Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Evolution of Peer Coaching

Showers, B., & Joyce, B. (1996). The evolution of peer coaching. Educational Leadership, 53(6), 12-16.

The authors of this article argue that peer coaching teams will enhance staff development and offer support for teachers as they implement new strategies in their classrooms. They began their research in the 70s when they determined that less than 10% of teachers engaged in staff development focused on instructional strategies and curriculum implemented what they learned. Even when teachers had volunteered to be a part of the development, they often did not apply what they were taught. As a result, despite being delivered on well-researched instructional strategies and curriculum, it did not impact student learning. In the 80s, these researchers began to look at how peer coaching sessions could better impact student learning. In the coaching sessions, teachers would focus on implementation in their individual rooms and analyze together what was happening, especially in terms of the student work and student responses. They saw consistently that these peer coaching sessions positively impacted what happened in classrooms. The teachers developed collaboration skills and eventually sought to organize entire faculties that would use peer coaching teams to help one another improve their instruction and curriculum design.

In the article, the authors "examine the history of coaching, describe changes in the conduct of coaching, and make recommendations for its future, including its role as a component of staff development that drives organizational change." Throughout the 80s, they realized that for teachers to experiment with and master new curriculum and new instructional strategies, they would need ongoing technical assistance in their very classrooms with their individual students.
They came to understand through their studies that coaching after an initial training would result in better transfer to the classroom level than the training alone. When teachers developed coaching relationships with a peer, they were more likely to practice new skills and strategies more frequently. Often this relationship meant that teachers would plan together and pool their experiences and not to observe one another. Teachers who were involved in their peer coaching groups showed long term retention of applying the new strategies and implementing new teaching practices over time. Their initial research was with individual teachers and small groups but in the 90s and more recently, they have studies entire schools whose staff volunteer to be a part of the peer coaching.

The model they encourage schools to use is not similar to the collegial coaching model at HTH. The main difference is that the teams do not observe and give one another feedback. They found that "when teachers try to give one another feedback, collaborative activity tends to disintegrate. Peer coaches told us they found themselves slipping into 'supervisory, evaluative comments' despite the intentions to avoid them... Remarkably, omitting feedback in the coaching process has not depressed implementation or students growth, and the omission has greatly simplified the organization of peer coaching teams. Learning to provide technical feedback required extensive training and time and was unnecessary after team members mastered new behaviors." They hope teachers on their teams will learn from one another while planning instruction, developing instructional materials and watching one another work with students and thinking together about the impact of their interactions on student learning. It is not about providing technical feedback on a specific lesson. Their goal is to best help teachers teach students and to build "intellectual independence; reasoning and problem-solving capability; competence in handling the explosion of information and data; and, with the help of technology, the ability to navigate the information age." Their recommendations for schools include: (1) providing time for collaboration; (2) form peer coaching teams from the beginning to focus on instruction, curriculum and planning; (3) use formats and structures for the collaborative planning time; and (4) plan how to monitor the implementation of their new initiatives and determine the impact of each initiative on student achievement.

Additional Quotes:

"We have been convinced throughout that peer coaching is neither an end in itself nor by itself a school improvement initiative. Rather, it must operate in a context of training, implementation, and general school improvement. There is no evidence that simply organizing peer coaching or peer study teams will affect students' learning environments. The study of teaching and curriculum must be the focus."

"Numerous staff development practices are called "coaching." These include "technical coaching," "collegial coaching," "challenge coaching," "team coaching," "cognitive coaching," and uses of peer coaching" to refer to the traditional supervisory mode of pre-conference/observation/post-conference. None of these should be confused with, or used for, evaluation of teachers."

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