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Case Studies

Introducing and Implementing Peer Coaching

David Quinn. Assistant Principal, Glenferrie Primary School, Victoria

School Context

Glenferrie Primary School, in Hawthorn Victoria, was established in 1873. In 2007 there were 306 students enrolled, drawn predominantly from the local community, plus a small number of international students. It has low numbers of families needing specialist support and students from Non English Speaking Backgrounds. There is strong community involvement within the school and parents provide valuable assistance in all areas.

The school has a committed and professional staff team with a balance of younger and more experienced teachers, including 5 new teachers and the Assistant Principal who joined the staff in 2007. Apart from the Principal and Assistant Principal, there 14 Classroom Teachers, plus specialist teachers for Music, PE Visual Arts and a LOTE; five are graduate staff, two of these being first year provisionally registered teachers undertaking the Victorian Institute of Teaching’s mentoring program.

Given the 'newness' and obvious enthusiasm of the staff, this was an ideal opportunity to take a take on an innovative project that would to break down teacher isolation and lead to the sharing of professional learning and ultimately to improved student learning outcomes.

Our Project – Creating a collaborative culture

We wanted to create a culture that was consistent with the school’s purpose and shared values, where staff could:

  • Develop mutual respect and trust
  • Work and plan collaboratively
  • Give and receive feedback (respectfully)
  • Improve student learning
  • Improve pedagogy through the Principals of Learning and Teaching

The School’s purpose is: to strive to provide a challenging, high quality, safe and supportive learning environment. We aim to develop students with personal skills and knowledge to become active members of the global society.

Our shared values are:

  • RESPECT: Caring for ourselves, others and the environment.
  • DIVERSITY: Accepting others and celebrating individual differences.
  • INTEGRITY: Being honest and trustworthy within a safe and caring educational environment.
  • PERSONAL GROWTH: Developing academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.
  • CONFIDENCE: Attempting new challenges and persisting with these new challenges.

While the staff endorsed these values, we felt we needed need some additional skills to help us achieve the goals we’d set. We had already tried two strategies early in 2007, both of which left participants feeling uncomfortable.

  • The Leadership Team had taken part in a workshop designed to foster constructive feedback, but many found it was extremely confronting.
  • Prep to Year 2 teachers undertook a project to coach each other, focusing on improving writing outcomes for students through improved pedagogy in Literacy. This project stalled essentially because of unclear expectations for the two parties involved in the coaching activity, concerns largely grounded in reservations about having another teacher come into a classroom to observe and then give feedback, or 'coach'.

After much discussion we decided to look at alternative ways to provide feedback in the form of coaching or mentoring and to involve the whole staff.

Co-Coaching (Peer Coaching) Skills

As part of this bigger project, we engaged Jennifer McCoy from Positive Change Consulting to develop a formal program with clear processes, aims and expectations. A curriculum day was set aside and Jennifer was invited to workshop the staff.

Jennifer introduced us to the values that lie behind coaching, taught us some simple coaching strategies and tools, including the GROW model of coaching as a structured feedback model.

She also encouraged us to look at what we do well, to focus on moments of great teaching, instead of looking for weaknesses, and introduced us to a Peer Coaching Observation process with useful proformas designed to minimise the fear of an observation/feedback process.

Staff concerns were quite significant and it was deemed important to acknowledge these for the project to be successfully implemented. To assist staff to think through the whole coaching process, we were asked to brainstorm what skills and concerns are involved in coaching, activities that gave us an opportunity to explore all aspects of the process:

  • Our understanding of skills needed for coaching
  • Where it might be useful to have a colleague as a coach
  • Concerns both a coach and a coachee might have
  • How we could build or destroy trust in a coaching relationship

From this starting point, and with an understanding of the school’s shared goals and values, we then discussed what coaching actually is - process focused on finding solutions rather than problem or blame focused. The coachee in this workplace situation must be in control; the role of the coach is not to offer advice, rather to ask questions to allow the coachee to solve their own problems. Both people would negotiate clearly between them the areas of improvement to focus on and the protocols to be followed.

Staff were invited to suggest a list of protocols, as an initial draft, and included:

  • Agreement on the level of involvement of the coach
    • active/passive participation eg taking a group, discipline etc
    • passive (total observation)
  • The focus and purpose of the observation is clarified
  • Timeframe is agreed upon eg only present for part of the lesson etc
  • Coachee introduces the coach to the class
  • Feedback is only given on agreed purpose/objectives
  • Feedback is always constructive

Once all these things were put into place the staff were partnered and asked to choose an area from PoLT they would like to improve in their teaching. At first the activities used for the purpose of coaching where designed to trial the process and structure and allow staff to become comfortable in their new skills. The project will continue throughout 2007 and 2008.

How will we know if we have been successful in this project? We are yet to determine how we will measure success. More than likely it will involve the Staff Opinion Survey in 2008 and beyond and improvement in organisational health. We hope the benefit will also lead to improved student learning through improved pedagogy so therefore data such as the National Testing program in 2008 as well as teacher judgements against the Victorian Essential Learning Standards will also be used. Informally, observations in collegiate work and improved staff interpersonal relationships will also be noted.

Benefits

The value of having a professional coach involved in the project has assisted the staff to allay their fears and has generated initially a positive environment amongst the staff who are now willing to accept others into their classroom, focused on improving pedagogy in their own teaching.

The benefits of using such a program aimed to enhance the collegiate, professional relationships between teachers, helping them to:

  • Look for and value individual strengths and potential in fellow teachers
  • Use PoLT as a basis for improving classroom pedagogy
  • Use observation and coaching tools to help peers where and when it is asked for
  • Use a structured, reflective process for feedback that is constructive and honours collaborative arrangements made

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