Peer Coaching: Umbrella or Skeleton - Steve Barkley

Peer Coaching: Umbrella or Skeleton

When describing to teachers that a peer coaching program is not ”another thing”, I often suggest that it is a tool… an umbrella under which many of our existing programs or tasks get accomplished. Most recently, I was training 165 pre-K to 12 teachers and administrators at the Enka International School in Istanbul, Turkey in peer coaching. With the whole staff training together, English and Turkish speakers using simultaneous translation with headsets, we were able to explore the many ways that peer coaching fits into the day to day goals of teachers and administrators.

Darlene Fisher, the director of Enka School used the symbol of a skeleton. Coaching being the skeleton that supports the many activities of a faculty… a community of learners.

See how the symbols apply for you.

I usually start this conversation by looking at three types of coaching illustrated in an early coaching article by Robert Garmston:

Consider technical coaching most commonly connected to staff development. This is the follow up coaching that is needed when teachers take new skills back to the classroom to integrate into their existing practice. We are all familiar with how our best intentions to implement new learning can be lost without coaching support, reinforcement and celebrations of persistence. Coaching should be how changes in practice or curriculum are implemented. Coaching should be written into any team or individual professional development plan.

I connect collegial coaching to the development of teacher relationships. In other words, the what we are coaching may be less critical than the fact that that staff are getting to know each other and our programs through peer observation and conversation. I am often amazed that in a coaching workshop teachers from the same building make a discovery about each other in a 10 minute practice conference. I had a science teacher say that he just discovered that the Art teacher taught some important material. Coaching should be a component of Professional Learning Communities (PLC). As teachers in a PLC get to know each other better, the quality of their work will deepen. Small Learning Communities and Middle School Teams can both speed the development of their relationships through peer coaching.

Challenge Coaching is helpful when teachers want to work together to create an new opportunity or solve a problem. I worked with an English department that designed a lesson structure for a critical thinking lesson. Then, one teacher taught the lesson and video taped it. The team coached the lesson, modified it and passed it on to another teacher who taught and video taped. The process continued until 9 members taught and together polished the lesson design. Grade level or department teachers can use challenge coaching to tackle a standard that is troubling a number of students or create a plan for a disruptive student that they share. Observing in each others’ classrooms and reflecting and problem solving together often builds creativity.

Within the two day training and a follow up day with teachers and administrators at the Enka School, the following discussions of peer coaching were heard…

In the training during practice, a teacher shared that he had just met a person on the staff that he didn’t know and it was June!

Enka is structured in Pre –K , 1-5 and 6-12 units… discussions emerged about the value of 5 and 6 teachers coaching each other.

Discussion emerged around departments and grade levels selecting a common area for professional development and agreeing to coach each other.

Several teachers wrote on exit notes that they were anxious to coach with teachers in other grade levels and departments.

English pre school lessons will be team taught next year to provide teachers greater flexibility in differentiating. These teachers were discussing how coaching could be a daily activity. Since teaming will be new for most, we discussed teams inviting a third teacher to coach them on their teaming.

E-portfolios are being explored by a group of Enka teachers. They met briefly to examine how coaching was a natural component to support the reflection element of portfolios.

How would you label the Enka staff’s ideas for peer coaching…… technical, collegial, challenge? Do you see many areas of overlap?

Peer Coaching……..umbrella or skeleton? Do you have a better symbol?

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One Response to “ Peer Coaching: Umbrella or Skeleton ”

  1. John Tenny, Ph.D. Says:

    This post was a clear description of peer coaching. Now if we can apply that to nations as well as individual teachers.

    I’m the retired director of the Willamette University School of Education and in my (failed) retirement I developed a method of observation and optional supporting software that is very effective with peer coaching and Professional Learning Communities. It address the issue of the inherent power/status dynamic that is very often part of a peer coaching relationship.

    In the Data-Based Observation Model, the teacher and observer collaboratively decide what is important to the teacher in terms of classroom behaviors (teacher and/or student). The observer then collects objective data on those behaviors (here’s where the software is useful), and when presenting the data to the teacher asks the following sequence of questions:

    “Is this what you thought was happening in your classroom?”
“Do you think a change is indicated? If so, what will you change?”
“How can I support you?”
“When should I return to gather data to see if your change was effective?”

    This process puts the reflection in the hands of the teacher, increases the level of professional discussion, and empowers the teacher to be a self-directed professional.

    Another significant part of this model is “Don’t Praise, Don’t Criticize, Don’t Solve the Problem.” Any of those on the part of the observer will shift the dynamic away from the teacher and into the observer role of judge and all-knowing-one (and we can never have all the answers).

    The software is a collection of timers (duration) and counters (frequency) that gather data on a large number of behaviors such as Class Learning Time, Level of Questions, Teacher Talk/Student Talk, Response to Misbehavior, and many more. Additional tools can be easily created. The reports are straightforward data reports with no checklists or likert scales of Poor to Excellent.

    More info on the model is on my blog: Data-Based Classroom Observation. Please leave comments and ideas.
    And you can download the software at my website: eCOVE Software

    eCOVE stands for Collaborate, Observe, Value, Empower. It’s in use in 46 states and about 20 countries for professional development, special education, administrator observations, second language instruction, school psychologists, etc.

    Peace, John

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