Soliciting and Providing Feedback through Peer Coaching Experiences

Overview

Imagine peering into the engine of a running vehicle.  It is likely that you visualize several parts, working together harmoniously so the car runs smoothly.  It is less likely that you think about how many trials and errors, restarts and near quits it took for the vehicle to get to the point where it ran at all, let alone well.  Observing extremely effective peer coaching may look the same–it just seems to work.  However, unless I’m missing the secret key to coaching, this is very far from true.  In fact, the one “key” idea I have learned is that becoming a great peer coach and implementing a peer coaching plan is extremely difficult.

In building anything great, the process needs to be altered, refined, expanded, and sometimes thrown out.  In prior blog posts for the quarter I have shared some peer coaching strategies I’ve found effective as well as reflected on my successes and areas of improvement.  For my final reflection, I wanted to look at how to continue to grow a powerful peer coaching system, specifically by looking at when feedback is and is not appropriate, how and when to solicit feedback, and what to do with it once gathered.  I chose to include my final reflection on my recent “real world” peer coaching experiences along with this post to provide a reference point and to keep me thinking about how to continue growing as a peer coach.

Feedback vs. Evaluation

The infographic below represents the difference between feedback and evaluations, which I created by synthesizing some of the most relevant information from various resources, listed in my “references” section. I thought that it was important to distinguish between these two terms before looking further at the place for feedback and evaluation in peer coaching opportunities. I am glad I did so as it actually appears that feedback is much more effective at encouraging growth, and is therefore more appropriate in peer coaching.  Evaluations, while useful in determining areas of growth, are best suited for conversations between administrators and individual teachers. Examples of how feedback can be used in peer coaching, with resources, are included further on.

Feedback in Peer Coaching

In our cohorts Google Hangout several weeks ago, one of my professors, David Wicks, made a quick side comment about how a coach must be careful with how feedback and evaluation are used in peer coaching.  This was a sticky comment, it got my brain spinning, and it gave me a good framework for my research. I chose to spend the remainder of my peer coaching course exploring the question, “How can a peer coach effectively self-assess and gather feedback from others in order to grow as a coach and ensure that the feedback is accurate?” While I never directly asked David why he said this, my initial inquiries helped lead me to two possible reasons:

  1. Evaluations have no place in peer coaching.  From here on, I will only talk about feedback.
  2. One must be very intentional in seeking feedback and consider how feedback is solicited, how the questions are worded, what is done with the feedback once received, and who gets to review it.

To help further focus my exploration, I appreciated that my classmate, Liz Ebersole, asked me the following question:  “Would you use this type of evaluation/feedback to plan PD for coaches or to collect data to advocate for adopting a peer coaching practice at the school/district level? What do you hope to learn from the feedback and how will you share it and who with?”

Using David’s comment and Liz’s question, I created the following infographic to display a rough idea of how feedback can be used in peer coaching and included a few resources that might help start the process.

Reflection on My Peer Coaching Experiences

This quarter I had the opportunity to practice peer coaching by working with a teacher at my school.  While there were a few hiccups in the process, this experience was so valuable for me because I was able to debrief and share ideas with my master’s program cohort.  An overview of what I learned during this process, along with the work that my colleague and I produced, is included in the document below.

Future Inquiries

  • In my peer coaching experience, I worked with a colleague who is also a close personal friend.  This presented unique challenges and made parts of the process easier.  What additional tools and strategies might a coach want to use when working with someone they are less familiar with?
  • One topic that myself and others in my cohort explored this quarter was that other professional fields, outside of education, offer great insights into how to be an effective coach.  I would like to explore this further in the future.
  • In this blog post I touched on providing feedback in peer coaching.  I would like to look at this deeper too and gain some “field experience” to help explore this further.

Resources

Baehr, M. (n.d.). 4.1.2 Distinctions Between Assessment and Evaluation. Retrieved December 08, 2016, from http://www.pcrest3.com/fgb/efgb4/4/4_1_2.htm

Rehman, S. (n.d.). Effective Feedback. Retrieved December 8, 2016, from http://phoenixmed.arizona.edu/sites/default/files/content/facdev/rehman-512014.pdf

Developing a Peer Coaching Toolbox

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One major “ah ha” moment I have had during my master’s program research in digital education leadership is that good teaching is good teaching.  By this I mean that many of the best practices we use in our K-12 classrooms are equally effective when creating professional development for teachers. This quarter, my cohort has had the chance to look deeper at peer coaching and I recently had a similar “ah ha” moment; good coaching is good coaching.  Specifically, efficient coaching strategies for educators are, at their core, very similar to those used in other fields of work. I have used this perspective most recently as I have conducted research for my module 4 triggering question:

What are a few essential resources to add to my “peer coaching toolbox” that will help create valuable conversations while ensuring I don’t come across as critical?

Asking “what makes a great peer coach” without limiting my search to only educational coaching led me to countless resources, some gems and some that were easy to pass by.  As my intention is to create a “toolbox” of peer coaching resources, my resolution to my research was to synthesize some of the best information I came across into a document (shared in the “resolution” section). While sifting through resources, I attempted to really focus on the second part of my question, “[to choose tools that] create conversations that don’t come across as critical”. What follows is only the start to my peer coaching toolbox and I intend to build on it as I learn and gain more experience.

Resolution

Peer Coaching Toolbox

Overview of Resources

Since most of my peer coaching toolbox is made up of resources created and shared by others, rather than simply created by me, I didn’t think that a quick link in the “references” section gave due credit.  Below I include a brief overview of the resources I used to create my comprehensive toolbox.

  • EDTC 6103 Course Materials: this quarter it has been a bit difficult finding resources that top those provided by my professors, David Wicks and Les Foltos.  All that they have provided is already part of my toolbox, but for the sake of this module resolution I tried to narrow down to just a few resources that I found most valuable in general.  Some which I included are the learning activity checklist and tips on listening and asking probing questions.
  • Peer Coaching Resources: this resource was a gem and exactly what I was looking for to help address my question!  This was actually created by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services and, as far as I can tell, is for nurses, specifically those working in nursing homes.  That being so, I still found that just about all of these resources are equally relevant to peer coaching for teachers, or most professions.  I liked that they included several ready-to-use resources and among my favorites were ones on setting goals, establishing a clear plan for peer coaching, active listening, and activities for reflection and seeking feedback.  While not included in my toolbox, I really appreciated that they included a document that lists common peer coaching roadblocks along with solutions.  This is something I would like to develop later on!
  • How Google is Making Work Better: This episode of the podcast The Hidden Brain talks with Laszlo Bock about how his research on a successful workplace, outlined in his book Work Rules has been applied at Google.  In this episode, Bock and host Shankar Vedantam discuss leading theories on what creates an effective work environment.  
  • What Makes a Good Sports/Fitness Coach: when I looked at how to be an inspiring coach, I came across many resources for sports/fitness coaches.  While I didn’t come across many tangible items to add to my toolbox, I did appreciate that many of these resources seemed to focus on encouragement, positivity, and the attitude of the coach, which seemed a vital point to consider when selecting other resources.

Future Questions or Inquiries

  • What resources am I missing? Is there an element of peer coaching that is totally neglected?
  • I started this module intending to look at questioning strategies for peer coaches.  I ended up straying from that topic though because I feel like that’s already been done by many of my classmates and there are some good materials in our course documents.  In the future, this is something I would like to revisit.  
  • I want to look a bit further into how to include feedback and reflections into peer coaching opportunities.

References

Goldburg, A. (2016). SPECIAL: What makes a GOOD COACH? Retrieved November 27, 2016, from https://www.competitivedge.com/special-what-makes-good-coach

How Google’s Laszlo Bock Is Making Work Better. (2016, June 7). Retrieved November 27, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/2016/06/07/480976042/how-googles-laszlo-bock-is-making-work-better

Peer Coaching Resources. (2015, August). Retrieved November 20, 2016, from http://www.alliantquality.org/sites/default/files/Peer_Coach_Resource_508_FNL.pdf

Quinn, E. (2016, April 5). 9 Qualities of a Great Sports Fitness Coach. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from https://www.verywell.com/what-makes-a-good-coach-3120792

Reeder, E. (2011, March 4). Retrieved November 20, 2016, from http://pimarsc.pbworks.com/w/page/37053775/LessonActivityChecklist

Setting Goals and Establishing Action Steps

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For the past four years I have taught an English support class for students who need a little extra help being successful in school, and particularly in reading and writing.  While I typically change up my lessons each year, hoping to grow off of successes and missed opportunities, one unit that has remained mostly intact revolves around having students create SMART goals (detailed in the additional resources below).  The task is simple–they make an academic SMART goal that they want to work to attain for the school year.  They get frequent opportunities to reflect on their goal, discuss character traits that one might need to reach a goal, and they can revise and edit their goal as the year progresses.  Ultimately, it does not matter whether or not they meet their goal, but having a clear idea of what to work towards helps students maintain clarity and focus on how they want to progress through the year.  I was thinking about this project as I began to consider my question for this module, which was…

What is a SMART goal for a secondary level peer coach based on 21st century learning? What are the components of this goal and what resources are available to help attain it?

As I find myself in more peer coaching opportunities, I feel like I have way too many goals–listen better,  don’t interrupt, help others take risks, create an environment for taking risks, and on, and on, and on.  While there is nothing wrong with being aware of areas for improvement, these “goals” can seem a bit too vague or unspecific and leave me feeling overwhelmed as they aren’t exactly attainable.  So, this week I chose to take some time to make one specific SMART goal for myself as a peer coach, which I will reflect on and edit as I progress.  Additionally, I included five specific action steps I will take to reach my goal to help have a more specific idea of how to move towards achieving it.

My Peer Coaching SMART Goal and Action Steps

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Additional Resources

SMART Goals

As I previously mentioned, I teach a unit on writing SMART goals.  Below, I have included the presentation that I use to introduce SMART goals to students.

21st Century Learning

I had intended to create a resource that took a deeper looking into the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning.  However, when I started my research I quickly learned that anything I had to say would be redundant as there is already so much great information out there.  One particular article I enjoyed reading was by Jennifer Gonzalez titled “Buzzword Bling: Putting Subtance Behind our Big Words”.  In it she explains that many belileve that teaching 21st century skills means teaching with technology, and while technology is a part, it is not the whole.  She explains that “we must also include life and innovation skills along with the traditional core subjects” and to do this we need to “step away from notes and lectures and build experiences” (2016).  To understand the P21 framework more completely, I am also including the infographic from the P21 site, which lays out each component.

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Future Questions

  1. How can I effectively reflect on my goal over time?  How can I ensure it will continue to grow as I grow as a peer coach?
  2. How do the 21st century learning standards relate to the ALA standards for the 21st century learner?

References

Bernard, S. (2008, December 03). BookmarkCollaborative Crusader: Creating a Twenty-First-Century Learning Community for Teachers. Retrieved November 4, 2016, from https://www.edutopia.org/collaboration-age-technology-lisa-huff

Gonzalez, J. (2016, July 17). Buzzword Bling: Putting Substance Behind Our Big Words. Retrieved November 04, 2016, from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/buzzword-bling/

Partnership for 21 Century Skills (P21). (2007). Retrieved November 4, 2016, from https://www.imls.gov/assets/1/AssetManager/Bishop Pre-Con 2.pdf

Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. (2016). Retrieved November 04, 2016, from http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards/learning

Baby Steps Towards Mastering Coaching Behaviors

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One statement that often causes me to roll my eyes is when people say, “well, it’s easier in theory than in practice”.  I find this insight to be negative, dismissive, a way to throw in the towel before even giving something a chance.  This being so, I cannot help but keep having this thought over the past few weeks as I have been learning about behaviors and communication strategies that an effective peer coach must employ.  For example, I know that a good coach listens attentively without interrupting, yet I often find myself railroading other people’s thoughts with my own.  I know that a good coach creates a safe space for learners to grow, yet I sometimes find that I come across as sarcastic or self-righteous, qualities I know can be very off putting, particularly in a learning environment.

Now is not the first time I have learned about effective communication and collaboration techniques. This topic, and many related suggestions, have come up in my k-12 schooling, in education and linguistics classes I took when I was getting my bachelor’s degree, in professional development opportunities, and in personal self-improvement scenarios. Why then, if I keep learning the same conversational and coaching tips, have I not been able to fully implement them into my communication habits?  The simple answer is because it’s hard.  Hard tasks take repeated, consistent effort.  It takes grit and patience.  This being so, I am excited that I have another opportunity to look at my coaching habits, to reflect on how I have improved, and to set some goals to keep getting better.

An issue I face every time I dive into the topic of effective communication and collaboration is that I am quickly overwhelmed–there is so much information on the topic available, so many “tips” and “tricks” and “how to’s”.  Furthering my dilemma is that a lot of this information is good, valuable, I want to use it.  However, I also know that people learn best through scaffolding, by breaking down the learning into manageable steps.  So, while I am feeling very inspired to improve my communication habits in hopes of becoming a better learning coach (and person as a whole!), I am going to need to make myself slow down.  This week, I am going to focus in on a few communication pointers that I know I need to work on, choosing tips I can easily and frequently implement.  Once I get these down, I can look at the next steps to continue improving my communication skills.

Easy-to-Implement Communication Pointers for Peer Coaches

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  • Don’t interrupt: give the learner time to finish their thoughts–interrupting someone while they are speaking is not only rude, but I may not have the whole idea of how I can offer assistance of I don’t let them fully express their ideas.
  • Paraphrase what the learner says:  repeat back what the learner says as it demonstrates that the coach is listening and helps them process their ideas.  For example, asking “is this what you mean” helps learners know whether or not they are being concise and accurate, and in turn helps them fine tune their ideas.
  • Set clear norms and objectives: if all learners are aware of the behavior expected of them as well as the objective they are working to meet, the learning session will run much more smoothly.  It will also be easier to reflect on the learning if the objectives and expectations are clear.
  • Show, don’t tell: In an article titled “The Secret to Great Coaching, Les Foltos includes an analogy that I really appreciated.  He explains that “coaches need to understand that their learning partners, like rock climbers, need to be able to act on their won when they reach the crux of the problem” (Foltos 2014).  If a coach doesn’t let learners reach their own conclusions, they will become dependent on the coach.  The coach must provide opportunities for self-discovery to help learners feel empowered.
  • Ask probing questions: to help lead the learner to their own ideas, ask questions to spark their thinking.  Rely on lists of question stems, or simply ask “why” or “please elaborate”–again, let the learner make their own discoveries!

Building Blocks of Trust

For the Google Hangout that was paired with this week’s study, one of our instructors, Les Foltos, asked us to look at the following list of behaviors that build trust in the workplace (Peer-Ed 2015).

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Les asked that we take this information and build a diagram of our “building blocks of trust”, which should consist of a five-block pyramid with the behaviors we found to be the most important, or those that we wanted to work on improving.  I am including my “building block of trust” below.  I designed it similar to how Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is organized, with the behaviors at the bottom being essential before those above are attainable.  As Les stated, my building blocks will change as my skills as a coach develop, so this is just a work in progress.

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Future Questions:

  • How will I know when I have mastered these communication skills? What can I do to reflect and check in on my progress?
  • I choose to focus on communication skills that I need to work on, but that I think most people could benefit from implementing too.  What’s missing? Is there a big “coaching to-do” that I am leaving out?

Resources

Les, F. (2014, June). The Secret to Great Coaching. Learning Forward, 35(3), 29-31

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Gonzalez, J. (2016, March 20). How to Plan Outstanding Tech Training for Your Teachers. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/tech-training-for-teachers/

ISTE Standards for Technology Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2016, from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

 Wicks, David and Foltos, Les. (2015).  Building Trust: Behaviors that Build Trust in the Workplace.  Seattle, WA. Retrieved October 17, 2016.

Setting the Stage: Establishing an Environment for Peer Coaching

A photo by Julia Caesar. unsplash.com/photos/asct7UP3YDE

“Leap, and the net will appear.” (Zen saying)

Overview

This fall I began my fifth year of teaching, a milestone in many ways. While I am still at the beginning of my career, I am no longer a “new” teacher.  I have greater confidence in my instructional strategies, classroom management skills, and collaborative relationships.  I no longer have slight dread while wondering how am I going to make it through the year but now find myself asking how can I shape myself into a phenomenal educator?  As I have been wondering this, an answer has presented itself in my module one explorations for my digital education leadership program.  This quarter, my cohort is looking at the role of peer coaching in the professional learning environment.  While my learning has been very general so far as I am just delving into this dynamic topic, it is clear that great educators are shaped by great educators.  So, if I am to become great and help others do so as well, I must work to create an environment that successfully integrates peer coaching into professional development.  

I start this exploration with a strong advantage as I get to learn about peer coaching from Les Foltos, an expert on the topic and one of my professors for the quarter.  In his book Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, I was struck by how frankly Les explains that creating a successful environment for peer coaching requires educators to be extremely vulnerable.  In his introductory chapter he explains that, when confronted with a peer coaching opportunity, the learning partner hears, “my coach is asking me to open the doors of my classroom and to demonstrate want I know and what I don’t know.  My coach is asking me to take risks and make mistakes in public” (Foltos 2013). While I am eager to get into the intricacies of models for peer coaching, this point stopped me in my tracks.  It made me realize that, before I can understand what meaningful peer coaching looks like, I must first look at what elements are essential to establishing an environment where peer coaching can happen.  Without a safe learning environment, educators will not feel comfortable being vulnerable and therefore cannot open their doors to peer coaching opportunities.  

What is essential to creating a successful environment for peer coaching?

As is often the case, when I began exploring essential elements of a successful peer coaching environment, I was met with an overabundance of information.  After skimming through multiple blog posts, educator resources, and scholarly articles, I started to see many overlapping ideas and decided that, rather than reinvent the wheel, I would synthesize my findings into a comprehensive list.  Below are what I found to be the leading tips on creating a successful environment for peer coaching.

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What topics relating to peer coaching will I explore in the future?

All that I have learned this week has been both fulfilling and overwhelming.  Now that I have gotten to dive into the topic of peer coaching, I am aware of how much great information there is out there to explore!  Since this week’s blog post only scratches the surface, I wanted to take a moment to mention a few ideas that have started to spark in my head which I would like to look at deeper in the coming weeks.

  • Now that we have created an environment where peer coaching can be successful, how do we get teachers to “open their doors”?
  • What is the role of an instructional coach?  
  • What behaviors and strategies should an instructional coach master in order to be effective?
  • My school district currently has nine full time secondary level instructional coaches.  How are their roles defined?  What are the next steps my district is taking to create an environment for peer coaching?
  • How can we make time for feedback and reflection more valuable in professional learning opportunities?

Resources

Aguilar, E. (2011). Four Conditions Essential for Instructional Coaching to Work. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/four-conditions-instructional-coaching-elena-aguilar

Dupree, O. (n.d.). What is an Instructional Coach? Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://piic.pacoaching.org/index.php/piic-coaching/what-is-an-instructional-coach

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Gonzalez, J. (2016, September 25). How Pineapple Charts Revolutionize Professional Development. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pineapple-charts/

Gonzalez, J. (2016, March 20). How to Plan Outstanding Tech Training for Your Teachers. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/tech-training-for-teachers/

Guest Post: Who Sits In the Big Chair? Reflections on Building Collaborative Partnerships with Teachers. Retrieved October 06, 2016, from https://yourinstructionalcoach.com/2016/09/07/guest-post-who-sits-in-the-big-chair-reflections-on-building-collaborative-partnerships-with-teachers/