Play Ball … With Peer Coaching

9/1/2007 By: Virginia Richard

from Educators' eZine

I like to think of peer coaching metaphorically as a game.

And just how does the peer coaching game work? Polk County peer coaches have learned that peer coaching is a very effective research-based professional development program (Joyce; Showers 2002).

If you want to play the game, there are several things that must be in place before it begins. Buy in from school leaders and teacher incentives is a must. These incentives are motivational tools to engage students and teachers. Technologically-savvy teachers, comfortable using technology in the curriculum, make playing the game much easier. In this district, teachers were selected from an existing program that started from the Intel® Teach Program.

Even though Polk County teachers may be using technology, professional development training is required to learn coaching skills. For districts that want to join the game, Shelee King George, Program Specialist with Puget Sound Center travels, all over the United States as well as abroad offering training. There is no need to worry about development of the tools and resources as there are plenty available for example, Microsoft hosts a Peer Coaching Program website with all the resources you will ever need. Data driven decision making is not a problem as the site hosts several tools schools can easily use to implement and assess players during the game.

Are you excited about what you have heard so far? Well if so, it is time for more districts to join our virtual league.

Before you can start the game peer coaches need to attend Spring training. To accomplish this, the Puget Sound Center offers a five-day intensive professional development training camp for peer coach facilitators. This training empowers facilitators and teachers to develop team relationships and communication skills. The object is to get teachers used to working with each other. Are you ready for some more excitment? Let's take a deeper look at the Polk County game. The training camp has ended and the season begins.

To get teachers on base, polk county coaches pitch an assessment to determine the collaborating teacher's needs. Once the assessment is completed, the goal is to help collaborating teachers hit the ball and make it to first base. However, setting goals is only the first goal. Coaches work on the sideline by cheering and encouraging teachers to set the next goal. By the time reluntanct collaborating teachers make it to second base, peer coaching becomes easier for both parties. Collaborating teachers have had time to determine one or two goals and are ready to prepare technology integrated lessons. By third base the shock of the peer coaching process is relieved as both peer coach and collaborating teacher overcome isolation in classrooms. Homeruns are exciting as teachers spend time reflecting and debriefing on the entire Peer Coaching Cycle. Now that points are on the board, teachers can determine what is or is not working. This allows peer coaches and collaborating teachers time to make corrections immediately. Before we go any further let's go back and look at each base in detail.

First base is all about assessment. Peer coaches and collaborating teachers in Polk County got off to a good start by realizing assessment was vital. The goal of this step is not to force collaborating teachers to use technology, but to empower them to determine and identify which tools are useful for existing lessons. Assessment helps collaborating teachers to see that working with their peer coach was similar to the teaching and learning cycle where they plan and implement lessons. The peer coaching program requires the development of a school support agreement to align technology goals with current curriculum practices. No Child Left Behind mandates that educators become data driven decision makers. As school support agreements are developed, administrators learn that technology can be included numerous ways during classroom instruction. The schools' support agreement enlightens administrators as to at which STaR – School Technology and Readiness stage teachers are integrating technology. Most educators know proper planning is the key during the assessment stage of any implementation whether it is through an Integrated Learning Lab Software program or tutorials to focus on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test benchmarks (FCAT).

What does the school support agreement do in a nut shell? It empowers all players to assess where they are, set goals and get on board playing the same game. The end result of the game is to develop technology-savvy teachers and increase or enhance student achievement through rigorous and relevant lessons integrated with technology. Kay Teehan, a media specialist from Bartow Middle School says that assessment is a part of the coaching cycle that allows teachers to remain focused on the process as defined by Florida's Continuous Improvement Model. Coaching is not something new; research reveals that it is and always has been aligned with the Florida Professional Development Protocol Evaluation Standards and Florida's Continuous Improvement Model (Joyce; Showers 2002). Once an administrator understands that educators are already playing the game, it is easier to get buy in to implement the program in any school.

Landing on first base was a milestone for Polk County Schools. Teachers started setting goals and identifying what they wanted to accomplish for the year. Before peer coaching in many cases, teachers could only envision what they could do for one week. Peer coaching allowed collaborating teachers time to focus on small bite-sized pieces of information. Goal setting with Polk County teachers has helped them get down to the nitty gritty of technology integration because of time constraints. As most educators know, time is a very critical element for most teachers. Setting goals empowered each teacher to commit and try new technologies in instruction. Without goal setting, most teachers admitted innovation would never happen because of the pre-planning that is required. The collaborating teacher in Polk County knew their peer coach was supporting them all the way.

One collaborating teacher, Amanda Gaspary of Southwest Middle, Lakeland, Florida said, "Having a technology coach available made it easier for me to attempt integration of technology in the classroom." Alice Lewis, a peer coach at Mulberry Middle School, stated that setting goals has helped her in another way. Lewis stated "by having to look at the incorporation of technology in a different subject matter, I realized new ways to utilize technology in my own class." Key findings in the peer coaching research revealed that you must use all 5 components of the professional development model. More research can be found about the peer coaching program at the peer coaching site run by Microsoft. Remember the coaching cycle begins with assessment, setting goals, preparing, implementing and reflecting/debriefing.

The peer coaching model suggests that districts provide substitutes on second base for peer coaches and collaborating teachers to work together. Polk scheduled substitutes for ½ day each month in school year 2005-06 and for every other month for school year 2006-07. This allowed time during the game for mentors and teachers to meet and work together training on new equipment or reviewing curriculum design. Without this time, collaborating teachers may struggle or not make it to third base at all. Teachers also revealed that scheduled time provides meaningful collaboration versus a few minutes here and there during their daily ball game.

The peer coaching game will not be successful if you do not cover all the bases. Third base requires technology savvy experienced teachers who serve as cheerleaders for new collaborating teachers. The game definitely gets exciting on third base, as collaborating teachers overcome obstacles to integrate technology. At this stage, peer coaches can quickly share how to implement technology and provide feedback to collaborating teachers. However, the collaborating teacher must be willing to work in a partnership with the peer coach for successful technology integration. Mentorship must be a year-long commitment, which most teachers find a difficult task. This ensures that teachers have a specified amount of time to practice with teachers learning how to use technology in the classroom.

In Polk County, a workable mentoring program requires creative scheduling, common goals, and required technology tools to make the game work. To enhance the game, the district provides technology tools and incentives for experienced peer coaches and collaborating teachers. If districts do not provide equipment when teachers make it to second base, it becomes challenging to integrate technology. Second base is also challenging for peer coaches in Polk County as they attend training to keep current on the latest technology changes. Peer coaches stay abreast of such innovations as digital storytelling, podcasting, blogs and wikis. This training allows peer coaches to keep collaborating teachers excited and challenge them to try new tools. Peer coaches on third base report that modeling and guiding collaborating teachers in technology integration requires time, which in today's busy schools is often challenging.

Are you still following the game? Do not give up on us yet as the game gets more exciting for players in Polk County. Teachers have integrated technology and are ready to reflect and debrief with their peer coach. Home base also reiterates that collaborating teachers have at least integrated a technology lesson. Peer coaches cheer and share with collaborating teachers on the process from the batter's box until they run all the bases and make it to home plate. New They may share new strategies and may give advice on ways to improve lesson implementation or design.

Teachers in Polk County like the fact that they can collaborate one-on-one during this time with their peer coach versus a group of teachers. As teachers become comfortable with each other, the peer coach's listening skills become enhanced. Listening is very important on all bases, but at home plate it is probably the most important. Home base empowers peer coaches and collaborating teachers to listen and glean or adopt successful strategies from each other that they know are working. Effective feedback can enhance the professional relationship between the peer coach and collaborating teacher as they want to ensure the success of technology-integrated lessons in the classroom. Team cohesiveness is embraced as other members are encouraged when a collaborating teacher crosses home base. The Puget Sound Center for Teaching and Learning has developed a Coaching Skills Cue Card to enhance communication skills. This cue card helps peer coach's practice active listening, clarifying and probing questions. The peer coaches are trained to provide concrete answers when they know from experience a lesson will not be successful.

Successful implementation of the peer coaching process allows teams to earn homeruns. The coaching cycle can be practiced again and again to improve the process, and each time teachers become empowered to learn along with their colleagues. Kay Teehan, a middle school media specialist/peer coach, says "both peer coach and collaborating teacher can provide feedback to each other while using technology." The team owners, i.e. administrators, can empower and motivate peer coaches and collaborating teachers to keep winning the game. Team owners have learned that the peer coaching program is a win-win for all players including students. If the game has been successful Polk County team owners want to increase the membership each year.

Peer coaching develops teacher leaders. Polk County peer coaches are playing this game daily and are winners. Research from the project revealed that increased assessment of teacher needs, collaboration, communication, reflection, and debriefing skills improved. Collaborating teachers increased their technology integration skills and most of them agreed to become peer coaches for the 2006-07 school year. Other districts that are willing to get in the game can produce winners as well. Providing structured time for both parties to meet is the most important key. School leadership is crucial, buy in from staff members and administration, and technology tools to use are all important components to hitting home runs with your program. As teachers apply this model and learn new teaching strategies, students benefit from the use of new emerging technology tools.

In summary, peer coaching can increase technology integration in the classroom. It is a professional development model that works. I challenge you to get in the game or lose when it comes to technology integration!

Bibliography:

Microsoft Peer Coaching Program Website. 2004. Learning Activity Checklist

Florida's Continuous Improvement Model

Joyce, B. & Showers, J. (2002), Designing Training and PeerCoaching: Our needs for learning

Email: Virginia Richard

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