (2015) wrote that new teachers bring an energy to the classroom, but that they also have an endless barrage of new information to sort through, as well as problems to solve. Biza et. al (2015) suggested that reflection is the most important skill for a new teacher. While this resource was focused on mathematics instruction, it showcased how reflection can be used specifically with the interplay of classroom management and content. Additionally, one of my colleagues, Becky Todd, reminded me that sometimes new teachers are so overwhelmed that anything beyond support can be challenging.
Types of Coaching
In “How Administrators Support Peer Coaching,” Garmeston (1987) promoted three different types of coaching: technical, collegial and challenge coaching. Technical coaching consists of taking a training received in professional development and using coaching to implement it into the classroom (Garmeston, 1987). With technical coaching, there is a tendency to become evaluative in practice (Garmeston, 1987). The second type of coaching is collegial coaching, which seeks to hone teaching abilities, while build a working relationship between a coach and the teacher being coached. This type of coaching reiterates the need for reflective practices addressed by Biza, Joel and Nardi (2015). In this model, the priorities established by the teacher being coached are paramount. As such, a collegial coach might guide the teacher to reflect on and analyze how choices in the classroom have an effect on student learning and achievement. (Garmeston, 1987). The third type of coaching, challenge coaching, is used to address a problem faced by one or more teachers (Garmeston, 1987). While all, slightly different, they all rely on administrative support according to Garmston (1987). Reviewing these leads me to believe that collegial coaching might be the most appropriate type of coaching for work with a new teacher.
Coaching vs. Evaluating
One additional resource, which was recommended by my peer Marsha Scott, discussed the difference between a coach and an evaluator. Tschannen-Moran and Tschannen-Moran (2011) stated that bureaucratic systems drive evaluation and rely on a hierarchy of superiority. Alternatively, professional systems drive development and rely on collaboration and reflection (Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran, 2011). Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran (2011) stated that often professional systems do not get the same attention that bureaucratic systems do. Perhaps this is due to pressures and directives from district and state levels to produce quantifiable data of achievement and performance. The consequence is that “Rules replace trust, communications become constrained, people hide problems, management becomes intrusive, and cooperation is withheld” (Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran, 2011, p. 12).
One of the other main points from this resource was that coaching is all too often an effect or consequence of evaluation (Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran, 2011). Teachers who earn a poor evaluation are placed into coaching relationships; as a result, the loss of a job can then be a consequence or effect of poor coaching (Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran, 2011).
So, knowing that these two systems have to function in harmony with one another, how is this possible?
Evaluation guarantees that all teachers and school employees meet agreed-on minimum standards of competent performance. Coaching invites all school employees to grow beyond those agreed-on minimums to more fully realize their potential and better serve their clients (Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran, 2011, p.13).
Just like a classroom should aspire to create a student-centered learning environment, so too should a coaching relationship focus on the needs and drives of the teacher before the coach. Tschannen-Moran and Tschannen-Moran (2011) shared that “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed” to suggest that change has to come from within (p.15). A coach needs to only support this process.
Tschannen-Moran and Tschannen-Moran (2011) also stated that a coach should shift the focus away from taking personal responsibility for failures. This seems counterintuitive. The rationale is that when something doesn’t work in the classroom, coaching isn’t the place for blame. Rather, it is a place for seeking feedback. When blame is removed from the scenario, instructional improvement is less about passing or failing an expectation and more about continuous learning and growth. As a result, this might in reduce the propensity to be on the defensive when asked about teaching practices (Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran, 2011). Doing so separates the practice of coaching from the anxiety experienced with evaluation.
Finally, it is important to focus as much on achievements and abilities as opportunities for improvement. According to Tschannen-Moran and Tschannen-Moran (2011), functioning under the assumption that a teacher’s practice is already based in capability, sets a tone for a peer learner who is self-driven to innovate and meet goals.
My understanding of a peer coach’s role remains tentative at best. However, I am gaining insight into how my perceptions of a coach were limited. The following image represents my thought process as I navigated this initial exploration, and I am looking forward to sorting through my continuously emerging questions.
Biza, I., Joel, G., & Nardi, E. (2015). Transforming trainees’ aspirational thinking into solid practice. Mathematics Teaching, (246), 36-40.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks: Corwin .
Garmston, R. (1987). How administrators support peer coaching. Educational Leadership, 44(5), 18. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.com/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_198702_garmston.pdf
Tschannen-Moran, B., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2011). The Coach and the Evaluator. Educational Leadership, 69(2), 10-16. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct11/vol69/num02/The-Coach-and-the-Evaluator.aspx