I was recently asked to consider some advantages and disadvantages of the practice of peer coaching. This is different from the subject-specific edu-coach model we hear so much about these days. This isn’t a Literacy Coach, a Math Coach or a Tech Coach. This is old-style, tried-and-true, perhaps forgotten, real, collaborative PEER coaching. It has been said that peer coaching can become the heart of professional development.
Peer coaching is a professional development model in which pairs of teachers work together through initial discussions, classroom observations, and coaching meetings to refine specific areas of their teaching. It is a model that has received much recognition over the past few decades, and is often celebrated in research. All systems, however, have pros and cons, and teachers may or may not find peer coaching beneficial. There are many factors to consider in order to determine if a coaching model is truly an effective means to change and enhance classroom teachings and practices of teachers for development of students.
Ultimately, the human component needs to be considered first. The peer coaching model will presumably be most effective with teachers who are willing or at least semi-willing to engage in collegial pairings with the intention of improving their instruction. In other words, choosing teachers who are receptive to change is paramount. Similarly, the way in which teachers are paired for these relationships is critical. There needs to be such an extreme level of trust that allows for vulnerability, freedom from judgement, openness, and a sincere intent to improve instructional practices. If these factors are in place and a well-constructed peer coaching pair has been established, I believe there is a tremendous opportunity for professional growth.
Joyce and Showers (1980) specified the process as :”two or more teachers who meet regularly for problem solving using planning, observation, feedback, and creative thinking for the development of a specific skill.” Leadership authors Sullivan and Glanz state, “Through ongoing discussion of teaching and learning, curriculum development, and implementation, peer coaching can become the heart of professional development.” In my opinion, all four of these authors paint an obvious picture which would result from the ideal peer coaching set-up. Given the right teachers who have a choice in whether or not to participate and perhaps choice of their peer coaching partners, it seems to be the absolute epitome of what teaching should be. I am an optimist, and I embrace models like this. I strive for continuous self-improvement and want to keep learning, and I strive to surround myself with educators who share that mindset. However, even I can imagine some of the pitfalls.
Given human nature, hurt feelings and jealousy can arise. Insecurities may surface. Competition can become an issue, and perhaps not in a healthy way. As a matter of fact, most of the downfalls of a system like this have to do with negative human emotions. I can’t think of any instructional down side, nor can I think of any negative impact on students. The issue of finding time, sometimes professional release time, can be an issue, as it often is in education.
With robust administrative support, this is a model that could work beautifully in schools. First, administrators would need to commit to establishing time and resources to make peer coaching possible. They would need to guarantee teachers release time for peer and even larger group reflective discussion. A good administrator would allow for some choice in the way the model is implemented and how the pairings take place. A good administrator would initially present this is the most positive way, with assurance that it is not ‘observation’ and a celebration and accolades for those willing to try it. A good administrator would be a cheerleader for this type of model.
Teachers helping teachers improve their craft through collegial reflective practice? Isn’t that how it always should be?