Peer Coaching: Four Essential Tools for Any Toolbox

Becoming a coach during a pandemic has been interesting! While several strategies seem to apply better in person, here are four insights that have become an essential part of my coaching toolbox: building a connection, the art of paraphrasing, using third data point discussions, and modeling computation thinking processes.

Build a Connection

Let’s be honest: Relationships are difficult. Instead of focusing on this daunting task of establishing a relationship, instead I focused upon the intentionality of making connections and building a rapport with others. These seemingly small, organic opportunities to build connections looks different in this remote, digital learning model. Here are a few tips I have learned:

  • Personalize emails with a note from a prior conversation or shared memory
  • Be positive, but not overbearingly so
  • Be genuine — admitting or acknowledging something didn’t work as anticipated or entering an unknown technology can create opportunities for collaboration and more honest communication
  • Appropriate humor and levity does wondrous things for our brain, our mood, and our team connections when used judiciously (example)

The Art of Paraphrasing

The ability to identify the main idea, pinpoint essential details and rephrase is a complex skill essential to coaching. Deliberately using in a variety of manners to adjust between calibrating, consulting, collaborating, or coaching conversations is a skill that can be developed with intentional practice and additional coaching (“Mentoring Matters” by Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman). The BEST Mentoring sessions provided by OSPI are a great opportunity for any educator or admin to finely hone their communication and coaching skills. Another skill that resonated with paraphrasing is the act of asking probing questions to require thoughtful reflection and analysis by the participant(s). This questioning process is best achieved when considering the appropriate emotional and mental state of those involved (“Peer Coaching” by Les Foltos). The ability to recognize and adapt to the social emotional well-being is an important element of being a peer coach. The art of paraphrasing is an essential tool for coaches and mentors.

Third Data Point

Using another aspect of the conversation to discuss can help focus the conversation around goals/objectives, skills, tools, or results. This can lead to more focused and targeted collaboration that feels genuine and productive instead of potentially confrontational. The central idea is to use another data point as the focus of conversation instead of directing to the individual–especially when considering contradictory information or personal information. This redirects to the third data point, making the suggestion less personal in nature. It is important to note, though, that positive or agreeing statements CAN and SHOULD be directed directly towards an individual. This establishes a personal connection with the individual and demonstrates an appreciation for their efforts and values their contributions.

Model Problem-Solving

Just as we hope to model thinking and skill development for our students at various stages of development, so too do coaches and mentors need to demonstrate this thinking appropriately in certain circumstances. Applying the computational thinking model to coaching conversations, along with third data point and the art of paraphrasing, allows conversations to center around problem solving skills when analyzing lesson design, assessments, student learning, etc. Moving between the various elements of computational thinking (decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm) can help generate a variety of questions applicable to the specific situation, encourage 21st century learning skills, and help work through problems (learn more about 21st century skills and computation thinking). Using these specific steps of computational language to clarify an issue, identify patterns, filter information, and then plan actionable steps provides intentionality within coaching conversations in a manner that is repeatable as confidence in these skills emerges. When applying this computational thinking lens to a coaching-collaborative conversation, asking deliberate questions and walking through the steps of the computation thinking process allowed the participating teacher to breakdown a complex problem into manageable parts and eliminate unnecessary processes that were muddling the learning process.

What strategies and tools have become a natural or innate part of your coaching toolbox?

References & Resources

21st Century Skills Framework for Developing Leadership PDF by OSPI

“Computational Thinking.”

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.). Nov 2020

Lipton, L., Wellman, B. M., & Humbard, C. (2003). Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships. Sherman, CT: MiraVia, LCC.

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