Establishing Norms for a Successful Peer Coaching Partnership

This week I continue my exploration of the first and second ISTE Coaching Standards through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University. As I delve into these standards, I also hone my skills as a peer coach, merging my studies with my new role as Technology Integration Specialist. These opportunities of real-time implementation of my education has me wondering why more graduate (and even undergraduate) programs don’t follow a similar model, with students catering their learning to fit their “real lives.” I am so very thankful that my homework is directly connected to the responsibilities of my job. This week, for example, I was introduced to a variety of communication tools to make the peer coaching experience equally effective for both the coach and the collaborating teacher. My classmates and I devoted time to hold mock coaching meetings to practice these new skills, an exercise that initially felt silly, but proved to be a great confidence builder.

While this activity was designed to train peer coaches, the communication skills are useful in all collaborative relationships (they were a great reminder for all areas of my life). Les Foltos, Director of Educational Innovation at Peer-Ed and author of Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, states that strong communication skills “help coaches provide meaningful feedback and create strong coaching relationships” (“Introduction to Communication Skills”, 2015). Foltos outlines some of the most important aspects of successful communication below:

Active Listening
  • is focused on the speaker
  • is blocking out all competing thoughts
  • is leaning forward and nodding
Paraphrasing
  • is restating what was stated
  • is used to check for understanding
  • clarifies what was heard by summarizing
  • indicates acceptance and encouragement
  • helps the speaker gain clarity of their thoughts
Clarifying Questions
  • lead to a clear picture or understanding of a topic or idea
  • are factual
  • are answered quickly
  • are used to gather information
Probing Questions
  • are thought provoking and encourage deeper thinking
  • usually start with a paraphrase
  • are often open-ended (Foltos, “Introduction to Communication Skills”, 2015).

Establishing Norms

Aside from practicing essential communication skills, we also focused on the importance in establishing social norms. In my independent exploration of norms, I found that norms are often implemented as a way to solve common challenges. Joan Richardson, Director of Communications at the National Staff Development Council, noted that many faculty members often get frustrated by meetings because they’re “just a waste of my time. We never get anything accomplished” (Richardson, 1999, pg. 1). I want to establish norms near the start of this peer coaching journey so we can both look back and feel that our time and energy was valued and resulted in student success. Norms have the ability to create an environment of efficiency. They serve as a sort of “behavior contract” (Richardson, 1999, pg. 1). As norms are most effective when they are established and customized for a particular group, I am left wondering:

What norms are most essential between two busy educators?

A quick search shows that example norms can be found in abundance, but as I mentioned earlier, the key is developing individual, customized norms that make sense for a particular group or partnership. Groups will “feel more ownership of the norms if they identify and write their own” (Richardson, 1999, pg. 1-2). In my case, because these norms are being established after the relationship has already begun, it will be important to be explicit about what has worked and what has not. It will be importance to ask my collaborating teacher, “What has worked well or been helpful for you in the last few weeks? What are things that you felt weren’t necessary or weren’t particularly helpful for you about today’s meeting?” These conversations will helpful for both my collaborating teacher and myself.

I plan to have an explicit conversation with my collaborating teacher in the coming week about the norms we would like to establish, but I do have a few suggestions that might prove helpful:

  • First 15 minutes of the meeting will be fully focused on our time together, the last 15 minutes can be used to multi-task and prepare for the day while we continue our conversation.
  • A check-in at the end of each meeting to determine what worked well and what could be changed for next time.
  • The door to the classroom will be closed during meetings so students that arrive early know to wait to enter the room.

I look forward to discussing these norms with my collaborating teacher and formulating our own set of guidelines. These small steps in successful communication have the ability to build a great, collaborative relationship with a foundation of honesty, openness and trust.


References

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Foltos, L. (2014). The secret to great coaching. JSD, 35(3), 28-31. Retrieved from http://learningforward.org/docs/default-source/JSD-June-2014/the-secret-to-great-coaching.pdf

Foltos, L. (2015). Introduction to communication skills. Peer-Ed. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1mttmaCP6YSESsa6-GVoAXKGCWErifUsRXtt7wGbcbUU/edit

Foltos, L. (2015). Norms for collaboration. Peer-Ed. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dvO3tuCKX2ObEE0xD4E_dQDOwzzCpkdQxJFCgfXCPdA/edit

National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. (2002). Mentor Teacher Group Guide: Adult Multiple Intelligences. Boston, MA: World Education. Retrieved from http://www.ncsall.net/fileadmin/resources/teach/mentor_b.pdf

Richardson, J. (1999, August/September). Norms put the ‘golden rule’ into practice for groups. Tools for Schools, 1-7. Retrieved from http://learningforward.org/docs/tools-for-learning-schools/tools8-99.pdf?sfvrsn=2


EDTC 6105 Module 2

3 thoughts on “Establishing Norms for a Successful Peer Coaching Partnership

  1. Great post, Becky! I liked how you mentioned the benefits of the mock coaching sessions and that these skills were useful in all areas of life. Recently, I noticed myself asking “clarifying questions and paraphrasing” during meetings.
    I noticed that you referred to customizing norms for you and the collaborative teacher by asking questions such as, “What has worked well for you? and What are things that you felt weren’t necessary about today’s meeting?” It’s more meaningful when the norms are created by the participants. Your suggestions for the norms seem to be a great place to start with a collaborative teacher. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on establishing norms for peer coaching!

  2. I really like your focus on involving the collaborating teacher in establishing norms. Your post makes clear that norms involve both parties and can’t just be created ahead of time. Like you suggest, the creation of norms needs to be as collaborative as the sessions themselves. I like your ideas to do “A check-in at the end of each meeting to determine what worked well and what could be changed for next time.” This could also occur at the start of the following meeting after time to process perhaps? It is also clear that you are thoughtfully considering what at first may seem outside of the norms, but what has an effect on the working relationship, such as student distraction. Well done!

  3. Becky! Fantastic post! I appreciate your clear and practical suggestions about using norms while connecting so well to your context with peer coaching. Quoting Richardson you write, “Groups will ‘feel more ownership of the norms if they identify and write their own.'” I find this to be so important and you capture the key concern with creating a relationship with a peer teacher. “Ownership” means that the two people will be more committed to working together and remembering their norms. I think of this when I remember the faculty learning communities where we wrote a covenant/charter together.

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