This quarter, through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, my classmates and I are building skills towards becoming peer coaches in our respective schools. As I describe in an earlier post, peer coaches work with a collaborating teacher to help them to recognize their amazing abilities through questions and periods of reflection, allowing the collaborative teacher to solve their own challenges with the help of a safe, supportive cheerleader on the side. One essential aspect of the peer coaching role is exploring the lesson improvement process, where the collaborating teacher and the peer coach examine a current lesson plan and find ways to enhance what is already being taught. As I move forward with the idea of lesson improvement, I am left wondering how to balance the role of coach without crossing into the position of “expert.” In Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, author, Les Foltos, warns readers that “teachers want a coach to be a peer, not an expert” (Foltos, 2013, pg. 19). Teachers don’t want someone to telling them what to do, they want a friend and a colleague to talk though a lesson and share ideas that could enhance their current plans (Foltos, 2013, pg. 19). As I move forward in working with my collaborating teacher to examine and enhance a lesson, I am left giving the following question careful consideration:
How can coaches keep from stepping into role as “expert” when working with a collaborating teacher on redefining or improving a current lesson?
It is clear that peer coaches are tasked with walking a fine line of gentle guidance and support without crossing into the role of expert and judge:
After speaking with a multitude of collaborating teachers, Foltos has found that teachers “don’t want an expert telling them what to think or do, but they do want a knowledgeable, skilled coach” (Foltos, 2013, p. 19). As my role of coach unfolds as the year progresses, I am noticing the relationship with my collaborating teacher is a great balance of our individual and shared strengths. In A Guide to Co-Teaching, authors note that equality in a collaborative teaching relationship is best achieved by fostering “dual roles of teacher and learner, expert and novice, giver and recipient of knowledge or skills” (Villa, 2004, pg. 3). When looking forward at the lesson improvement process, attention to these roles can be essential. Instead of stepping in as expert and “telling” a teacher how to improve their lesson, the peer coach and collaborating partner can work together, focusing on their own individual strengths and using those strengths to enhance very specific parts of a lesson.
What Does This Look Like?
If the coach is great at incorporating technology, they will be helpful in providing suggestions as to how technology can be used for differentiation and guiding free choice in creating final products to demonstrate learning. If the collaborating teacher has a strong understanding of the content and the ways in which each student learns best, they will be skilled at digging deep into teaching the subject and connecting it not only to other areas of the curriculum, but also reaching each child. Essentially, the two educators are working together to fulfill all areas of the TPACK model:
I was initially asking myself, how can coaches keep from stepping into role as “expert” when working with a collaborating teacher on redefining or improving a current lesson? The more I think on this question, the easier the answer becomes, honor those individual skills. That’s what coaching is all about. One peer coach describes how he humanizes himself in order to show his collaborating teacher they are both learning and growing: “The staff understands that I’m not the be-all and end-all. I do the best I can. I take recommendations. I have days where I do something great (and) I have days where I don’t; we talk about it” (Mangin, 2005, p. 470). It’s not about knowing more, it’s not about being the expert. It’s about being a trustworthy sounding board that can share in the planning process and thoughtfully reflect on what went well and what could go better in the future.
The beauty of peer coaching is the cyclical, co-teaching aspect of the relationship. When I first mentioned this idea of a “cyclical relationship,” one of classmates asked me why I chose that particular phrase. I wasn’t able to articulate my rationale in words, so, as I often do, I decided to sort out my thoughts using graphics:
Both members of the partnership are learning to acknowledge and appreciate their “strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes” (Marston, n.d.). The relationship simply allows both teachers to recognize those individual traits and are provided with a “safety net” that allows both teachers to “take risks in [their] instruction” (Marston, n.d.). When coaches set aside the stance of expert, their collaborating teacher will be able to “come to see them as true peers, but peers that have unique and valuable expertise” (Foltos, 2013, pg. 19). Much like the coach will see and celebrate the talents of their peer.
No experts, no hierarchy. Just two colleagues that are working to better one another and collaborate to make the best possible learning opportunities for their students.
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Mangin, M. M. (2005). Distributed leadership and the culture of schools: teacher leaders’ strategies for gaining access to classrooms. Journal of School Leadership, 15(4), 456-484.
Mangin, M., & Stoelinga, S. R. (2011). Peer? expert? teacher leaders struggle to gain trust while establishing their expertise. Journal Of Staff Development, 32(3), 48-51. Retrieved from ERIC database. http://ezproxy.spu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=eric&AN=EJ935466&site=ehost-live
Marston, N. (n.d.). 6 steps to successful co-teaching. Retrieved November 16, 2015, from National Education Association website: http://www.nea.org/tools/6-steps-to-successful-co-teaching.html
Villa, R. A., Thousand, J. S., & Nevin, A. I. (2004). A guide to co-teaching: practical tips for facilitating student learning (2nd ed.). Retrieved from http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/6847_villa_ch_1.pdf