As a technology coach, one of my responsibilities is to “Advocate for policies, procedures… to support implementation of the shared vision represented in…technology plans and guidelines,” according to the ISTE Coaching Standards, (ISTE, 2017).
I had an opportunity to contribute to the shared vision and future planning of my department during the second year of my masters studies. My department was undergoing a revision in departmental goals and program outcomes. Our director asked faculty to evaluate what was important for our students to learn and/or demonstrate prior to leaving the university. Understanding that 21st century skills are an integral part of the future workforce, I suggested we included elements of digital citizenship.
This contribution was influenced by an informal assessment I had conducted of our department digital citizenship readiness where it was identified that digital communication was an area of improvement for our students. Therefore, as part of new our digital citizenship goal, each program made a commitment to hold students accountable to digital etiquette. Figure 1.1 highlights the outcome of that commitment.
I worked with the instructor of the introductory FCS course to build the evidence of mastery for this departmental goal using posts from this learning portfolio and modules I have previously created in Canvas (learning management system). Implementation of these assignment are currently taking place. We will evaluate the assignments to compare outcomes to our benchmarks at the end of the quarter.
I embarked on a project where I undertook the role of peer coach. Using the communication skills and logistical training from class, I enhanced my coaching skills over a ten week period. I’m not a stranger to coaching, in a former career I counseled patients on therapeutic diets, diet change, and overcoming barriers to change, using very similar principles. In fact, I became quite nostalgic all throughout this process. The strange and unfamiliar term of “peer coaching”became comfortable and familiar once concepts like “probing questions”, and “building rapport” came to light. With no billing hours and diagnosis to defend (mainly to insurance) peer coaching felt quite light and freeing in comparison to coaching in a medical application.
The project itself consisted of enlisting the help of a peer who would be willing to undergo a collaborative revision of an existing lesson plan. The idea was to spend time building rapport and establishing set roles for each peer prior to the collaborative process. The collaboration would then focus on one major area of concern to be improved in the lesson plan. Following this revision, both parties would reflect on the process to provide feedback.
The Coaching Process
To start the project, I partnered with a former supervisor, SK, who is very open-minded to incorporating technology in the classroom. She had been wanting to explore new ways to use technology in online and blended courses beyond simple course management. She felt that online classes tended to be boring or isolating because most are designed to be “work at your own pace” and independent. Faced with planning a new blended course set to go live during the next academic year, SK sought me out for suggestions. Throughout the peer coaching process, we had four face-to-face meetings (where the majority of the collaboration was performed) while also communicating follow-up items via email. A summary of these encounters are provided below:
First Meeting. In our first meeting, SK shared more information about her new course intended to be a blended classroom with community engagement components. Beyond the course description, the only other information established were the course objectives she had developed after reviewing textbooks with similar themes.
After understanding more about the scope of the work, we established our roles, expectations for our time together, and ended our session by creating a SMART goal that would guide our future work. The expectations for me in the coaching role were clear, I was to facilitate the assessment- and course calendar- development process, keeptrack of our progress towards achieving our goal, and provide key resources needed to complete the work. My peer would then complete all other work necessary to continue to the next phase.
As part of this first phase of coaching, I also met with my direct supervisor to share the above information and ensure that our work aligns with departmental goals. Interestingly, this discussion coincided with a revamp of the departmental goals unrelated to this project. Later in the quarter, technology incorporation and digital citizenship were included as new goals. With this new vision, our coaching work aligned with our departmental values.Our supervisor was very encouraging, supportive, and wanted feedback regarding the results of our collaboration at the end of the process.
Second Meeting. Prior to our second meeting, I began reflecting on SK’s goals and our previous conversations. Given that the course objectives were already established, I wondered if the “Backward Design” model would be a good starting point for our work. I verbalized this intention to my peer via email which also included resources on “Backward Design”. During our second meeting, we took a closer look at the established course objectives and began identifying thinking skills that would satisfy each objective. We soon discovered that one objective in particular required both low order- and higher order- thinking skills to successfully complete. SK expressed a desire use this objective as our starting point since it was the largest and most complicated. We agreed that we would develop a unit around this objective that would then serve as a model for the subsequent objectives/units.
Third Meeting. At the end of our second meeting, SK expressed a concern about her choice of text, wondering if it was the best option available. I had suggested using multiple sources that would be updated more frequently including websites,journal articles, and open source textbooks. I promised to provide a few databases on open source materials so SKcould review prior to our third meeting.
SK made good use of the databases and had established a rough draft of the course calendar. In the calendar she separated big topics into one-week units along with associated learning outcomes for each unit. For the big unit we had decided to focus on,SK developed a three-week timeline with associated reading assignments and engagement activities. For the reminder of our meeting, we discussed the engagement activities at length focusing on any potential technology integration that would allow for collaboration.
Fourth Meeting. By this time, we had already met our SMART goal. Prior to meeting, I used our loosely-defined definition of engagement (including active learning,collaboration, and participation) and made notes on the unit’s learning activities for future consideration. These suggestions were mainly to address prior concerns of isolation in traditional blended classrooms. We went through these suggestions. My peer expressed a desire to stop our work for the time being as she was happy with our progress and wanted time to reflect upon the ideas explored in this last meeting.
Feedback and Reflections
At the end of our peer coaching relationship, SK provided positive feedback on our progress. She was happy that we were able to remain on task to meet our SMART within our allotted time despite very busy schedules.She appreciated the ability to ask for suggestions and bounce ideas off of eachother. Talking through ideas was helpful for understanding how each component could be more engaging in an onlinesetting. Despite our momentum in organizing the blended classroom, SK noted that she will be taking sabbatical making our last meeting an excellent stopping point.
Taking from an outside perspective, one of my colleagues, LB, reviewed the progress outlined above and agreed to provide feedback. LB’s comments and reactions to the project were positive and focused on three aspects:
1) Coaching relationship; she noted that the relationship my peer and I had worked well to help us achieve our goals. Having established clear expectations early on ensured the accountability my peer wanted to gain a head start in course development.
2) Unit organization; though my peer and I didn’t plan and evaluate a lesson plan,which was the original scope of this project, LB commented on the process of developing the unit. She noted that the assessment components of our chosen unit appeared fun, engaging, and meaningful for students.
3) Coaching skills; LB and I shared experiences during this project.LB commented on the fact that I performed my coaching skills well. While I think my past experiences partially reflect this, I do also think that my success is rooted in the fact that my peer is also an experienced collaborator and understood what a collaborative partnership should look like.
Things that went well. Taking LB’s comments into consideration and reflecting back on my performance, I had an overall positive experience. Mypeer and I were very appreciative of one another’s efforts towards the progression of our project. We stood by our established expectations and fulfilled our roles accordingly. One aspect that was a little surprising for me was the fact that my peer saw me as a subject matter expert and expected this type of coaching style. Interestingly, I did not see myself as the“expert”, opting instead for a more collaborative coaching style. In the end,my role/style morphed into a little of both. One delightful discovery my peer and I made through our brainstorming and collaborative efforts, we used our strengths to explore a creative way to use Pinterest as a visual timeline for a major project. By using what knowledge I had about existing technologies, and collaborating by offering lots of options and suggestions for their use, my peer could choose the option that was right for the course or the one she felt most comfortable exploring.
In addition to responding to my peer’s expectations well, another strength of this project was our communication style. Because SK and I worked together previously, we had already established rapport and understood our working styles. SK knew that her preferences would be honored throughout this process and her decisions would be supported because she was encouraged to express herself open and honestly. Most of our communication was through face-to-face interaction with only supported our good communication. Email communication was limited to follow up emails. These follow-ups were helpful to ensure accountability by both parties. Each email would review past conversations, action items to be completed prior to the next meeting, and any resolutions to concerns, such as the opensource databases.
On a curious note, SK felt very motivated to complete her part in a timely manner because she was very respectful of the fact that this was an assignment for me and she didn’t want to “mess up” my project.
Things that could have been improved.LB mentioned several times that she enjoyed the layout and the organization of the assignments prepared for the big unit as a strong feature to the project. However, I cannot take credit for the organization as my peer completed this work. SK knew what she wanted and I served as resource to help her reach that goal. Because of this, I feel that I didn’t really do anything aside from give options and opinions of the information my peer brought forth. I must recognize however that this is what my peer wanted and in this particular coaching scenario, it worked well. In the future, I would also like to improve my communication skills to be more in line with the prescribed communication methods learnt in this course. Should I collaborate with a peer that isn’t as clear with what they want, the probing and clarifying questioning skills are going to prove crucial to success.
While the topics of our meetings were loosely set previously, I never created agendas or had any particular topics to review aside from the backwards design model. Keeping the meetings loose did allow for more open-ended exploration of our goals but I wonder what the outcome could have been if I had better defined our meetings? Again,this style worked well for this particular coaching scenario, but I’d like to keep this idea in mind for a future coaching partner who perhaps needs more structure or guidance.
Thoughts on coaching for the future. I would love to incorporate a coaching culture in my department. Working with SK was not only an opportunity to help her gain ideas and resources for her new class, but it was also an opportunity to get to know one another in a different environment. Our collaboration was meaningful and fruitful.
Though we currently do not have a one-on-one coaching program in my department, we have classroom observations as one of our required professional development strategies.Therefore the basic idea and structure is already in place. I’d like to expand upon that work to create a more constructive professional development environment where professors move away from work in isolation to work in collaboration. I’ve already begun exploring coaching culture in a previous blog post available here. Moving forward, I would need department input and an assessment of current thoughts and attitudes towards peer coaching. Should the department approve, more meaningful and fruitful interactions would allow 21st Century skills to thrive in our courses.
Coaching culture is prevalent in the business world. Simple internet searches on the topic offer many articles and resources providing suggestions to build a stronger culture on the corporate scale. In these articles, managers are called to encourage coaching through shared experiences and incentivize employees to successfully participate. In education, peer coaching has established itself as a useful and resourceful form of professional development in K-12 schools. Peer coaching is so highly esteemed that the Department for K-12 Public Schools in Washington State offers educational grants to support peer coaching. Yet in the higher education world, peer coaching is still in nascent stages. University professors Victoria Scott, and Craig Miner explore peer coaching use in higher education and claim that only 25% of institutions use it as a way to stimulate innovation and improvement, (Scott and Miner, 2008). Even among institutions that employ peer coaching, peer observation was among the most widely used method. This is true for my higher education institution. Every year faculty complete a Professional Development Plan (PDP) in which the faculty member addresses needs for improvement, innovation, and training. One of the required components for completing the PDP process is to participate in a classroom observation by a peer and receive feedback. While observation can be a form of peer coaching, the observers oftentimes are not trained as coaches and these conversations tend to explore course content and audience engagement only. Learning outcomes, active learning, and 21st century skills are largely ignored. Scott and Miner acknowledge that this form of peer evaluation isn’t new in higher education but can be limited because it is one-sided and short-term, (Scott and Miner, 2008).
As I reflect back upon my experience in peer coach training, I realize that there currently isn’t a system in place for me to continue my work as a peer coach outside of isolated events. Outside of my personal desire to continue using my peer coaching skills, ISTE also encourages this through its sixth coaching standard highlighting the importance of continuous learning to improve professional practice. The standard states that coaches “engage in continuous learning to deepen professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in organizational change and leadership, project management, and adult learning to improve professional practice,” (ISTE, 2017). Reflecting on this call to action, I began wondering how to embark of organizational change to develop a peer coaching culture in higher education.
Barriers to establishing peer coaching culture.
Coaching creates an innovation culture where the team is responsible for solving complex problems and supports accountability, (Brooks, n.d.). In higher education, it allows a department to improve collegiality and provide moments of reflection necessary for critical discourse to occur, (Scott & Miner, 2008). Despite the benefits of promoting a peer coaching culture, no sooner did I start investigating culture implementation did I run into potential barriers to culture change. Of the various reasons why an institution may not be receptive to peer coaching, lack of vision, isolation, and lack of confidence in collaboration efforts, were among the top barriers, (Slater & Simmons, 2001).
Lack of vision. Current institutional culture dictates success of peer coaching initiatives. Institutions with short-term goals and/or top-down management styles do not provoke qualities necessary for good peer coaching culture as it requires support from administrators, (Brook, n.d.). Administrators not only give approval for peer coaching to take place, but are also vocal in its promotion, participation, and long term viability, (Brook, n.d.). Misconceptions and lack of understanding in the value of peer coaching lead to poor administer buy-in. When administrators view coaching as “time-wasting” or valued as a remedial action, its potential is diminished. This ignores large benefits such as attracting and maintaining top talent, promoting constant innovation, maintaining intrinsic motivation and workplace satisfaction for all, (Brook, n.d.). The lack of vision may not spark from misconception but rather lack of awareness or a knowledge deficit about peer coaching. Administrators without previous exposure to coaching may have trouble envisioning the process, may have logistical questions, or worry about potential negative outcomes of peers observing one another for the purpose of growth and development, (Barnett, 1990).
Professors tend to work in isolation. Professors Victoria Scott and Craig Miner recognize that peer coaching has not been more readily implemented in higher education because professors work autonomously, independently trying to achieve improvement and innovation through the scholarship of teaching, (Scott & Miner, 2008). There is fear that collaboration may remove the academic freedom that professors are rewarded, leading to strict and rigid changes in teaching, (Scott and Miner, 2008). Another significant barrier for professors is the perceived lack of time. In order for peer coaching to be successful, the assumption is that peer coaching efforts are long-term and on-going. Given other commitments and required scholarly activities, even if a professor has the intention to participate, actual follow-through is lacking (Scott and Miner, 2008). Professors also fear that their peer coaching efforts will not be rewarded or recognized by their institution, particularly if current policies on promotion do not support such efforts. Scott and Miner argue, however, that peer coaching has been linked to improved course evaluations which are used for tenure and other promotion efforts, (Scott and Miner, 2008).
Lack of confidence in collaboration. Confidence needs to be instilled through better understanding of the peer coaching process. Scott and Miner define peer coaching as a “confidential” process in which both parties hold no judgement but rather build a relationship on collaborative and reflective dialogue, (Scott & Miner, 2008). “No one grows as a leader without the support of others,” (Friedman, 2015). Peer coaching works because building trust and rapport is an essential component to the process. Innovation and change happen quickly because peer coaching makes partners honest about goals, hold each other accountable, and creates actionable tasks leading to better and more effective outcomes, (Friedman, 2015).
The lack of confidence can also stem from inadequate peer coaching training. This can result largely from institution resource allocation. However, continued peer coaching training does not have to rely on monetary resource only but also recognize that outside sources can be used to support additional training such as social networks and the establishment of Professional Learning Cohorts (PLCs), (Brook, n.d.)
Institutional implementation of peer coaching culture.
“When good coaching is practiced, the whole organization will learn new things more quickly and…adapt to changes more effectively,” (Mansor et. al., 2012). Coaching can serve as a catalyst for change on multiple levels of an institution. Department chair, professor, and educational leader, Barbara Gottesman, has been working to establish peer coaching in university settings since the nineties. Her book, “Peer Coaching in Higher Education,” highlights numerous case studies in which peer coaching cultures have not only helped enrich the learning environment but also helped address several of the barriers listed above. Dr. Gottesman argues that successful coaching culture only functions when specific rules and concepts are in place and all stakeholders adhere to the process, (Gottesman, 2009). Figure 1.1 provides a summary of Dr. Gotteman’s peer coaching process.
Drawing from the recommendations from Dr. Gotteman, and additional business and coaching leaders, the following are summarized determinants of a successful peer coaching culture:
A strong link between organizational strategy and developmental focus. The alignment of professional development with tangible organizational goals is the strongest indicator of peer coaching culture adoption. For an organization, one supports a means for achieving the other, (Mansor, et.al, 2012). In order to do this, coaching leaders recommend performing a culture assessment which addresses this link. The assessment should focus on attitudes and understanding of peer coaching, along with the institution’s mission, value statements, vision, and a review of the current policies in place that may support or inhibit peer coaching practice, (Leadership That Works, n.d).
Administrative commitment. Strong administrative commitment supports proper implementation and addresses resistance to change. In order to overcome barriers, administrators hold the responsibility for culture promotion and encouragement. Resistance to change should be managed in a manner that normalizes the emotional impact, meaning that employees’ concerns and voices are heard, (Leadership That Works, n.d.). In addition to normalizing the fear, coaching consulting firm “Leadership that Works”, recommends identifying early adopters who would slowly begin incorporating others in peer coaching projects. Successes of early peer coaching helps build excitement and alleviates the fear of the unknown, (Leadership That Works, n.d.).
Sufficient and appropriate peer coaching training. All experts agree that successful peer coaching culture takes time to establish because good peer coaches need to build skills. The initial need of skilled peer coaches can be met through the use of external coaches that can provide an outside perspective, training, and build innovation, (Leadership That Works, n.d.). Once successful initiation has taken hold, internal coaches can be deployed to further the work. In fact, internal coaches are often more impactful because of their intimate knowledge of the systems and procedures that are being improved upon, (Leadership That Works). When training internal coaches, Dr. Gotteman and coaching leader John Brooks, argue that complicated peer coaching theories should be reserved for more advanced and skilled coaches. Even basic coaching models can be successful, (Gotteman, 2009; Brooks, n.d.).
Develop culture of recognition and rewards. Professors Scott and Miner recognize that some reward and recognition should be given to professors that embark on peer coaching projects. However, the rewards must go beyond promotion and tenure. The reasoning behind this, Scott and Miner warn, is that there would be little motivation for senior faculty to participate in project without recognition. Since senior faculty can provide a wealth of experience, faculty buy-in is imperative for peer coaching success, (Scott and Miner, 2008).
Continual learning and development opportunities. The primary purpose of peer coaching is to serve as professional development with the assumption that is the process is on-going. To support continual learning and development opportunities, constant program evaluation will be important, (Leadership That Works, n.d.).
While full-scale institutional change may take time and effort to employ, small changes at the program or department level may help pave the way for larger changes and benefits. Conversations around culture should involve all key stakeholders to gain perspectives and eliminate resistance to change and the barriers that it creates. Promoting coaching culture works for business, it works for K-12 education, and it can certainly also work for higher education.
Abu Mansor, N.N., Syafiquah, A.R., Mohamed, A., Idris, N. (2012). Determines of coaching culture development: A case study. Procedia. 40, 485-489. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042812006878
Barnett, B. (1990). Overcoming obstacles to peer coaching for principals. Educational Leadership [pdf]. Available from: http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_199005_barnett.pdf
Brook, J. (n.d.) Common barriers to a coaching culture and how to overcome them. StrengthScope website. Available from: https://www.strengthscope.com/common-barriers-coaching-culture-overcome/
Leadership that works, (n.d.) 7 Steps for developing a coaching culture. Available from: http://www.leadershipthatworks.com/article/5037/index.cfm
Scott, V., Miner, C. (2008). Peer coaching: Implication for teaching and program improvement [pdf.] Available from: http://www.kpu.ca/sites/default/files/Teaching%20and%20Learning/TD.1.3_Scott%26Miner_Peer_Coaching.pdf
Good peer coaching ensures successful lesson plan outcomes. In my last blog post, I explored the value of teacher vs. student focus during peer coaching sessions and concluded that when the teacher is focused on improved learning, both the students and the teacher benefit greatly, (Vlad-Ortiz, 2018). In peer coaching, the main tasks involve co-planning a lesson, and improving upon that lesson to ensure that the activities described facilitate learning in a purposeful manner. For improvement to occur, according to coaching leader Les Foltos, there must be an explicit agreement between the peer and the coach on the definition of “improvement,” (Foltos, 2013). This dialogue between the coach and the peer should be specific as it will drive the focus of the work. Foltos suggests using an effective learning checklist to guide this work and offers a framework of four main improvement focus areas: standard-based, engagement-based, problem-based, and technology enhanced learning, (Foltos, 2013). Once the definition and checklist has been created, then the improvement process can begin. Figure 1.1 below summarizes the evidence-based design process described by Foltos.
The coach’s responsibility is to stimulate innovation by taking an outside perspective and offering suggestions and resources. Without this distinct perspective, teachers can’t innovate, (Foltos, 2013). By participating in the innovation process, the coach meets the ISTE standard in “contribut[ing] to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and evaluation of technology-infused strategic plans at the district and school levels,” (ISTE, 2017).
In my peer coaching relationship, my peer and I have stepped into the process of improvement after designing a unit for a blended course. My peer developed several learning activities along with associated deliverables that achieved the desired learning outcomes. However, my peer was concerned that the unit is too dry and may be isolating as students work independently on many activities. Because of these concerns, my peer would like to focus our improvement efforts on engagement. In addition, my peer would like me to offer some good technology options that would help enhance engagement. My peer’s request requires an actionable and tangible outcome from me. This got me thinking, how would a peer coach begin exploring technology resources for increasing classroom engagement with their peer?
Creating a criteria checklist. “Even highly effective collaboration isn’t enough to improve learning,” (Foltos, 2013). Effective resources that stimulate engagement must contribute to the learning outcome in some way. Gathering technology resources for collaboration then must involve some discernment process that narrows down options to the best fit with a learning outcome. One way to start building a resource list for my peer could be to create a criteria checklist. I originally got this idea by watching a YouTube video created by Dr. Dykema-Vanderark who is an English professor at Grand Rapids Community College. In his video, Dr. Dkykema-Vanderark explores various technology tools that increase classroom engagement. He starts off the session by communicating his criteria for a “good” engagement tool that helps meets his needs, which include: free (or low cost), easy to use, well-designed, and were flexible multi-use tools. He subsequently presents nine tools, he felt best met these pre-established criteria highlighting the main features and offers suggestions on how to use them. Though the video itself does not address my main question, the main ideas behind Dr. Dykema’s processes clarifies how to begin this process and how my peer and I could use the criteria to explore various tools together. The idea of a checklist is not a new idea, nor is it limited to process improvement. Education consultant, Patricia Vitale-Rilley, suggests using checklists as a way to manage active learning by students, suggesting that checklists are a good tool for facilitating student engagement, (Vitale-Rilley, 2015).
Criteria Considerations that Include Engagement Characteristics. Edutopia describes engagement as activities that allow students to do something with the material that they are taught. Students are talking, practicing, and moving on the content rather than passively absorbing the content through lecture, (Johnson, 2012). Given the participatory nature of the above definition, criteria characteristics for the resource checklist should include technology that allows for sharing, commenting, and other collaboration features while excluding any technology resource that simply curates information without a basis for interaction among the students. Adding to this, Foltos describes characteristics of engagement-based tasks in his own checklist on effective learning. Some of those characteristics include: tasks that are challenging (in a good way), hold intrinsic interest, offer choices, allow students to draw upon existing knowledge and skills, facilitates creation of a product/artifact, and allow students to apply their skills to new situations, (Foltos, 2013). While these criteria focus more on classroom activities, they may be used to evaluate technology resources particularly technology that can offer students choices or multi-functionality, and allow them to create a tangible product. Resources that allow students to use their skills to new technology could also be a consideration.
Building a resource checklist will help narrow down the list of potential technology tools used in the classroom and aid in the selection of the tools that best fits with the intended outcome of each learning activity. In moving forward with lesson plan improvement with my peer, we would need to complete the following steps to build a successful lesson:
Identify which learning activities would benefit from revision to improve engagement.
Identify characteristics of engagement for those selected activities.
Establish a tech resource checklist highlighting key features needed to fulfil learning outcomes.
Curate technology resources.
Compare and contrast technology resources against the checklist.
“Many educators need a research-based process for lesson design…to help them create…learning activities,” (Foltos, 2013). Using the above process ensures that my peer and I follow an evidence-based practice, keeping our focus on the student learning outcomes while increasing active-learning for more impactful lesson plans.
Educators are facing an ever-changing professional landscape. As society evolves into the 21st century, the needs of various industries change, requiring different skills. Teachers are challenged to improve and update skills, knowledge, and actions to match those needs, (Ma, Xin, Du, 2018). Teachers can’t keep up on their own. “New curriculum, standards, resources/materials, assessments, methodologies, technology, and reforms will not and do not have much impact unless teachers have appropriate access, knowledge, skills and continuous learning opportunities. Teachers require time for reflection, mentoring relationships, collegial interaction, expert role models, and ongoing professional development for any of these changes to be effective,” (Becker, 2014). As Becker alludes to, the format of professional development is important in providing educators the tools they need to make the changes necessary for successful student impact. In order to maximize success, professional development is moving away from theory-only, lecture-based models to more effective personalized learning models such as peer coaching. Studies show that educators participating in peer coaching better practice and adopt new strategies, retain and increase skills over time, and are better able to explain teaching/learning models than un-coached educators, (Joyce & Showers, 2002). Statistics back these findings, five percent of educators will transfer new skills into practice as a result of theory, whereas ninety percent of educators will transfer new skills into practice with theory, demonstration, practice within training, feedback, and coaching, (Becker, 2014).
The sixth ISTE standard for coaches encourages this peer coaching model by recommending an “engage[ment] in continual learning to deepen content and pedagogical knowledge in technology integration and current and emerging technologies necessary to effectively implement the ISTE Student and Educator standards,” (ISTE, 2017). If peer coaching is to be done correctly, should the coaching focus on teacher outcomes or student outcomes? This inquiry comes from my reflective thoughts on the skills and strategies used in successful coaching which are mainly teacher-focused. Given that the learner audience would be a peer, the coaching efforts logically should be focused on meeting their needs. My hypothesis is that meeting these needs would automatically relate into increased learning outcomes for the students through improved instructional methods. However, in a current peer coaching relationship, we are heavily focused on student learning outcomes rather than the peer’s needs. Are my peer’s needs being met through meeting the student learning outcomes, or should one be given priority over another? Below are the results of my investigation, offering both sides of the argument from which I draw my conclusions at the end.
Evidence for Teacher-Focused Peer Coaching.
There is evidence to support that peer coaching has a marked effect on professional improvement and classroom implementation. A research study conducted in China looked at the impact of peer coaching on professional development, learning, and application of that learning in instructional design, attempting to investigate the problem that teachers who had knowledge of certain pedagogies were unable to apply them in the classroom. Twenty peers were coached and evaluated through performance rubrics and teaching videos. The results of the study suggest that personalized approaches such as peer coaching increased learning participation which improved in-depth learning. In addition, participants were more effective in content application than traditional methods, (Ma, Xin, & Du, 2018). This study makes the case for keeping peer coaching focus on the instructors for improved teaching outcomes.
Several studies have concluded peer coaching effectiveness not only teaching modalities but also in personal development. Undergoing the peer coaching process can help teachers become more reflective of their work and therefore better able to identify own professional development needs, (Soisangwarn & Wongwanich, 2014). Ma, Xin, and Du found similar results in their study, by sharing and offering suggestions to other teachers, the peers became more reflective of their own work, (Ma, Xin, & Du, 2018). By becoming more reflective, they are building emotional intelligence and self-awareness.
Lastly, effective peer coaching can also increase the self-efficacy of teachers. Researchers investigated the effect of peer coaching on instructional knowledge and self-efficacy on student teachers in a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) program. The results of the study indicated an increased self-confidence as the student teachers expressed freedom to ask questions and express their opinions. Undergoing the process of peer coaching also allowed the student teachers to become self-directed learners which built self-efficacy, (Goker, 2006). The above evidence supports teacher-focused peer coaching because the intent of coaching is to serve as professional development, helping the peer, not the students, improve in both personal and professional skill development.
Evidence for Student-Outcome Focused Peer Coaching.
The evidence for student-outcome focused peer coaching is driven by results. Researchers Joyce and Showers argue that learning how to learn is equally as important as acquiring skills and knowledge for classroom application, (Joyce & Showers, 2002). Interestingly, Joyce and Showers make the case that the teachers should be treated like the students when approaching professional development through peer coaching. They state that in order for peer coaching to be successful, the pair needs to identify the learning outcomes and select the training component most adequate for successful achieving those outcomes, (Joyce & Showers, 2002). This approach to peer coaching puts the student outcome first by treating the peer as a student and following a similar approach to learning outcomes.
Researchers Scott and Miner explore peer coaching solely for the purpose of improving student outcomes in higher education. They argue that peer coaching is rarely used in higher ed due to environmental and cultural factors including the fact that professors are mostly autonomous, peer coaching can be time-consuming, and outcomes are not tied to tenure efforts nor other evaluation efforts, (Scott & Miner, 2008). However, when peer coaching focused on improved student outcomes, other evaluation methods, such as course evaluations also improved, (Scott & Miner, 2008). This makes the case for incorporating more peer-coaching and feedback as the predominant feedback mechanism in higher education, i.e. course evaluations, typically lack enough information for true improvement to occur.
The matter of teacher versus student-outcome driven peer coaching is not an easy debate to settle. Most authors evaluated in this review often provided a two-pronged view of coaching looking at the benefits on both sides. Joyce and Showers concluded their study explaining that when teachers learn how to learn, and consistently use newly acquired skills and strategies well in the classroom, a critical point is reached that impacts students’ development, (Joyce & Showers, 2002). Becker agrees, peer coaching can accomplish both improved outcomes from the teacher and the student when allowed in the right capacity including organizational implementation, (Becker, 2014). These sentiments are mirrored by several other authors and researchers as well. Pam Robbins, author of “Peer Coaching to Enrich Professional Practice, School Culture, and Student Learning”, explains that there are many uses and purposes for peer coaching from understanding diversity in the classroom, implementing new technologies, or improving learning outcomes. Peer coaching is poised to help teachers face many challenges in the classroom and promotes new opportunities, (Robbins, 2015). Given all of the above evidence, it can be concluded that peer coaching should focus on both teacher and student outcomes. When done well, both teachers and students benefit.
Ma, N., Xin, S., & Du, J. Y. (2018). A peer coaching-based professional development approach to improving the learning participation and learning design skills of in-service teachers. Educational Technology & Society, 21 (2), 291–304.
Robbins, P. (2015). Chapter 1: Establishing the need for peer coaching. In: Peer Coaching to Enrich Profession Practice, School Culture, and Student Learning [e-book]. Available from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/115014/chapters/Establishing-the-Need-for-Peer-Coaching.aspx
If the foundation of effective peer coaching is collaboration, good communication is one of its pillars. Mark Ladin, CMO of Tiger Connect, an IT company, shares this mindset by defining communication and collaboration as one and the same. He argues that both communication and collaboration function on the exchange of information, however without good communication, you can’t have a functioning collaborative relationship that yields productive results, (Ladin, 2015). Therefore, eliminating miscommunication in partnerships promotes good collaboration, (Lohrey, n.d.). Collaborative communication offers many benefits including: creating flexible work environments that promote trust and familiarity, enhances decision-making by tackling problems through various angles, and increasing overall satisfaction of the collaboration process, (Lohrey, n.d.)
The ISTE Coaching Standard (1D) calls for coaches to implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms, (ISTE, 2017). A peer can feel comfortable enough to implement suggested strategies, when good communication between the collaboration peers is established. If good communication is central to collaboration, what miscommunication is common during peer coaching and what are some strategies to avoid it? This question does not readily yield concrete results on peer coaching alone, but rather there are several approaches to reasons for miscommunication including: modes of communication, a variety of communication barriers, and types of information given that may lead to miscommunication.
Modes of communication.
While mode of communication may not be the first thing to come to mind when considering miscommunication, the impact communication delivery has on conversation comprehension is compelling. According to Willy Steiner, an executive career coach, the degree of communication effectiveness compared to information efficiency differs when offered via face-to-face, telephone, or email communication, (Steiner, 2014). The author argues that face-to-face communication offers the best information efficiency (i.e. better understood) while email is most effective (i.e. quick). This can be further compounded by factoring in three types of communication: visual, verbal, and non-verbal. Face-to-face communication allows for better understanding in all three communication types, though it is the slowest communication mode. Email is the quickest mode but tends to promote higher levels of misunderstanding in verbal and visual communication and does not allow for any interpretation of non-verbal communication, (Steiner, 2014). A research study on adult learners using information communication technology found similar results. The aim of the study was to determine what type of information communication technology would better support virtual coaching. The results found that email was useful for the exchange of information but lacked the ability to create authentic communication experiences or relationships, and often led to more miscommunication, (Ladyshewky & Pettapiece, n.d.). Use of telephone technology was more effective than emailing because phone calls offered more verbal cues, while video-conferencing (mimicking face-to-face communication) was just as efficient as face-to-face conversations if technical issues are not present, (Ladyshewky & Pettapiece, n.d.). As a result, communication comprehension is a major consideration for avoiding miscommunication. When possible, face-to-face or similar communication modes should be used to help build relationships and deliver the most amount of understanding while limiting email to information transfer only.
Research shows that face-to-face communication better maximizes understanding and relationship building in collaborative partnership. However, even in face-to-face environments, several barriers may create inadvertent miscommunication events. According to the Coaching Room Company, there are seven potential barriers that may lead to ineffective coaching, summarized in figure 1.1 below.
Considering that many of these barriers involve understanding and respect of the coaching peer, developing a good collaborative relationship prior to working on the mutual project is essential for avoiding miscommunication.
Peer coaching invites the coach to step into a leadership position in which the goal is to collaborate and facilitate work with a peer toward a mutual goal. Another area of potential miscommunication may stem from how the coach leader presents information to the peer. Figure 1.2 below lists the various information communication errors that may arise in leadership.
It is not only important to consider how communication is performed but also what is being communicated. Forbes Coaching Council expands on the communication errors provided in Figure 1.2 to focus on information clarity. Miscommunication can occur when the message is non-individualized or personal, (Forbes, 2018). Using the same strategies, communication techniques, and information to various coaching peers can harm the coaching relationship. A common miscommunication is use of vague, generic language or messages leading to lack of clarity in direction. The peer is left feeling like they are missing out on important information or that the information they were provided was not delivered effectively, (Forbes, 2018). To help eliminate the lack of direction, clear expectations that are developed by both parties can help promote the shared vision contributing to better collaboration. The peer leader should avoid communicating only negative outcomes, instead include the positive outcomes to avoid creating an image that the shared work is not successful, (Forbes, 2018). Lastly, it is crucial that the coach recognize their bias and remember that the process is not about their wants but the needs of the peer being coached. Business coach Tony Alessandra said it best, “You can choose to connect with others from their perspective, the way they want to be communicated with by modifying your own presentation style; or you can choose to meet only your own needs – facing the consequence misconnecting with others…,” (Alessandra, 2015).
Promoting good communication. Several of the communication barriers addressed above stem from how communication is delivered, what information is delivered, and how each party perceives that information. Good communication is established when both parties feel safe, comfortable, and trust one another in their collaborative environment. Both hold the responsibility of keeping an open-mind into the process and commit to relationship building. Only after good communication occurs between coaching peers can good collaboration exist.
Building 21st century skills is the imperative focus for most educational institutions. Many education articles and blog posts are centered around techniques and concepts that educators can use to develop these skills in their students. Yet what about an educator’s need to build these skills? How can educators learn and gain 21st century skills before teaching and modeling them in the classroom? One proposed method is to provide more professional development to help educators build these skills, but now many researchers argue that traditional presentation-only professional development sessions leave little room for implementation. An early study conducted by Showers and Joyce found that only ten percent of professional development participants implemented what they learned into the classroom. When educators were allowed to practice what they had learned, implementation increased drastically, (Showers & Joyce, 1996).
What Showers and Joyce were researching was the concept of “peer coaching.” Peer coaching is a professional development strategy in which colleagues spend time in a collaborative environment working towards improving standard-based instruction and support efforts for building 21st century skills, (Foltos, 2013). Peer coaching may take on many forms but usually includes a collaborative process in which the teacher leader assists in co-planning activities, models strategies and techniques, provides observation of teaching and reflection, while avoiding formal evaluation of the peer, (Foltos, 2013). Through peer coaching, the collaborating pair begin to build a culture of standards and expectations, increase instructional capacity, support ongoing evaluation, and create a platform for connecting teaching practices to school policies, (NSW Department of Education, 2018). Student learning benefits when teachers learn, grow, and change through peer coaching, (Showers & Joyce, 1996).
The ISTE standard for coaches defines a peer coach’s role: as “contribut[ing] to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and evaluation of technology-infused strategic plans at the district and school levels,” (ISTE, 2017). Therefore, understanding peer coaching best practices is important to effective coaching. Since the coach’s role is to take part in the planning, implementation, and evaluation cycle, I began wondering about effective time spent in coaching sessions with a peer. This wonderment stems back from my past role as a nutrition counselor. One of the biggest issues that would come up concerned the appropriate length of a counseling session. Medical insurance allowed for billing in fifteen-minute increments though fifteen minutes was hardly enough time for any successful progress to take place. There was distension among professionals about whether 30 minutes or one hour was more effective. My former employer insisted that every session should be a minimum of one hour, which felt appropriate for first, second, and sometimes even third session, yet felt unnecessarily long after about the fourth session. I often wondered at what point is there too much information given, in comparison to too little, for a coaching session to be effective? Now as I step into the role of a technology coach, these same questions enter my mind, what is a reasonable timeframe for peer coaches to fulfill their roles (i.e. how long would a coaching cycle take)?
My questions, as it appears, do not have a straightforward answer. A program called “Incredible Years” offers some guidelines into actual number and timeframes, citing that one-hour coaching sessions should occur after every two or three teaching lessons particularly if the educator is new to the program. More experienced educators may meet less often. Despite these very specific guidelines, the program designers state that the guidelines serve as recommendations at best, (Incredible Years, n.d.).
Researchers and educational leaders agree that coaching, regardless of its medium, is an individualized process. According to educational leader, Les Foltos, peer coaching needs to be personalized to be effective. One of the hallmarks of a good peer coach is making the process manageable for the coaching partner, (Foltos, 2013). Time spent on improvement will be dependent on other time obligations, such as current workload. Rather than focusing on a fixed time minimum, Foltos recommends that the time set out for coaching should be based on the peer’s capacity and readiness for improvement, (Foltos, 2013). In fact, peer coaching may never have a clear resolution time but rather it may be a cyclical process. The key to understanding the process length will lie in continual reflection and evaluation of the coaching goal(s), (Foltos, 2013).
Foltos isn’t the only educational leader to suggest the long-term nature of peer coaching, the NSW Department of Education defines peer coaching as a “long term professional development strategy,“ (NSW Department of Education, 2018). Like Foltos, the NSW suggests a cyclical nature to peer coaching as outlined in figure 1.1 below.
The peer coaching cycle is dependent on relationship development and trust building that supports open, honest communication and comfort with risk-taking. Once these relationships have formed, the coaching process can be ongoing because professional development needs and goals change. The length may also be naturally determined as many teachers choose to continue the collaboration process even after the initial goal has been met, (Showers & Joyce, 1996). There is congruence among researchers that length of peer coaching session is less important than the process that is followed. Initial peer coaching sessions should focus on relationship building in which both parties share goals, agree on the coaching process, and establish agendas with topics to explore. A good peer coach would help their collaborative partner establish SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals that help them build a personalized timeline for meeting their joint objectives, (NSW, 2018). Once this process has been followed, any sequent sessions should allow for flexibility and reflection, ensuring its ongoing nature, (NSW, 2018).
Though there are many similarities in nutritional and technology coaching, the timeline needs are vastly different. In both instances, the relationship development between a coach and their partner is crucial for success. Open, honest communication and risk taking does not readily occur without a safe and established relationship. However, in technology coaching, the idea is to work with a peer, not a client, to build a collaborative partnership that is long lasting and transcends any initial short-term goal.
Foltos, L., 2013. Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Chapter 1: Coaching roles and responsibilities. Corwin Publishing. Thousand Oaks, CA.
Incredible Years, (n.d.) IY peer coaching expectations. Available from: file:///C:/Users/Catalina/Downloads/Peer-Coaching-Dosage-8-16%20(1).pdf