Monday, July 9, 2018

Coaching your colleagues - part 2

About a month ago I announced my intention of using the month of July to write a book on coaching.  I'm happy to say that last week I managed to write 2 chapters of this book - which focused on the benefits of coaching and what coaches do.  This week I'm going to start on Chapter 3 which is about trust and how that is the cornerstone of building capacity in teachers.  As mentioned previously as well, I'm spending the summer reading Peer Coaching by Pam Robbins.  As I was pulling my thoughts about trusting relationships together, I thought I'd dip into her book and see what she had to say.  Here is how she starts:
Day in and day out, dedicated teaches work tirelessly in individual classrooms ... More often than not their students represent a wide array of learning differences in terms of skills content knowledge, background experiences, interests, parental support, learning challenges, and self confidence.  They come from a variety of cultures and consequently view and speak about the world differently .... Isolated in their classrooms, teachers often wonder, Did I use the best lesson strategy today to teach this standards?  How would my colleague across the hall do it?
Peer coaching seems to address the very same issues that I've been helping our coaches to address at ASB, in a model that I've called Coaching your Colleagues.  Schools around the world are bombarded with the latest and greatest initiatives that promise to enhance learning and teaching.  At the same time, teachers are facing new ways of evaluating their performance and the word "accountability" is one that is frequently heard.

In our PD 3.0 task force on R&D some years ago we looked at what new models of professional learning could look like.  We felt that coaching was the way forward.  As Robbins writes, "it fosters meaningful, personalized, professional growth opportunities for staff; increases the influence of exemplary teaching; and magnifies the collective propensity of schools to be able to provide responsive, high-quality learning experiences to ensure that every student succeeds".

Robbins' model is one where colleagues work together.  In terms of Cognitive Coaching, most of these would not be classed as coaching, but instead as collaborating or consulting.  However here is the list of what Robbins means by peer coaching.  Colleagues:
  • reflect upon and analyze teaching practices and their consequences
  • develop and articulate curriculum
  • create informal assessments to measure student learning
  • implement new instructional strategies, including the integrated use of technology
  • plan lessons collaboratively
  • discuss student assessment data and plan for future learning experiences
  • expand, refine and build new skills
  • share ideas and resources
  • teach one another
  • conduct classroom research
  • solve classroom problems or address workplace challenges
  • examine and study student learning with the goal of improving professional practice to maximize student success.
Just like other forms of coaching, peer coaching has been seen to be effective in augmenting the availability of feedback to teachers, increasing their problem-solving capabilities, building capacity, planning instructional time, expanding the integration of technology, designing more challenging student work, and personalising professional learning.  And just like other forms of coaching, trust has to be there at the start of the process.  Robbins writes that a lack of trust is often the reason why coaching fails to change teacher practices.  While many coaches have exceptional content knowledge, they are not taking the time to focus on building relationships and trust, and hence their impact is limited.  In fact some teachers in these situations will remain skeptical of coaching and see it just as another form of teacher evaluation. She writes:
Peer Coaching activities change in form and structure as relationships among colleagues grow more trusting and comfortable .... if trust is just beginning to develop, staff members may initially prefer to work collegially ... Next as trust develops professional colleagues may draw from these prior learning experiences and create lessons together ... Finally teachers may form pairs or trios so that one teacher can teach the lesson they helped develop, while the  others observe.  Following the lesson, the teacher and observers may reflect and analyze what led to desirable student performance and what they might do differently.
The Peer Coaching model, therefore is made up of two distinct parts:

  1. Collaborative work to increase the capacity of teachers to promote learning
  2. Formal coaching that includes a pre-conference, an observation and a post-conference. 
I was interested to read about how technology can be seen as both a benefit and a deterrent to collaboration.  Often, as teachers may lack collaborative planning time, or in situations where there is no common meeting area, combined with a chronic shortage of time, teachers may simply rely on email instead of face-to-face interactions.  However technology can also help - in situations where it is just not practical to observe another class, digital recordings can open up the classrooms, and tools such as Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts can allow colleagues to meet at a time and place that works for everyone.  But let's not think technology is the answer to everything!  Coaching requires both time and money for the trainings and time (which may include money if substitutes have to be employed) for the observations and conferencing.

I can't stress strongly enough how coaching needs to be totally separate from evaluation.  Principals need to be absolutely clear about that - it is possible for a school principal to coach, but he or she needs to be crystal clear about which role they are in.  And for coaching to be supported in a school, a principal needs to go further than just lip-service.  He or she needs to be substituting for teachers so that they can coach their peers, coordinating schedules for coaching interactions, and sharing research about coaching.

At ASB we have seen our tech coaches as being leaders - and we have tried to distribute the leadership by ensuring that teachers don't take on too much - for example not being a team leader as well as a coach.  Having coaches within the teams that they are already working in does remove the stigma of supervision and evaluation from the process, and contributes more to teams seeing themselves as communities of learners.

Photo Credit: Benson Kua Flickr via Compfight cc

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