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Peer Coaching Focus- For Teacher or Student Outcomes?

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.

Infographic on benefits of teacher vs. student outcome focused peer coaching.
Figure 1.1 Summary of Teacher vs. Student-Outcome Focused Peer Coaching.

Conclusion

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.

References

Becker, J.M. (2014). Peer coaching for improvement of teaching and learning [pdf]. Available from: http://radforward.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/peer_coach_article.pdf.

Goker, S.D. (2006) Impact of peer coaching on self-efficacy and instructional skills in TEFL teacher education. System. 34: 239-254l

ISTE. (2017) ISTE standards for coaches. Available from: http://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Joyce, B., Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development [pdf]. Available from: https://www.unrwa.org/sites/default/files/joyce_and_showers_coaching_as_cpd.pdf

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

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

Soisangwarn, A., Wongwanich, S. (2014). Promoting the reflective teacher through peer coaching to improve teaching skills. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 116: 2504 – 2511. Available from:  https://ac.els-cdn.com/S1877042814006181/1-s2.0-S1877042814006181-main.pdf?_tid=aa5bc8ae-6473-42f0-a7e3-a561b25b9b8a&acdnat=1541369407_8987477626b3f7a71d8baf9789f13d8f

 

2 thoughts on “Peer Coaching Focus- For Teacher or Student Outcomes?”

  1. Thank you for this post, Catalina. The following statement really stood out to me: “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.” This was always sort of something I assumed, but I had no supporting data. My prior district heavily emphasized attending conferences and PD sessions, even to the detriment of students since teachers were out of the classroom for up to 3 weeks out of the year. Of all those trainings, there’s only one that I can say genuinely changed my practice and it was a hands-on, interactive learning lab hosted by the California Association for the Gifted. Personal anecdotes aside, I found your question to be fascinating because it forces us to consider what is at the heart of coaching…the teacher or the students indirectly affected by the coaching. It seems to me that teachers who are effectively coached are naturally going to pass the benefits along to their students throughout the course of their career. Conversely, being microscopic in focus towards a particular group of students seems a less effective use of time since each term brings in a new group of students with different needs. Even between classes of students in the same demographic, the needs vary greatly. I wonder if you see less variance in higher education than I do in high school.

  2. Catalina, I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s clear you did a lot of research and you have articulated this issue very well. I liked your last sentence, “When done well, both teachers and students benefit.” That’s always the goal, right? For all parties to benefit. Great work, thanks for the thought-provoking read.

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