How can peer coaches support colleagues without overwhelming them?
This quarter, at SPU, we’re being asked to practice peer coaching, and of course, I’m beginning to realise how daunting of a task that can truly be. Approaching colleagues with good intentions is not enough to ensure a productive outcome. We are all busy, new hurdles arise almost daily, and without an intentional plan and willingness from both parties, the energy begins to fizzle and gets lost like so many other inspiring ideas we’ve had along the way.
Working with a new colleague, I’ve recently pondered “How can I offer support without overwhelming them”? Below are 9 tips that I feel apply to novice coaches, like myself, who want to help others integrate technology to boost the learning of students.
As I mentioned in a previous post, Establishing Trust Before Technology in the Classroom, establishing trust is critical, especially when both participants are new in their roles. This takes time! So before jumping in and sharing your expertise… Make time to hear their story, respect their experiences, and understand their needs. Reaffirm your role is to help, not evaluate.
A colleague recently shared he doesn’t understand the role or value of coaches based on two experiences he’s had. Both broke the level of trust early on in the coaching relationship which has led him to see coaches as being inadequately trained or qualified to support his needs. His concerns led to questions he presented to me, such as who evaluates coaches, what standards are they held accountable for, and why would I want a stranger coming in and telling me what to do?
Make Time To Collaborate
My colleague’s last concern, segues into collaboration time. I asked him if coaches met with him prior to observing and he answered, no. They would observe then meet after. This continued to create a barrier of trust.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found this quarter, has to do with time to collaborate. Granted I am not an actual coach with a flexible schedule, so trying to find time where two educators who work on different grade level teams is challenging. Add to that the reality that most teachers have after school programs, conferences, planning, or professional development, and you are left with maybe 5 minutes in passing in the hallway. Both teachers need to be willing to collaborate and commit to scheduling time (or rescheduling if needed), but setting aside time to meet in person, or if needed via phone or technology.
Ask Supportive Questions
When colleagues collaborate, the time is valuable, and should be designed to support the needs of the coachee. This is where intentional planning comes into play for the coach, through the means of asking supporting questions that help guide the coachee in a positive and productive direction. In Jessica Hagy’s article, 6 Leading Questions You Must Ask, she offers leaders tips on how to avoid just telling others what to do, but using questioning to guide their work and offer support when needed. Although these were designed for the business world, I feel they can be applied to meet the needs of educators also.
- How can I help?
- What problem are we solving? (What standards are we addressing, how are you differentiating, how do you see technology helping?)
- Who’s going to be there? (Who are your students?)
- Does this make sense?
- Can we break this down?
- Do you have what you need?
Create a Shared Vision
The questioning, lends itself to a shared vision between coach and coachee. This should also include administrative support. The purpose of tech integration needs to be centered around student production and accessibility, not just about using a new tool. This shared vision should also align to grade level standards and shared grade level of school goals. By focusing on shared goals, some of the hard work is already being implemented, and helps to reduce stress of adding to the coachee’s workload.
Set a SMART Goal
Once this shared vision is established, it’s time to develop a SMART Goal. This is an important step in again, supporting the coachee without overwhelming them. The purpose of the SMART Goal remains specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time-based. Keeping the focus on a specific standard helps drive collaboration and feedback.
Face Hurdles Together
Reality is, every plan will face hurdles. Coaches need to be accessible and responsive when coachee’s ask for feedback. It is imperative for coachee’s to feel supported and there is someone on their side who can guide them through challenges. The most important role of the coach during this phase is to simply listen and ask supportive questions.
Adjust Plan When Needed
When facing challenges, coachee’s also need to know they are still the one driving instruction and meeting their students needs. Although coaches are there to offer support, when issues arise, it is the coachee that needs to be in control of modifying lessons. Although coaches may offer support, the decision making needs to come from the coachee and remain aligned to student outcomes. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, this is the time to revisit the SMART Goal. Coaches should again use questioning to help the coachee talk through how things are going and how they can still successfully assess students.
Share Tech Integration with Others
Once coachees have successfully navigated tech integration, it’s time to encourage them to share with their colleagues. To help facilitate a school culture around collaboration and tech integration, encourage staff collaborate and share with each other. This can be achieved through Professional Development or better yet, through Learning Walks where teachers have the opportunity to see technology in action. Utilizing students can help reach out to more staff by allowing students to visit other classrooms and share what they are learning. Sharing with others can help teachers feel less isolated and create opportunities for teachers to co-teach or model for their peers. I’ve seen this done particularly well when there are new units introduced at my school. One teacher who might have more training becomes the expert and models the lesson for the entire grade level. The teachers take turns becoming experts for various lessons, so it evens out the workload in the end.
Once coachee’s agree to continue with tech integration, the next step is to connect them with more like-minded people. Encouraging coachee’s to expand their Personal Learning Network, fosters a collaborative team they can collaborate with rather than relying on just their coach. This can be achieved through communicating with colleagues in the building, elsewhere in the district, state, or through social media. Social media is a great tool today for discussing and troubleshooting technology. It creates opportunities to share successes, challenges, and ask for help and receive quick feedback from their PLN.
These 9 tips are simply a guide on how to help colleagues avoid feeling overwhelmed. However, one other critical element, is that coachee’s must be willing participants. Without their buy-in, everything will be a struggle.
Conley, Laurie. “Overcoming Obstacles – The Digital Librarian.” The Digital Librarian, 2010, https://sites.google.com/site/thedigitallibrarian/
Hagy, Jessica. “6 Leading Questions You Must Ask.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 28 Sept. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/jessicahagy/2017/09/28/6-leading-questions-you-must-ask/#7d676d8b25e9.
Marcinek, Andrew. “Tech Integration and School Culture.” Edutopia, 20 May 2014, www.edutopia.org/blog/tech-integration-and-school-culture-andrew-marcinek