Enabling Inquiry as a Peer Coach

Does clear communication allow for effective collaboration by valuing individuals? How does utilizing the tools for each component individual enable inquiry?

What are the components of clear communication?

Clear communication plays an important role in collaboration. Proving clarity allows all individuals involved to accurately understand the situation, circumstances, or problem. While we all communicate, the specific skills to encourage and provide clear communication need to be taught, developed, and nurtured. In Chapter 5 of Les Foltos’ “Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration,” the connection of communication and collaboration is explored. In this chapter, the following communicative components are outlined:

  • Active listening
  • Paraphrasing
    • “What is important is not what is said but what is heard.  How will the speaker know what is heard unless the listener repeats it?”  (84)
  • Clarifying Questions
    • Easy to answer, short to establish full picture and understanding
  • Probing Questions
    • Designed to think deeply and develop answers; lead to different perspectives and alternative conclusions to approach a problem.
    • Start with paraphrase, but open ended 
  • Inquiry over Advocacy
    • “Too much advocacy can produce learned helplessness.  Inquiry builds capacity to improve teaching and learning by helping teachers be more effective at designing and implementing learning activities that meet the needs of their students.” (87)

How does utilizing these ideas allow for effective collaboration?

While clear communication is essential for collaboration, working together towards a common purpose effectively requires more than just clear communication. There needs to be purpose, appropriate collaborative norms, and an established environments of appropriate risk to allow for inquiry.

Occasionally, a defined purpose and collaborative norms can become the focus instead of on the desired outcomes. To overcome the paradox of navigating between the structure and outcomes, in Volume 104 of The Modern Language Journal, Levine summarizes Beghetto’s solution that involves three main guidelines (for a full treatment, see Beghetto, 2016):

  1. Position subject matter as a starting point, rather than endpoint.
  2. Focus on curricular possibilities, rather than curricular prescriptions.
  3. View curricular uncertainty as a pedagogical opportunity, rather than a sign of instructional incompetence.

Focusing on student learning outcomes, learning activities, and curricular possibilities provides a clear purpose while establishing collaborative norms provides appropriate structures and processes during discussions and disagreements. In addition, Foltos also identifies that collaboration progresses when peer coaches:

> Ask appropriate probing questions that challenge instruction and learning activities

> Participate in an inquiry of instruction

Why is valuing the individual critical for effective collaboration?

For collaboration to truly be effective, value of the individual is inherent in creating an environment conducive to moving beyond a level of comfort (and possible superficiality) and beginning to explore creative ideas, possibilities, and solutions. These two insightful examples from Foltos’ Chapter 5 identify the value in establishing positive connections and relationships between coach and peer(s):

  • Jenny Linklater, a Peer Coach who supports five other coaches in her school, insists that without the safety net and the “high-quality environment” of trust it creates, the coach’s partner “will retreat to what is safe and easier or what has worked before” (J. Linklater, personal communication, June 14, 2012)
  • Phillippa Cleaves, one of the managers of the Peer Coaching program in New South Wales, sees many Peer Coaches who have embraced this “start small” approach and argues there are long-term benefits to starting small. “Small successes ultimately have the greatest impact,” according to Cleaves. “Teachers need to see successes in things before they are willing to invest in it” (P. Cleaves, personal communication, May 23, 2012)

When peer coaches practice the components of clear communication, establish clear collaborative norms, and build a productive relationship, then conversation can proceed with open-ending probing inquiry questions.

References & Resources

“Design for Resilience Framework for the Future of Schools” Podcast with Greg Bamford and Tara Curry-Jahn & Jeff Utrect Reimagine Wa Ed

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

Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek.

ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

Levine, Glenn S.  CHAPTER 3: Creativity. (2020). Modern Language Journal, 104, 50–75. https://doi-org.ezproxy.spu.edu/10.1111/modl.12611  05 Feb 2020.

Keith, Elise. “Want your Team to be More Creative?” Inc.com 10 Oct 2019.  Webblog Viewed 10 Oct 2020. https://www.inc.com/jelise-keith/want-your-team-to-be-more-curious-ask-guided-questions-in-your-next-meeting-to-spark-ideas.html?fbclid=IwAR3mjEJk2ClbtwpJ4dfp5aJLuHo2x4KAPHJmVgxvt4X2nox9WFz7CeLOfqI

Kim, Y. (2020). Willingness to engage: the importance of what learners bring to pair work. Language Awareness, 29(2), 134–154. https://doi-org.ezproxy.spu.edu/10.1080/09658416.2020.1743712

Torres, Christina.  “What is Homework’s Purpose in a Pandemic?”  ASCD Education Update. Oct 2020.  Vol 6 No. 10. http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/oct20/vol62/num10/What-Is-Homework’s-Purpose-in-a-Pandemic%C2%A2.aspx

Webinar with Jennifer Abrams “Having Hard Conversations” with Shifting Schools. 21 Sep webinar. Viewed 24 & 27 Aug 2020.

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