Peer Observation and Peer Coaching – both build opportunities for teacher reflection, growth, and collective teacher efficacy. There is a difference between the two activities. Clarity on expectations of a collegial peer engagement may positively impact the experience and learning outcomes.
Read Steve’s blog on learning walks at Manheim Central School District here.
Subscribe to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast on iTunes or visit BarkleyPD.com to find new episodes!
Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello, and welcome to the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud Podcast. Instructional coaches and leaders create the environment that supports teachers to continually imagine, grow and achieve. They model an excitement for learning that teachers in turn model for students. This podcast is dedicated to promoting the important aspects of instructional leadership. Thanks for listening. I’m thrilled you’re here.
Steve: 00:36 Peer observation and peer coaching – defining a difference. A key to teacher growth is vulnerability and reflection. Vulnerability requires trust and expectations help establish, fulfill, and build that trust. Too often, I find that unclear expectations around roles and processes limit the building of a safe environment that’s required for vulnerability and trust. My longest running and most common area of concern about the lack of clarity is often found in instructional coaching situations and roles. When a coach’s role and responsibilities are unclear between the principal and the coach, there’s no way that the teachers can have a clarity of the instructional coach’s role. This hampers the coach’s ability to create psychological safety that encourages teacher vulnerability. More recently, I’ve identified the same undefined expectations existing between teacher leaders who are heads of departments and their principals, and therefore, with the department members and the heads of the departments.
Steve: 02:01 After some questioning and conversation, I frequently uncover that the head of department is expected to be a coach ready to assist any member who requires support. They’re also expected to be a mentor to department members who are perhaps new to teaching new to the school or new to the curriculum. And then they’re also expected to be a supervisor of the curriculum, guaranteeing that the system’s commitments to students content mastery is occurring across the department. Often, these three roles haven’t been established with teachers to understand expected interactions with their head of department. Most job descriptions that I read for head of departments would be impossible to fulfill even if there wasn’t any teaching of students in the head of department’s role. In most cases, they have almost a full teaching schedule. I’m encouraging schools to shrink the role of the head of department to one that is doable, and then, to discuss the expectations with teachers.
Steve: 03:15 By clarifying the role of the heads of departments with their department members, the stage can be set to build trust that’s necessary for the work of the head of the department to generate teacher growth that impacts student growth. My newest focus on defining roles and expectations is around the terms, peer observation and peer coaching. Rather often, when I mention peer coaching to school leaders, I will get a response that they have a peer observation program in place. Sometimes a program that requires all teachers to participate. Most of those programs don’t really align with my version of peer coaching. One that I recently was introduced to was a school program where the observing teacher had a form that identified key elements from the school’s description of effective instruction. The observer was to look and identify those elements that they saw occurring during the observation. They then completed a form that asked them to identify useful strategies that the observer walked away with to identify something that works for the observer that they thought their colleague, whom they observed might want to try, and then an open-ended spot for anything else.
Steve: 04:49 A statement from this observation protocol reads: “both the observer and the observed teacher have much to gain from this process. The major benefit of peer observation is for the observing teachers to compare their own instructional practices with those of the teacher they are observing. The chief benefit of this approach resides in the reflection and discussion that takes place at the end of the observation.” As I reviewed this protocol, I pondered the clarity of expectations that the observed and observing teacher might have. How does the discussion after the observation address the desires for learning from both participants’ views? I’ve been zeroing in on what value we might gain from differentiating peer observing from peer coaching. What if we considered peer observation an activity that focused on the observer’s learning and benefits while peer coaching focused on the benefits to the observed teacher? Of course there are some benefits to both in either activity, but the clarity of expectations going into and throughout the activity might increase the teacher learning outcomes.
Steve: 06:20 In peer observation, the observing teacher has the opportunity to focus on student learning behaviors in a way that one can’t while teaching. Consider John Hattie’s thought that 80% of what’s happening in the classroom is unobserved by the teacher. The observing teacher can look at how the teacher’s actions are impacting student learning behaviors. During and after the observation, the observing teacher can reflect upon her choices and learner actions in her own classroom. I’m recalling a time that I had teachers in small groups visit colleagues’, classrooms, and then debrief. After one of the sessions, a teacher approached me stating that she was surprised at the amount of “low engaged” students she observed in her colleague’s classroom. I provided a short response about the complexity of teaching and the task of maintaining engagement.
Steve: 07:32 Later that day, the same teacher stopped me in the hall and gave me this statement: remember how I was surprised at the low engagement in my colleague’s classroom? This afternoon, I realized it’s the same in mine. Reflection generated following the observation, set the stage for this teacher to set a goal for her own teaching. In a blog that is linked in the podcast lead-in, Tracy Fasik describes peer observation as it occurs in Manheim Central School District in Pennsylvania through learning walks. Tracy writes, “learning walks are a collaborative opportunity for three or four teachers to be able to visit the classrooms of colleagues for about 20 minutes in each classroom, and the,n to meet with the instructional coach and the director of curriculum and instruction to debrief and have conversations surrounding instruction in a safe, supportive and risk-free learning environment. The group usually visits four to five classrooms in a two hour span and then participates in an hour and a half debrief.
Steve: 08:43 Group norms are established and much of the focus of the observations have been around student learning production behaviors. This has allowed for the conversations in the debrief to be more around what learners are doing and less about what the teacher is doing. My thinking is that in peer observation, any feedback to the observed teacher is positive approval and a thank you for contributing to the learning of colleagues. Should the observed teacher push for more feedback? I think it sets the opportunity to explore a peer coaching activity where the focus moves to the goals of the observed teacher. In peer coaching, the observed teacher should be directing the focus of the observing teacher and directing the feedback that the observer shares. Therefore, pre- conferencing is a necessity for peer coaching. The observing teacher wants to understand some of the teacher’s thinking. I call it the agenda.
Steve: 09:53 It sets the peer coach up to observe through the teacher’s eyes as well as through the coach’s. In the pre-conference of focus for the coach’s observation and feedback is set. I usually try to create an observation design in the pre-conference that the teacher and the coach agree upon. My goal – if a teacher looks up and sees me as a coach writing during the observation, he knows exactly what I’m writing and recording. It’s what we had agreed to. When that information is shared and discussed in a post-conference, trust is built for continued learning through peer coaching.” The following excerpt from a pre-conference that I recorded illustrates these elements. It’s done with a third grade teacher.
Teacher: 10:48 I would like to see, overall in lessons, increased engagement to make sure that I’m meeting all of their needs. So I have some students who are classified and I have some students who are on a much more independent level, and I feel like at this point, I need some guidance in making sure that I’m meeting all of those needs.
Steve: 11:17 So take the lesson that you’re going to invite me to see and talk to me about what student engagement would look like and sound like in that particular lesson.
Teacher: 11:30 So it’s going to be a math lesson on writing numbers in different forms. Standard form, expanded form and word form. And one of the ideas that I wanted to try that I’ve been playing with is sort of a math workshop model. So there would be a mini lesson and then there would be three stations that the students would cycle through, three different activities, one of which would be with me, and then two more independent activities. And so what I would ideally like to see is in the stations when they’re not with me, that they’re engaged in what they’re doing and they’re working on the goal of writing those numbers in the different forms.
Steve: 12:14 So is there any student interaction with other students during the independent one?
Teacher: 12:20 So in one of the stations it is a partner activity, it’s like a Go Fish matching game. So they would have to match the expanded form of a number to the standard form of the number, or the word form of number, depending on the cards.
Steve: 12:37 So, talk about what student engagement is there.
Teacher: 12:42 So there would obviously be some talking about math, I would ideally like to hear, in the distance the words, expanded form, word form, standard form. And I would like to hear them talking using the appropriate ways to say the numbers as well. And helping each other if they needed it. If someone wasn’t sure which form it was, having the partner there to bounce that off of.
Steve: 13:10 And in that center, how do you see that center fitting with your description of some of your students being more independent in their skill level than others?
Teacher: 13:26 So one of the things I had thought about doing was possibly having a several sets of cards so that there might be some more challenging numbers for other students. My concern with that was that if other students see those numbers, would that make them feel badly that they didn’t get that particular deck?
Steve: 13:54 So what are you gonna do about that feeling you’re having?
Steve: 14:29 So it sounds like you wanna run the experiment.
Teacher: 14:32 Yeah. Basically.
Steve: 14:35 So does it make sense if my coaching work is to assist you in assessing the experiment?
Teacher: 14:44 Yes. I think that’s exactly what I would like as a format that I would like to continue trying.
Steve: 14:53 Okay. So I’m wondering if, since I don’t know your students, I’m wondering if you could get your students to wear a name tag and I would focus on that center.
Steve: 15:08 Qnd I would actually record the student’s names so if two students pair up I’d jot down both of their names, and then underneath that I’d record the actual language that I heard the students using.
Steve: 15:26 So if one asks a question, I’d write down the question they asked. If one gave up, I’d write down that they gave up. If one told the other one the answer I’d record the exact information that I heard.
Teacher: 15:42 Okay. Yes, I think that would be helpful since I won’t be at that center.
Steve: 15:46 And I’m wondering if the fact that I could do it by name and when you looked at the data that I collected, you’d be able to read a lot more into understanding the data than I’m going to, not knowing the students.
Teacher: 16:03 Okay. Yes, I think that would be very helpful.
Steve: 16:06 Peer observation and peer coaching both build opportunities for teacher reflection, growth, and collective teacher efficacy within a school. Clarity on expectations of a collegial peer engagement can positively impact the experience and the outcomes. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a note at barkleypd.com. And as always, thanks for listening.
Steve [Outro]: 16:41 Thank you for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.