Peer Coaching – an approach to Technology Integration

This is an adaptation of an article I submitted for publication in collaboration with TeacherB mentioned below. As such, the language is slightly more formal than what I normally use here in this blog….with References to boot.

Twice in as many weeks I’ve promised to blog about this in relation to questions about peer coaching.  Here it is finally.

source: http://www.morguefile.com/ - you must try this site for images

source: http://www.morguefile.com/ - you must try this site for images

As a mathematics teacher, I have always been a big proponent for literacy as corollary to achieving numeracy.  One of the strategies I know that helps improve literacy is having a class blog.

I proposed this idea to a Year 8 English class teacher (TeacherB in this related post) as well as do so as an action research exercise.  TeacherB was receptive to both suggestions in line with her desire to increase technology integration and explore the blended learning model.  She was keen to learn about blogging itself and how it could enhance her own teaching and learning, on top of student outcomes.

Essentially, we agreed to work collaboratively, sharing our individual expertise, to implement blended learning in view of enhancing literacy and technology outcomes.  We agreed that I would be welcome into the classroom to get a better sense of TeacherB’s approach as well as classroom dynamics, and in so doing be better able to pitch technology integration at a level both teacher and students were comfortable with.  Without calling it so, we settled on one form of peer coaching (Huston & Weaver, 2008; Robbins, 1991).

I set up two blogs: a class blog for the virtual side of blended learning and a teacher reflection blog for TeacherB to record reflections and serve as a digital peer-coaching place.  In effect, even as TeacherB was doing blended learning with her students, she was also subject to blended learning as a “student” of blogging.

I introduced blogging and the class blog to the class.  We discussed do’s and don’ts (along these lines) as well as teacher expectations on how it would be used in the study of the novel, “Only the Heart”.  I read the novel and throughout the unit, I visited and commented on the class blog as well as visited the classroom a few times.  Visiting the blended learning spaces – both physical and digital – allowed me to provide timely, objective and relevant feedback.   Classroom observations and non-evaluative feedback are important elements of peer coaching (Robbins, 1991).

In true action research form, TeacherB surveyed students at the beginning and end of the unit.  The initial survey was paper-based and the findings were none of the students knew about blogging or comfortable about using it for their learning.  I digitised the final survey made accessible via the class blog.  The findings were largely positive on the efficacy of blogging as part of blended learning for the purpose of novel study.   This supported my observations of the improvements in written, reading and speaking literacy skills.  In my opinion, the progress of both teacher and students were faster, deeper and broader than expected…in just a few weeks.

Peer coaching is a collaborative process that facilitates adoption and implementation of newly learned concepts into the classroom; it can be one-way or reciprocal (Huston & Weaver, 2008; Robbins, 1991).

Learning was definitely reciprocal in this case. I learned about conducting action research as well as blended learning in a different context, i.e. an English classroom.  Blended Learning and Peer Coaching are new terms for me even if I’ve practiced both before; this is important because now I have terms I can search and concepts I can research about (did I mention literacy is important to me?). I have gained as an IT integrator as well as an educator, in general.

References:

Huston, T & Weaver C (2008) Peer Coaching: Professional Development for Experienced Faculty, Innov High Educ, 33, 5-20.

Robbins, P (1991) How to Plan and Implement a Peer Coaching Program, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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5 thoughts on “Peer Coaching – an approach to Technology Integration

  1. Cameron says:

    We have 8 coaches who work with teachers to help improve teaching. The coaches receive an allowance but no relief from their full-time face-to-face teaching load. We hope to soon be able to provide a time allowance as well.

    This year, 8 learning technology coaches were also added, although this has been problematic. Teachers appear keener for assistance with ‘teaching’ than with ‘technology’.

    I am wondering how to balance voluntary versus compulsory coaching, and also whether we should have a whole-school strategy (hard coaching) or allow teachers to decide what they want to focus on (soft coaching). Keen for ideas…

    • malyn says:

      Wow, that’s a lot of coaches so the school is definitely on board the peer coaching bandwagon.

      I am GLAD that teachers are more keen for pedagogy-focus coaching. I have no doubt that my experience mentioned above succeeded because I appealed to the teaching side of things. I saw blogging as a perfect fit for the online component of the blended learning teaching approach.

      From what little I’ve read about peer coaching, it has to be voluntary. That said, I also know that some need a bit more prodding than others and for them compulsory might be the way to go. This is a hard ask particularly if you don’t give time allocation considering teachers are generally time-poor.

      I think for any real change to happen, there has to be a combination of top-down (vision and strategy driven) and grass-roots approach. So if there is a school-wide drive for peer coaching to promote professional development and collegiality, there must also be some flexibility with regards to focus (which should still be aligned to the overall philosophy and vision of the school).

      If you’ve got access to academic papers, maybe you can locate the Huston & Weaver article noted above. It’s got ideas on implementing a peer coaching program (read school-wide) particularly for experienced faculty (read people with lots to teach even as they learn).

  2. Maureen Devlin says:

    As a teacher who is wary of the coaching model since I’ve had some prior, not-so-good experiences with it, I was interested in reading your article which I liked very much.

    First, the tone of your article demonstrates your sensitivity and spirit of reciprocity rather than a know-it-all, top-down attitude towards teacher growth. I could tell that you took the time to talk with the teacher and lay out a plan that worked for both of you.

    Secondly, I liked the dual nature of the blogging efforts you introduced — blogging for students, then blogging for the teacher. Same venue, but on different plains. The teacher was able to experience and learn about blogging in a way that helped her to work with her students and strengthen her craft. The students were able to use blogging to strengthen both skills and knowledge.

    Finally, I liked the fact that you used action-research modeling an approach that the teacher can use again and again as a learner and innovator in education.

    Terrific. Thanks for sharing.

    • malyn says:

      Thanks for your kind words.

      I’m very wary of ever coming across as a know-it-all. For one because I don’t really know it all. Secondly, nobody wants to feel stupid.

      Experiential learning is a powerful learning strategy. It was a good way for the teacher to empathise with her students as well, not to mention model risk-taking for learning (we told the students about this side of the action research).

      What I like about action research is the built-in reflection to inform further action, a cycle of action-reflection in other words.

  3. Maureen Devlin says:

    Cameron, I think your decision should be based on your vision (what do you want to accomplish) and the current needs/desires of your teachers. I would consider the following questions/considerations:

    1. Where are we hitting the mark, where do we want to improve?
    2. Who is currently utilizing strategies that are effective and engaging? Do they want to spend time sharing their craft w/others?
    3. What teachers desire and/or need more training? What do they need? How do they best learn – via coaches, outside classes, online classes, shared teaching? Let teachers choose their venues for growth.
    4. With respect to technology integration – the tech teachers need to know about curriculum and technology, one without the other won’t lead to greater growth unless teachers work in reciprocal ways as noted above — then it’s a win-win.

    In summary, I would recommend a blended model dependent on vision, teacher expertise, needs and learning styles. Good luck!

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