Last semester I began to explore the ISTE Coaching Standards through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, this semester I will continue that examination as I start the journey of serving as a peer coach. Before diving into my individual experience as a coach, it was necessary for me to understand the expected roles and responsibilities of this position. Les Foltos, Director of Educational Innovation at Peer-Ed and author of Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, describes a peer coach as 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” (2013, pg. 3). What I quickly realized after reviewing the various roles of a peer coach is that this is an educator who is expected to wear a multitude of hats simultaneously. Foltos outlines the various roles below:
- Facilitator – Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations.
- Collaborator – Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities.
- Expert – Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics.
- Catalyst – Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using questions strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers (Foltos, personal communication, 8 October 2015).
I also included, what I see as one of the most essential elements of a peer coach, is the role of being a friend. Much of the conversation amongst my peers over the last two weeks has been on the importance of creating a sense of trust between the peer coach and the collaborating teacher. In a discussion with one of my classmates, Annie Tremonte, we talked about the unique challenges of mentoring a first year teacher and I mentioned my experience in working with new faculty:
If they need to cry and vent, there is a time for that. A safe, trusted time. But there will also be times when they’re sane enough to talk about curriculum and upcoming projects and you’ll be able to ask probing questions that lead to possible opportunities for exploration and growth. Just be there.
What I realized through this discussion is that all collaborative relationships need this type of support, on both sides. It’s not enough to be a facilitator, collaborator, expert and catalyst… Those roles will be challenging without the aspect of friend and trusted colleague, first and foremost.
This thought-process helped me think about my own situation as a peer mentor; I was asked to mentor a very experienced teacher who serves a leader in the school, a teacher who is often looked to for guidance and support by colleagues. After eight years as an educator, I still see myself as a “newbie,” someone that is comfortable in my position but still has years of learning ahead of me. I found myself asking this question:
Is it possible for a younger, less experienced educator to successfully and effectively serve as a peer coach to an experienced and highly-respected teacher?
Through conversations with my classmates and professors and a bit of research, I have found that it is a sure possibility to not only develop a coach/collaborating teacher relationship with this highly-respected teacher, but make it a successful experience for us both. Peer coaching is defined as the activity of “planning and developing curriculum and instruction in pursuit of shared goals” (Showers, 1996, pg. 53). My goal is to serve as a strong brainstorming partner and support person, whereas, the goals of my collaborating teacher include building her educational technology skills, an area I feel strong in.
One of my professors, Dr. David Wicks, indicated that my exploration was in line with the TPACK model, where Content Knowledge (CK), Pedagogical Knowledge (PK), and Technological Knowledge (TK) intersect (http://tpack.org). It’s not enough to simply have a deep understanding of the material, it’s not enough to have great classroom management skills, and it’s not enough to have the ability to find powerful educational technology tools. A successful educator brings all of those elements together to make for a successful learning experience. Dan Maas, Chief Information Officer at Littleton Public Schools created a powerful visual for understanding the importance of TPACK (Maas, 2009):
My collaborating teacher and I are partners that bring different strengths to the table. We are looking inward and then sharing our aspirations as partners, much like Bill McCarthy highlights in his article on peer coaching: “The most effective peer coaching framework was one that allowed sufficient time for self-reflection and then consistent follow-up and ongoing exploration with a partner” (2015, pg. 86). While I carry the title of “coach,” I expect I’ll learn just as much (if not more) from my collaborating teacher, as she will learn from me. Her deep understanding and utilization of classroom management skills and differentiation will pair nicely with my integration of educational technology. This symbiotic partnership became concrete at a brief meeting last week when my collaborating teaching mentioned she was struggling with the ability to provide differentiation in her literature groups. Without making the initial connection, I shared my recent discovery of Raz-Kids, an online guided reading program, and we immediately both recognized that Raz-Kids would be the perfect tool to solve her challenge with differentiation. This solution came out naturally, we shared our challenges, discoveries, and ideas and through those conversations, found perfect solution.
As I reflect on the past few weeks and revisit my initial question, “Is it possible for a younger, less experienced educator to successfully and effectively serve as a peer coach to an experienced and highly-respected teacher?” I am left with a sense of relief. I entered this peer coaching role with trepidation and fear, and while those feelings still come and go, I know that I am fully equipped to successfully fulfill this new responsibility. Not only fulfill the role, but learn a great deal from the experience.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Maas, D. (2009, June 30). TPaCK based reflection. Retrieved October 11, 2015, from SlideShare website: http://www.slideshare.net/dmaas/tpack
McCarthy, B. (2015). Peer coaching supports teachers: using instructional coaching to improve teacher effectiveness. District Administration, 51(5), 86. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Peer Ed. (2011, July 17). Coaching conversations [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozdoqFjVrfw
Showers, B., & Joyce, B. (1996). Evolution of peer coaching. Educational Leadership, 53(6), 12-16. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar96/vol53/num06/The-Evolution-of-Peer-Coaching.aspx
Swafford, J. (1998). Teachers supporting teachers through peer coaching. Support for learning, 13(2), 54-58. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.