Region:

Articles

Peer Coaching: the key to shaping collaborative school cultures

Peer Coaching: Positive Conversations About Teaching Practice Program is the key to supporting teachers to develop the skills, capabilities and mindsets essential for collaboration and to being productive members of professional learning teams.

Over the past three years, I have facilitated more than seventy Peer Coaching Programs with hundreds of teachers in primary and secondary schools, across Queensland, and internationally. The feedback from teachers is overwhelmingly consistent. Teachers comment on their increased confidence to have ‘deeper level’ conversations about their teaching practice because of the skills they have learned and the subsequent trust gained in the peer coaching relationship. This trust provides them with a ‘safe’ space to explore key areas of their teaching that they want to strengthen, improve or extend. Teachers notice an increased capacity and confidence to have positive, open and non-threatening conversations with their colleagues and feel more comfortable being observed in their class because they have identified their focus, they know their peer coaching partner is there to support their learning, not judge or assess them, and the mutual learning is key to the success of the relationship.

The AISTL Standard # 6 (6.3) requires teachers to ‘Engage with colleagues and improve practice.’ This is a significant shift, when many teachers have taught in isolation for most of their career, or have not worked in schools where collaborative planning, reflection and learning about teaching has been their experience? Teachers say that the Peer Coaching experience provides them with a framework and a practical set of skills and capabilities to support and guide them to work effectively together.

The capacity to work collaboratively does not happen by chance or incidentally. Collaboration is a mindset and requires a set of skills that are developed through experiencing greater success by working with others. AITSL describes it as ‘a community working to achieve a common goal through the sharing of practice, knowledge and problems. Effective collaboration encourages ongoing observation and feedback among colleagues where a culture of professional sharing, dialogue, experimentation and critique becomes commonplace’.

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers describes what teachers do in collaborative cultures:

  • teachers engage in frequent, ongoing formal and informal conversations about pedagogy and teaching practice;
  • teachers work together to research, plan and design effective teaching strategies and programs;
  • teachers engage in professional dialogue to evaluate and modify teaching strategies and programs;
  • teachers engage in regular classroom observation and feedback and can articulate how changes in their practice impact on student outcomes;
  • there is collective ownership of learning goals and outcomes, for both the individual and whole-school;
  • teachers undertake leadership roles that include initiating and leading professional discussions with colleagues to evaluate practice;
  • collaboration is prioritised and sufficient time is given to investing in the practice.

The Peer Coaching Program provides an opportunity for teachers to learn the necessary skills to enable them to work productively with their peers and colleagues. This program is based on three pillars.

The first pillar provides a practical framework for the conversation by using the eight steps of coaching model. Teachers use this structure to support conversations about their teaching goals and how to achieve these.

The second pillar of the program, the 8 Key Coaching Skills – active listening, being present, building trust, empathising, being succinct, asking best questions, clarifying and giving feedback provides teachers with a practical set of skills that enables them to build trust and positive relationships with their peer/s. The development of these skills strengthen their interpersonal and relational skills; fosters openness to change by exploring new ideas; extends their teaching repertoire and surfaces deeply held beliefs about their practice. This assists teachers to identify areas for pedagogical improvement that will make a difference to student learning outcomes. The third pillar, ‘the way of being’ (Van Nieuwerburgh p 150) relates to the human connection that occurs between colleagues engaged in the coaching conversation.

In their book ‘Professional Capital’, Fullan and Hargreaves describe Professional Capital as comprising three elements:

  • human capital (the talent of individuals);
  • social capital (the collaborative power of the group); and
  • decisional capital (the wisdom and expertise to make sound judgments about learners that are cultivated over many years).

They conclude that ‘High Social Capital does generate increased human capital. Individuals get confidence, learning and feedback from having the right kind of people and the right kinds of interactions and relationships around them.’ (p 4)

Feedback from teachers about the impact of participation in the Peer Coaching Program, reinforces the importance of developing the skills and confidence of teachers to build trusting professional relationships with their colleagues that will contribute to a collaborative culture and a strong and confident profession:

  • When I am observing my colleague’s lesson, I don’t have to be the expert! This is such a relief as I know I don’t know everything!
  • I didn’t feel judged or evaluated when my colleague was observing my class. I felt that they were an extra set of eyes, and through their eyes I gained new perspectives about my teaching.
  • I am now using some of the teaching strategies I observed my Peer Coaching partner use in their class.
  • I feel I now have someone I can go to to discuss ideas, talk about problems with my class and they will not judge me or think I am incompetent.
  • Through Peer Coaching I now have a teaching ‘buddy’ who I trust and I feel very comfortable to have open conversations about what I am doing in my class, or what I am struggling with, and I haven’t had that before.
  • Peer Coaching is about guidance and facilitation rather than ‘telling’.
  • We had such deep level conversations about what we wanted to do in the lesson, what we actually did in the lesson, and consequently what we would do to improve the next lesson. I enjoyed being challenged because I knew they cared about my success.
  • Working with someone who was my equal was so powerful. I opened up about my teaching with my Peer Coaching colleague like I have never done before and I have been teaching for a long time!
  • I think I was too tough on myself before the Peer Coaching program and now I am much more realistic about how I teach and the pressure and anxiety has lifted. My colleague and I now plan our lessons together and look forward to catching up to find out how it went. I think I am now more open about my teaching and I am more comfortable having colleagues in my class.
  • Peer Coaching is all about building trust with each other. The greater the trust the more significant the learning.
  • Setting realistic goals, identifying small and achievable steps has been a revelation to me. I am now using the GROWTH questions in a range of conversations and I am consciously listening to what people actually say. I know I am more present for them!
  • Using the GROWTH framework has helped us have better quality conversations and make better use of our time together.

Kohm and Nance, suggest that ‘to accelerate positive change in your school, foster a climate of working together. Teachers who work in schools with strong collaborative cultures behave differently from those who depend on administrators to create the conditions of their work. In collaborative cultures, teachers exercise creative leadership together and take responsibility for helping all students learn’. The difference, they suggest, is school culture and peer coaching is a significant key to this culture.



References:

  • AITSL – The Essential Guide to Professional Learning and collaboration- www.aitsl.edu.au
  • Creating Collaborative Cultures – Barbara Kohm and Beverly Nance (ASCD- October 2009, Volume 67, Number 2)
  • Professional Capital – Transforming Teaching in Every School – Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan (Routledge – London, New York 2012)
  • An Introduction to Coaching Skills – A Practical Guide (Sage 2014)
  • Growth Coaching International – Peer Coaching Program: positive conversations about teaching practice – www.growthcoaching.com.au

Coaching Resource Library