While the entire Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University is designed to be a hands-on experience which embeds learning opportunities into students’ current workplace, this course, in particular, provided students with a meaningful opportunity to practice our newfound skills in a professional environment. Under the tutelage of Dr. David Wicks, Associate Professor and Chair of the Digital Education Leadership program and Dr. Les Foltos, Director of Educational Innovation at Peer-Ed and author of Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, students were trained as peer coaches and we worked with a collaborating teacher from our respective schools. I chronicled that learned and the skills I obtained in posts throughout the quarter and now, as this course comes to a close, I’m reflecting on the work that was done and thinking about how to sustain my skills as a peer coach in the future.
The importance of peer coaching practice in schools became evident to me very quickly into the quarter. Teachers that are supported create students that are successful. Well-renowned researchers of teaching methods and staff development, Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, have found that teachers that have been coached generally demonstrate the following:
- Practiced new strategies more often and with greater skill than uncoached educators with identical initial training;
- Adapted the strategies more appropriately to their own goals and contexts than did uncoached teachers who tended to practice observed or demonstrated lessons;
- Retained and increased their skill over time – uncoached teachers did not;
- Were more likely to explain the new models of teaching to their students, ensuring that students understood the purpose of their strategy and the behaviours expected of them;
- Demonstrated a clearer understanding of the purposes and use of the new strategies. The frequent peer discussions about them, including lessons and materials design, seemed to enable them to ‘think’ with the strategies in ways which uncoached teachers never showed (Joyce & Showers, 2003, pg. 3-4).
In another study of top-performing schools, authors Michael Barber and Mona Mourshed argue that “all top school systems… recognize that if you want good teachers, you need to have a good teacher to train them. This requires focused one-on-one coaching in the classroom” (Barber & Mourshed, 2007, pg. 28). While peer coaching is far more widespread in corporate and business settings, the education world is slowly starting to recognize the importance of coaching: “It is time for our education workforce to engage in learning the way other professionals do—continually, collaboratively, and on the job—to address common problems and crucial challenges where they work” (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009, pg. 2).
For my classmates and I, we are pioneering the peer coaching model at our schools, but the hope is those relationships will grow and more educators will see the importance and the undeniable benefits. Foltos (2013) states: “First and foremost, educators across the school or district need to understand that coaching is an investment in educators and the school’s capacity to improve teaching and learning. Building that understanding will result from: […] Expanding the scope of coaching by adding more coaches and collaborating teachers” (Foltos, 2013, pg. 187). With that being said, any and all accomplishments are to be celebrated: “Ultimately, the success of one coach and one teacher provides the paramount reason to sustain coaching” (Foltos, 2013, pg. 170).
This course was a great reminder that small steps make the biggest difference. Many educators have seen lofty school-wide implementations fail because big changes often lack manageable, long-term milestones and the necessary support for all staff members to bring the change to fruition. Fortunately, it just takes two people making small changes and supporting one another to enact change in an entire system.
The success between my collaborating teacher and I has already impacted the rest of the school, a primary goal of implementing such a program: “The ripple effect that occurs when a collaborating teacher works with a coach one day and the next day turns to other peers and models collaboration skills as he or she shares lessons learned with and from the coach” (Foltos, 2013, pg. 171-172). Shortly after introducing my collaborating partner to a digital tool that allowed her to conduct formative assessments with her students, she eagerly exclaimed, “I already showed [a fellow teacher] and I’m wondering if we can get her signed up? She thinks it would be great for her students!” Moments like these help me to feel confident in the growth I have made as a coach and it is clear that my collaborating teacher has made notable improvements in her technology implementation, an area she was seeking guidance.
As I move away from this formal training program, I have spent some time looking into how to find additional resources as I continue my work as a peer coach. Throughout my work in the Digital Education Leadership program, I have found Twitter to be an excellent PLN (personal learning network). The Director of Programming and Innovation of Edutopia argues that Twitter provides educators with “some jewels […] that can lead to stimulating discussions, new resources, and an ongoing supportive network. You just have to know where to look” (Ray, 2010). For peer coaches, the place to look is the #etcoaches hashtag, a collection of posts (or “tweets”) that users have tagged as being relevant to other educational technology coaches:
Peer coaches can also look to Twitter to find information provided by ISTE’s Ed Tech Coaches Network, a subdivision of ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) that “promotes the development and collaboration of educational technology coaches who support the professional growth of teachers as they use technology to enhance learning” (ISTE, 2015). While ISTE is a paid-membership, the Ed Tech Coaches Network post several resources on their Twitter page, so peer coaches that don’t have a membership can find helpful links:
For educators who are interested in introducing a peer coaching model at their school, check out the following resources:
Book: Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration by Les Foltos
Website: Peer-Ed, “Peer-Ed creates award-winning professional development and successfully trains educators from around the world to offer these learning opportunities to their teachers. Educators in more than 50 countries have used Peer-Ed’s workshops to improve learning.”
Also, check out the blogs of my classmates, who have done an incredible job at documenting their experiences as up-and-coming peer coaches:
Barber, M. & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top. McKinsey and Company. Retrieved from http://www.smhc-cpre.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/how-the-worlds-best-performing-school-systems-come-out-on-top-sept-072.pdf
Darling-Hammond, L., Wei, R., Andree, A., Richardson, N., Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: a status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. National Staff Development Council. Retrieved from http://learningforward.org/docs/pdf/nsdcstudy2009.pdf
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Helenotway. (2008, July 24). Peer coaching and online professional learning networks [Blog post]. Retrieved from More than just knowing stuff! website: http://helenotway.edublogs.org/2008/07/24/peer-coaching-and-online-professional-learning-networks/
ISTE. (2015). Ed tech coaches network. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from http://connect.iste.org/communities/community-home?CommunityKey=3144c376-a435-4bad-9080-f25d9d8cb17f
Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2003). Student achievement through staff development. National College for School Leadership. Retrieved from http://literacy.kent.edu/coaching/information/Research/randd-engaged-joyce.pdf
Peer coach training resources (DERNSW). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://srpeercoaching.wikispaces.com/file/view/DERNSW_PC_V4_1_all.pdf
Ray, B. (2010, June 7). How to use Twitter to grow your PLN [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/twitter-expanding-pln