Peer Coaching: The Vision vs. The Reality


Aspects of Successful Coaching

All quarter we have been exploring what make a successful coach. Sometimes this seemed like a really broad question. There are certainly a plethora of small aspects that can contribute to a successful coaching plan and relationship. I do know that there were some major ones that resonated with me.

Building a relationship. Relationships are so vital in many different situations. In coaching work, they serve as a beginning foundation that supports the weight of your collaboration, communication and future goals and results. Building a relationship involves respect, trust, common understanding and a willingness to learn, and even fail. The relationship should feel friendly, supported, personalized, flexible, private and manageable. As Les Foltos writes in our invaluable peer coaching resource this quarter “Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration,” “Successful coaches build capacity not dependence” (Foltos 2013). In other words a coach’s job is to facilitate learning. We are not there to “be the experts” or support learned helplessness. We are there to provide support and resources and pose probing questions that can help further the learning and exploration.

A Willing Peer. A successful coaching relationship involves two willing parties. Willingness to learn is at the forefront of success. A growth mindset is important for everyone involved. The coach, the peer and even admin should be involved in the coaching plan and the final goals and outcomes in mind. A good coach will create an environment that encourages (manageable) risk taking and assure their partner that it is okay to fail.

Communication Skills. In the past few months, I have become very aware of the communication skills that are most successful in a coaching relationship. Active listening helps promote a relationship. A coach needs to be intentional about removing any distractions from the environment. This has been eye opening for me. There were so many times I believed I was being an active listener, but when I actually learned what that looked like I can tell you most of the time I was not. Your mind should be clear. The conversation becomes priority. Your body language and facial expressions should reflect genuine interest and support. This is not a time for the coach to jump in and immediately insert their thoughts and solutions about the topic presented. As Foltos writes, “If you are really good at listening, you let the speaker finish and then pause and reflect briefly before speaking” (Foltos 2013). Other tools like paraphrasing, probing questions and clarifying questions have immensely improved my communication skills as a coach.

The Real Thing:

It was one thing to find a willing partner and collaboratively create a good coaching plan, but I found it was quite another to see that the plan was actually implemented. Going into it, my partner and I had laid out a basic schedule of days to meet and set some pretty simple norms that drove our meetings. Five trainings, four unheard of sporadic snow days, three days of conferences, and one family craft night later the reality began to look a lot different than the intended plan. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to be exposed to a real life picture of flexibility and adjustment. I feel better prepared for the reality. However, our progress and timeline was greatly adjusted.

Our goals

Our general goal was to help facilitate a healthy core within our kindergarten instruction while promoting first grade readiness for iReady testing the following year. This connected to an overall school goal of maintaining a minimum of 70% of all students at benchmark and at grade level. We chose to focus on implementing better formative assessment strategies to strengthen knowledge of student learning and understanding, while adjusting future instruction. We also chose to focus on specific activities that were already being done in the classroom by improving them with 21st century skills like collaborative work and creative opportunities.

We started by exploring the app Plickers. Together, we learned the ins and outs, created class accounts and prepared materials. Plickers looks a lot different when you use it with kindergarten. It is a lot more adapted and scaled down. A specific intro lesson is a must. Our plan was for my peer to observe me teach an introduction to Plickers lesson to a group of kindergarteners, and she would do the same with her class. We would follow that up with more real application of Plickers within existing learning activities. Scheduling became our biggest obstacle. Because we both hold classroom roles, the only opportune time for us to observe each other would be when we had opposite art blocks. She would come in and observe the lesson on a Thursday and then we would meet and plan for her to teach it the following Monday when I could observe her. We had this layout planned several times, but were thwarted by crazy weather and lack of time.

Next Steps

As I am writing this, our school district has gone into a premature winter break due to our fourth snow day. The biggest thought on my mind is “What comes next?” We intend to continue our coaching work when we return to school in January. Our next step will be observing and implementing an introduction to Plickers lesson. Then, we will look at activities and lessons already being taught where Plickers will naturally fit and benefit the kids and teacher. When that is completed, we will select a specific learning activity that is already being done in the classroom to assess using a Learning Activity Checklist, most likely focusing on just one area. We will modify that lesson and teach it with the improved changes. After the modified activity, we will reflect on the process and create a way to successfully measure student outcome. Phew! That seems like a lot left to do. However, I think once we finally get into a rhythm, that is hopefully not interrupted by anymore weather, the flow of our plan will start to feel natural.

Closing thoughts

Though we were faced will a real world display of obstacles, I feel very confident about what work was completed. The timeline certainly looks different now, but our goals and outcomes still remain the same. This experience definitely reiterated the importance of communication and flexibility to me. This quarter has really taken my knowledge to the next level. It felt good to take all of our knowledge and skills we have been gathering for the past year and start to apply them in a hands on real-life situation. I look forward to our work in the near future!


Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration.

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