Research Proposal: Peer Coaching as Professional Development

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¶ … Peer Coaching Lead to Professional Development in Schools?

Peer coaching refers to a professional development strategy where teachers use their own experiences and strategies to help others become better teachers. They observe one another and provide support and advice so that everyone will have a chance to grow in their skill level. Peer coaching works both ways. The one being coached learns from the observers and the observers learn from the one that is teaching. The following will explore current literature on peer coaching and will serve as a guide for the development of improved peer coaching programs in the future.

The History of Peer Coaching

Professional development is necessary for the success of any school system.

Many teachers recognize that the skills they developed in the past are no longer sufficient to meet their students' diverse needs." (Swafford, 1998, p. 54).

This realization is the key ideal that led to training seminars aimed at increasing skills and improving the level of knowledge that the teacher brings to the classroom.

The goal of professional development is to improve learning outcomes for all student populations, including special needs and other special groups. Although it would appear that peer coaching is focused on the teacher, the real recipient of professional development is the student. As the competency of the teacher increases, so does the outcome for the student.

Peer coaching evolved as a result of studies that indicated that new teaching strategies gained through seminars did not make it into the classroom (Showers & Joyce, 1996). Teachers were not using what they learned in staff development programs. Well-researched teaching methods and models did not make their way into the classroom. Students did not receive the benefit of improved research on teaching methods. A need developed for a way to not only pass on the information, but to make certain that teachers knew how to implement it. Peer coaching stemmed from that need (Showers & Joyce, 1996).

Showers and Joyce were pioneers in the field of peer coaching. They found that regular practice was needed in order for the teacher to be able to use what they learned in seminars. It was once thought that changes in school organization and training design were at fault, but this was found an erroneous assumption and it became apparent that a different approach was needed (Showers & Joyce, 1996). Showers and Joyce designed a program where teachers experienced modeling followed by practice under simulated conditions. This was followed by classroom practice and combined feedback (Joyce & Showers, 1980). These programs were an improvement over those that only offered training and then sent the teacher back into the classroom to practice with no ideas on how to implement what they learned. However, they were still lacking in the ability to transform classroom learning into teaching situations (Showers & Joyce, 1996).

Peer coaching, as we know it today, developed in the late 1980s and soon became the standard for professional development. Attention to social development is the key to forming a successful peer coaching arrangement. Peer coaching is known by many names such as technical coaching, collegial coaching, challenge coaching, team coaching, cognitive coaching, and peer coaching (Showers & Joyce, 1996). All of these terms refer to different approaches to the same practices. This research will use the term "peer coaching" for purposes of uniformity and clarity.

The following review of literature will focus on the most current theories regarding peer coaching. It will explore the various peer coaching models that have developed since inception of the idea. It will explore the positive and negative aspects of each model. This research will present challenges to peer coaching and will suggest further research into this area that needs to be conducted in order to developing more effective peer coaching strategies in the future.

Current Practice

Implementation of a peer coaching program requires participation of every member of the staff. They must all agree to abide by whatever decisions are handed down by the other staff members. This is one of the most important factors in the peer coaching program. Showers & Joyce (1996) found that all is well until it comes time to provide criticism of the teacher. Peer coaches have a difficult time preventing the tendency to slip into supervisory comments. Comments tended to be more judgmental and evaluative rather than offering sound advice and mentoring. This transforms the process from peer coaching to peer review, which is an entirely different animal.

As in the past, principals play a key role in staff development by providing an environment that supports and promotes staff growth and development (DuFour & Berkey, 1995). Schools that promote growth and development are viewed as an organic being that is capable of learning and transformation. Not only do the individuals within it grow, the organization grows as well. This ideal represents a paradigm shift from traditional views regarding relationships between administrators and teaching staff.

Under the old paradigm, the school was viewed as hierarchical. The administrators were on the top and teachers were on the bottom. New practices were handed down from the top and teachers were expected to immediately implement them in their classroom. However, now ideology is beginning to shift and the school is viewed as a holistic system where every element is as important as any other element. This model allows teachers to have greater input into the processes that take place. They also have a greater responsibility in terms of student outcome as well.

In a recent study involving teachers who attended a professional development workshop, teachers were asked to rate the performance of other teachers. This study found that teachers perceived those that were similar to themselves as more effective than those that had a dissimilar teaching style (Courneya, Pratt, & Collins, 2008).

One teacher stated, tend to evaluate people who teach like me higher than people who may teach with another dominant perspective yand I think that might be different now, even being aware [of other perspectives] will make it differentybecause I don't tend to be the most tolerant person about things that are different?." (Courneya, 2008, p. 76).

This statement reflects basic human nature. We tend to be attracted to things that are like us. This motivation stems from the need to validate ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. When we find someone like us, it validates our own methods and ideals. When we find someone different, we must stop and question ourselves and our way of doing things.

After attending the workshop, another teacher responded,

In most of the time y you have your own biases which you try to impose upon in judging people. Now I can stand away from that?." (Courneya, 2008, p. 76).

This response indicates that the training seminar created the potential for growth in some workhop attendees. Growth stems from the ability to accept the ideas of others and to realize that one's own ideas are not the only valid ones. Removing personal biases is imperative if a peer coaching program is to be successful.

Current theories on peer coaching and staff development typically describe activities that should happen, as opposed to what actually happens (Zwart, Wubbels, Bolhuis, et al., 2008). At a minimum, these authors suggest that teachers should regularly discuss their efforts to support student learning, experiment with instructional methods, and observe each other in the classroom. Peer coaching should lead to an ongoing process of change that reflects a change in cognition or behavior (Zwart, Wubbels, Bolhuis, et al., 2008). Observation plays a key role in the ability to affect changes in one's teaching ability for the better. Peer coaching depends on the ability to observe and integrate the information learned into one's own teaching strategy.

In order to become a better teacher, one must be able to understand their place within the organization. Teachers can no longer hide behind their classroom walls and expect to become better with age. Current organizational theory suggests that there are strong parallels between natural and social sytems (Costa, Kahaneo, Lipton, et al., 2001). Using this approach implies that organizations have much to learn from the fields of evolutionary biology and quantum physics (Costa, Kahaneo, Lipton, et al., 2001). Holonomy refers to the identity of the individual as both autonomous and as a member of the larger whole at the same time (Costa, Kahaneo, Lipton, et al., 2001). This description clearly defines how the individual teacher fits into the goals of the school system as a whole.

In describing the individual, we find the following statement,

They are in a constant state of experiencing and experimenting, learning from each new situation. Autonomous human beings are self-referencing, drawing on their own unique systems, experiences, strengths and origins towards continuous growth. This growth includes the capacity to transcend original patterns." (Costa, Kahaneo, Lipton, et al., 2001, p. 1).

As this individual interacts with other autonomous individuals system dynamics begin to emerge.

In the case of educators, we are autonomous selves interacting at… [END OF PREVIEW]

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