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Scholastic Teacher Express

Back to School Basics: Some Relationship Advice

Now, I know some of my teacher friends have argued that it’s hard to date and teach, but that’s not the relationship advice I’m here to give. I’m talking about the relationships you have with your colleagues in your building.

Do you remember the show Scrubs? It’s a favorite of mine. A running theme throughout the show is that JD, a new doctor, insists that veteran Dr. Cox is his mentor. Then Dr. Cox usually has some reason why he is unfit to be a mentor and brushes off this title. Throughout the years of the show, even as JD becomes older and more experienced, he is still seeking that mentoring relationship. He remains hungry for learning and advice, and seeks it from the person his gut tells him to follow. I can think of a few fellow teachers whom I have sought this relationship from and I can honestly say having been mentored in several different aspects of my career, I have grown exponentially.

I’ve been reading a lot about peer coaching and teacher mentoring programs, and how it is much more effective than traditional professional development. This is someone startling and saddening to see from my perspective, given that I own an organization with the primary purpose of providing professional development. However, we are carefully looking at this research and considering ways to incorporate more follow-up and coaching aspects into our PD sessions. Why? Well, consider this chart from Models of Professional Development: A Celebration of Educators (Joyce & Calhoun, 2010, p. 79).

While interactive, engaging professional development (which is one of our core principles) appears to have an impact in the short-term for teachers, without follow-up and further engagement the effects taper off with only 5-10% of teachers implementing what was covered in the training. However, if a peer coach is involved, the rate of implementation remained steady around 90%. That’s a big difference.

The Microsoft Innovative Teaching and Learning Research project states: Innovative teaching practices are more likely to flourish when particular support conditions are in place. These conditions include:

  • Teacher collaboration that focuses on peer support and the sharing of teaching practices
  • Professional development that involves the active and direct engagement of teachers, particularly in practicing and researching new methods
  • A school culture that offers a common vision of innovation as well as a consistent support that encourages new types of teaching. (Microsoft, 2011, p. 12).

 Consider those points and think about your professional practice. Do you share ideas with your fellow teachers? Do you seek out engaging learning opportunities? Does your school administration support your development and learning goals?

I am challenging you now: seek out a peer coach or a mentor in your school. Someone who can guide you, offer ideas, and support you. Even veteran teachers can benefit from this relationship. Or, perhaps, you can coach someone else. Here are some attributes to look for in a peer coach:

  • Is able to build trust with peers
  • Builds on what a teacher needs
  • Communicates well and listens to teachers
  • Is flexible
  • Provides a safe, risk-taking environment and is non-threatening, nonjudgmental, and accepting
  • Is recognized by staff as a strong / outstanding teacher (Foltos, 2013; Meyer et al. 2011).

Whichever side of the relationship you feel ready to be on – coach or colleague, mentor or mentee – take the time to recognize the power of this bond. Both teachers will find themselves learning from each other and discovering new ways to impact their classrooms.