Students as Peer Coaches

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Do students have the emotional intelligence to coach their peers? And what would some of the other key considerations be for schools interested in implementing a student peer coaching program.

In this short interview, we talk to Ben Calleja, Co-Director at GCI WA, SA & NT, who explains what others have found in this exciting new area of coaching.

Transcript

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Hello. I'm Leigh Hatcher with the Coaching in Education Podcast series. I'm in conversation with Ben Calleja. Ben is co-Director of Growth Coaching International in the Western Australian, South Australian, and Northern Territory regions. As you'll hear, Ben is a dynamic and engaging coach, workshop facilitator, and conference presenter. Ben's keen interest is helping people develop positive and high-functioning professional relationships, which he sees as fundamental to effective leadership and organisational development. Much of Ben's current work is in assisting schools and organisations in their strategic planning work. As you'll hear in our Skype conversation, he has a keen interest in developing the coaching skills of students - so why train students as coaches?

Ben Calleja:
Teachers have probably done coaching approaches with their students for a while, whether that's goal setting or forward planning, but there's a real benefit then, we thought, in training students to act as peer coaches with each other, and I think a couple of reasons stand out as distinctly beneficial for students coaching one another as opposed to teachers or adults coaching students. Firstly, just that peer relationship, the idea of one student sitting down with another student that same age, that same relationship, means that we bring something to the conversation very differently than what an adult would be able to do. I think there's a real benefit or a need in that area to train students in that way, not just so that the students themselves who are being coached get that benefit, also that the students who are the coaches themselves get the benefit from that experience as well.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
I'm sure they do. What have you found, Ben, in terms of students' emotional intelligence to be able to coach others? It's one of the key factors I know in being a good coach, isn't it?

Ben Calleja:
Yeah, absolutely, because there are some skills that you can train in terms of our model for coaching and structures that help the conversation go, but when we talk about ‘a way of being’ in coaching, so what'll actually ... who we are, what we bring of ourselves to that coaching process is really important. That ultimately comes down to that emotional intelligence, so interestingly I think, in many ways, young people bring that emotional intelligence quite naturally. We've done this work with high school students, we've done this work with primary school students, and even though developmentally, they're at very different stages, you really see them being able to bring that emotional intelligence to that work.
There's an annual study that's done every year, the Gallup Student Poll, that looks at, you know, kind of measures of wellbeing, measures of engagement, and really looks at kind of those interpersonal skills that are important for students, and recent studies and the results of that poll really shows that the use of student strengths on a daily basis makes such a pivotal difference into not only students' wellbeing, their mindset, but how they approach their academic work and their outcome in that way, and I think when we look at a way of being in coaching, we look at emotional intelligence and we draw upon those strengths of the student, the interpersonal skills, then it naturally gives them the opportunity to develop those, and I think that's pivotally important.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Sure.

Ben Calleja:
There's a whole work in terms of the Australian curriculum when we look at general capabilities, you know, these skills that need to underpin all areas of the curriculum. They naturally lend themselves to what we look at in coaching training, and particularly in that emotional intelligence areas, how we understand ourselves, and how we understand others.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Okay. I want to get practical in two ways, first to look at perhaps a specific case study of a school, and then go to maybe a story of a student, so have you got an example of where this is kind of played out well in a school?

Ben Calleja:
Yeah. I think, we've tried different models with different schools and I think one that seems particularly effective, that stands out, is that in a high school context where we did some training directed with some year 11 students, so they're about 16 years of age, and I think what made it work so well at that school was, long term there's a desire for all students at that level to be able to have some skills and understanding of coaching.
You know, the school walked into ... with the philosophy of, "We want every student to have the opportunity to be coached, but we don't think every student naturally would necessarily be a coach," so they opened up the opportunity through invitation for students to see who would like to be a coach and they tapped a few students on the shoulder as well, but they really invited this core group who wanted to step forward and be coached in this way, trained those students up through a modulated program that we had designed, and really gave them opportunities to practise those skills amongst themselves before they then worked with some of their peers as well.
I think what made that program work so well is that the staff at that school had a really good understanding of what coaching was. They were able to support the students, kind of mentor them in their coaching approaches, which made it far more sustainable long term. It wasn't as though they did this good training and then it died away. They supported the students, they gave them kind of some key times set aside where they could coach their peers, and they built it into some existing structures. You know, a couple of them now, only two years further into their journey, they've trained a number of students up in cohorts like that. Those students have gone on, obviously, progressed in their years, so they're now seeing a real kind of cultural shift where this is becoming a part of what happens year after year, so it started to spread throughout the school.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Sounds wonderful. So, what about a particular story of a student that perhaps you can point to and say, Ben, this is the difference coaching can make in a student's school life?

Ben Calleja:
A couple of examples come to mind. One in particular, again, was a student in high school who was in many ways very quiet, unassuming student, and I think this is where the way the school approached inviting students to kind of put themselves forward rather than doing this as a leadership program where they just took the student council or a leadership group and trained them as the coaches, which often can happen, but the students who end up putting themselves forward, I think with a bit of encouragement from a particular teacher, very quiet, unassuming, would not normally have stepped forward, I think, for leadership roles, went through this training and end up being asked by a number of other students if that person, if he could coach them. Afterwards, anecdotally, when we interviewed this student, we said, "Well what benefit has it been for you?" And he said it gave him the voice and the confidence to be able to step forward and tell other people, "Hey, this is who I am," but also, "This is what I have to offer."

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Wow!

Ben Calleja:
It encouraged him to say that, "You know, I'm not athletic, or I'm not gonna be the ... I'm not the most academic person, but you know, I've got some real skills and gifts, and I love to be able to actually support them, other people in that," and it just enabled him to connect with other people, to step forward in ways that he hadn't been able to do previously in the school environment. So good for him that others saw that as well, and that was really significant.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
And significant for his whole life, way beyond school, I have no doubt.

Ben Calleja:
Absolutely, and I think that this is where we're seeing that coaching, when done well, coach training is really about up-skilling that does carry through, through all areas of life, so while there are very specific tangible benefits to supporting students for their academic success and tailoring, the coaching approach in the school, for real outcomes that way, we're really up-skilling young people in areas that overflow throughout their life and I think that's just invaluable.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
You're listening to the Coaching in Education Podcast series. I'm in conversation with Ben Calleja, and all this sounds great, but how does a school take on and sustain student coaching themselves, in practical terms?

Ben Calleja:
I think first thinking about, well there's not a one size fits all.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
No.

Ben Calleja:
There's, I think, different schools can come to this through different avenues, but some core elements I think of a good program would be to make sure that: a) There is a level of volunteerism, I think, for students to be involved, some process where they can put themselves forward, but when you're forcing students or forcing anyone to be coached or to coach, then you're always going to, I think, struggle with that going well, so I think schools need to think about who are the right people to be involved in this, b) they need to set aside time for how this is going to happen.
If they've got existing pastoral care processes or their existing support networks within the school, then how can we embed this into existing structures and practises rather than another add-on or expecting to students to always do this in their own time, so they've gotta make some time or build it into existing structures. c) There needs to be real practical experience, I think, for students to do this, but ultimately, I think this needs to fit into a bigger culture of what a school is doing in their space, so having some key staff members who know coaching, who know it well, and are doing it, you know, and so they're a model for the students, a support for the students, but also means it's fitting into something bigger that the school is after.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Yeah. We've already covered some of the benefits for students and teachers themselves. Can you think of any more that you've seen, and I want to ask about school culture…

Ben Calleja:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Does it have the potential to change a school's culture?

Ben Calleja:
Oh absolutely, and if you look at, you know, when we talk culture, what do we mean by that? I think there's, you know, for me, very simply, it's the way we do things around here. It's, "This is the norm of how we are. This is the language we use. This is just how we are," and if schools are using a coaching approach with how leaders support their staff and develop their staff, if teachers are using coaching approaches maybe to give feedback to one another, whether that's around classroom observation structures or just peer support, and if then, students are using this approach for how they support one another, do their goal setting, whether it's academically focused or on wellbeing focused, we're really seeing this now infiltrate all areas of development and support. That's when you've got a common language across all people within the school, a common approach. That's when you see that real cultural change happen I think. We're all kind of singing from the same song sheet, we're all using the same language, and there's a common way that we do things.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Great stuff. So, if there's a senior leader or a teacher listening to this, and they might think, "Yeah this could work for us," what are the kinds of considerations they should go through, Ben, think through, what would your recommendation be?

Ben Calleja:
I think they really need to consider their readiness, first of all. "What are we already doing in this space? How would this fit in with our current programs, our current approaches to peer support, to student support?" So, first of all doing a bit of an audit for their own school of what's already going on in their space and "how do we fit it in with what we're already going to do? What student population are we going to target, you know, if we're a primary school," cause we've done this program with, as I said, across primary and secondary and adapted it for the developmental needs, but you know, "what cohort and why? Why are we training our students up for this?"

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Yes.

Ben Calleja:
Is it as a leadership program or is this as a support program, because that would then determine who are the right students to bring into this approach, so really asking themselves, "Where are we already? What are we ... Who do we want to be involved? Why do we want them involved?" And then, "What's the best way to fit this into our existing programs?" We do a modulated training program where it could be, say, spread out in chunks of maybe six or so sessions. We practise in between. Or we could do it as a solid two-day training program. "What's the right model to meet our needs and also to fit in, and really importantly, how are we going to support this long term, both through our own staffing but also within our programs so that this up-scaling is not lost and just becomes another thing we've done but it really becomes a part of what we do in an ongoing way? How do we make this sustainable and fit this into our programs?"

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Ben Calleja, you've had some great experiences, got some great stories, and I know all of this has made a significant difference to many schools, especially the students and the teachers. Thank you so much indeed for taking us through it all.

Ben Calleja:
Thanks Leigh.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Ben Calleja, you've had some great experiences, got some great stories, and I know all of this has made a significant difference to many schools, especially the students and the teachers. Thank you so much indeed for taking us through it all.

Ben Calleja:
Thanks Leigh.

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
You've been listening to the Growth Coaching International Podcast. I'm Leigh Hatcher. If you'd like to make that kind of difference, head to our website,www.growthcoaching.com.au