This quarter during the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University, the focus has been to develop peer coaching skills, to understand the role of a peer coach, to incorporate 21st century learning, to define effective learning, and to collaborate with a colleague to improve on a lesson (Wicks and Foltos, 2015). Aligned with this learning were three specific ISTE Coaching Standards:
1) Visionary Leadership
2) Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, and
6) Content Knowledge and Professional Growth
For the last week of the course, conversations in the class turned towards identifying what areas are needed to support coaches. This led me to ask the question:
What kind of support and resources are necessary for a first year peer coach?
Support from Administrators
As I began work on my coaching plan for the quarter, it was apparent from the questions on the plan, that it is crucial to acquire support from an administrator. Thoughtful questions included, “How will you communicate with your administrator and other staff about this coaching plan? and What resources will support your coaching?” (Foltos, 2015). I wondered, what makes this support system between a principal and coach imperative for becoming a successful coach.
According to Foltos (2013), “Building schoolwide coaching programs is something they [coaches] can’t do alone. They need support from their school’s principal and their colleagues” (p.172). Coaches from a school in Dallas shared that their successes as coaches were due to the vision, guidance, and support of the principals and assistant principals. Therefore, the relationship between the coaches and the school’s leadership is critical in sustaining coaching and in “building capacity for innovation” (p. 173).
Besides needing support from school leaders, coaches are encouraged to share information with their principals and other teachers about their work surrounding coaching. By sharing their successes with school staff, it reinforces the powerful work being done by coaches and teachers using the coaching model (Foltos, 2013).
On another note, in Aguilar’s (2014) blog, she mentioned that while it is vital that coaches work closely with the administrators at the school, she suggests that school principals not conduct the coach’s evaluation. Coaches need to be evaluated by someone at the district level because if the administrator is the evaluator, “the already-present complicated power dynamic between the two is heightened” (Aguilar, 2014). Then Aguilar (2014) suggests several ways to help administrators better understand the importance of creating the support that is required for the success of their coaches.
Support with Professional Development
In addition to receiving support from administrators and districts, coaches need professional development. In Aguilar’s (2013) last chapter, “What is Professional Development for Coaches?” she provides a list of learning activities to help coaches improve on their skills. I have highlighted three of these:
- Role playing with other coaches to improve coaching skills.
- Use the Consultancy Protocol a process for helping individuals to work through a problem. A Consultancy is a structured process for helping an individual or a team think more expansively about a particular, concrete dilemma.
- Journal writing about the daily events of your coaching experiences. Aguilar (2013) suggests a minimum of 15 minutes daily of journal writing reflecting on questions such as:
- What happened in today’s coaching session?
- What was challenging in today’s coaching session?
- What kind of impact did your coaching have on your collaborative teacher? How do you know?
- What indicators were there today that your co-peer made progress towards his/her goals? What are the next steps? (p. 284)
Also Foltos (2013) encourages coaches to communicate their learning and the work of others by joining teacher blogs or other online tools to share collaborative activities (p. 174). In, Student-Centered Coaching: A guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals, author Diane Sweeney also emphasizes the importance for coaches to maintain their skills through professional development with a coaching team (2013). Sweeney along with other coaches, developed a model for supporting a team of coaches. These components are professional development sessions that focus on the following:
- coaching practices,
- curriculum and instruction,
- small-group coaching observations, and
- one-on-one coaching with another coach (Sweeney, 2013, pp. 162-163).
The small-group coaching teams set up coaching labs to support their new coaches.
Coaching labs provide coaches with the opportunity to meet with a small group of colleagues and observe a fellow coach who acts as a lab host. The goal of the labs is to provide coaches with time to observe one another’s practice, as well as time for rigorous reflection. Participating coaches walk away with new ideas and tools for their own work and are able to take time in their busy professional lives to reflect (cited by Sweeney, 2013, p. 165).
Sweeney (2013) also suggests a “year at a glance” calendar to support new coaches and it can be used as a tool for developing a curriculum of coaching support (p.164).
By researching this last piece of the coaching standard (6): Build content knowledge and to “regularly evaluate and reflect on their [technology coaches] professional practice and dispositions to improve and strengthen their ability to effectively model and facilitate technology-enhanced learning experience,” it has led me to reflect over my own learning experience for the quarter.
My Peer Coaching Plan:
As mentioned earlier, one of the requirements for the Educational Technology Leadership course was to use the learned skills and to coach a peer through a lesson plan. After the lesson was taught, we worked together to develop a lesson improvement plan. My coaching plan involved collaboration with a Kindergarten teacher to create a lesson for introducing the computer station. Later, students would work independently using reading and math programs to support their learning. The goals aligned well with the district’s technology standards and the Kindergarten CCSS for English Language Arts. Below are questions for the reflection piece for this course. The following questions were provided by the professors to assist me through the reflection piece of my coaching experience.
What worked well?
Sitting down with the collaborative teacher and co-planning the norms and expectations of the computer station worked well. By discussing our plans, it helped us to think through the different aspects of the lesson and the areas of concern. Once the lesson activity was designed, I had several opportunities to observe the students’ in the computer station. This gave me insight into our lesson and the learning of the students. Later, the collaborative teacher and I reflected on the lesson and then determined our next step in the lesson. Also, I liked that we set short and long term goals for this project. As I continue to support my colleague, it will be interesting to see how the students have progressed in this workstation.
What needs to change?
Time to meet was a challenge for us. I felt we had to rush through our collaborative time or we had to eat and talk about our plan during lunch. One change that I envision would be to set an appropriate time to focus on this task. Another is to begin collaborating with my colleagues at the beginning of the year, instead of later in the school year. My colleague suggested having a calendar of set times and days for visiting and planning with each other.
Also, I would consider how to better incorporate 21st century skills at the computer station. For some students this may be their first time to encounter computers. I am thinking that the sooner in the school year we introduce the computer work station to the students, the sooner they will develop the computer skills that will allow them to utilize the learning programs.
What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses as a coach?
My strengths are that I have many years of experience in content knowledge and pedagogy to support and co-plan with classroom teachers. Areas of weakness that I struggle with are carefully crafting questions that lead teachers to develop independent thinking or solutions. Then also I need to paraphrase more during our conversations, so that I clearly understand my partner’s conversation.
Based on your learning and experiences to date, what additional learning and support is necessary to make you more successful?
Additional support that I would need is to work with other peer coaches in the district, especially with the technology coaches. I foresee joining monthly coaches’ meetings and visiting other buildings to become familiar with the district’s technology coaching model.
Also at this time, I need more opportunities and PD in working with adult learners. I am realizing that teaching adults versus younger students is astoundingly different. As a new coach, I need to be better prepared to work with adult learners.
What can you do to meet these needs on your own?
To continue improving on my technology knowledge, I have registered for several technology professional development courses provided by the district. My professors have suggested completing online certification programs that are used in my district to support my learning. Using social media such as Twitter and joining discussions on #etcoaches will keep me up to date on the discussions surrounding coaching.
What can your school provide?
I would need continuing support from my administrators and staff to sustain my efforts as a coach. There needs to be opportunities for me to work with a variety of staff members to build capacity for teaching and learning. In addition, I envision time to share my work as a coach with the teachers and staff. To communicate regularly about the wonderful teaching and learning that is happening at our school.
Reflecting over my question stated at the beginning of this post, “What kind of support and resources are necessary for a first year peer coach?” My answer becomes quite clear. For a new coach to be successful there needs to be a deep commitment from administrators and teachers when using the coaching model. To support coaching within schools and districts, coaches need professional development with other coaches. Coaches must maintain their own learning by reaching out to professional learning communities that will enhance and impact their learning. I realize that the first year as a coach will be a challenge, but I am encouraged to know that there are resources to support new coaches.
Aguilar, E. (2013). Art of coaching: Effective strategies for school transformation. Somerset, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coaching_teachers/2013/03/my_book_the_art_of_1.html
Aguilar, E. (2014, October 9). 10 ways for administrators to support coaches. (Weblog post). Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coaching_teachers/2014/10/10_ways_for_administrators_to_.html
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Foltos, L. (2015). Peer Coaching Plan [Class handout]. Digital Education Leadership, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA.
National School Reform Faculty. (n.d.). Consultancy protocol. Retrieved from http://www.nsrfharmony.org/system/files/protocols/consultancy_0.pdf
Sweeney, D. Developing systems and structures to support coaches. Student-centered coaching: A guide for k-8 coaches and principals (pp.161-164). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Wicks, D. & Foltos, L. (2015). Educational Technology Leadership. Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, Washington.