“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” —Mahatma Gandhi
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” —Mother Teresa
“Educators often say that education is frustratingly isolating. And if you talk with them about collaboration, you quickly learn that they know it can be a powerful tool to improve teaching and learning—and many feel a growing expectation to collaborate.” In an article written for Edutopia, Dr. Les Foltos leads off with this quote and captures the quintessential crux of the collaboration problem in education. The teaching profession, by structure, inherently isolates teachers from each other and others in their profession, yet, collaboration is key to effecting change in education. As Dr. Foltos goes on to write, “Reducing the isolation starts with the recognition that collaboration is a learned skill.” Peer (instructional) coaching is one such solution that Dr. Foltos provides and an increasing body of research supports. How do educators successfully implement this model under the best of circumstances, let alone during a pandemic that often requires remote instruction that’s done online? We need to start out by looking at the why and what of coaching before we can begin to look at the how in any case, especially in regard to online applications.
International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Coaching Standard 1
- Change Agent: Coaches inspire educators and leaders to use technology to create equitable and ongoing access to high-quality learning. Coaches:
- 1a Create a shared vision and culture for using technology to learn and accelerate transformation through the coaching process.
- 1b Facilitate equitable use of digital learning tools and content that meet the needs of each learner.
- 1c Cultivate a supportive coaching culture that encourages educators and leaders to achieve a shared vision and individual goals.
- 1d Recognize educators across the organization who use technology effectively to enable high-impact teaching and learning.
- 1e Connect leaders, educators, instructional support, technical support, domain experts and solution providers to maximize the potential of technology for learning.
What, why, and how can peer instructional coaching help to increase collaboration and effective professional development in general let alone in the midst of a pandemic?
Why Instructional Coaching?
Diana Lee writes for EdSurge, “A growing body of research confirms her theory, showing instructional coaching to be more effective for teacher growth than traditional forms of professional development.” The quoted research from Digital Promise is also strengthened by Instructional Coach Teresa Engler, “I wish I had a coach in my long career as a teacher because there were times I felt like I was struggling and if I just had the support of a coach next to me, I would’ve been able to be a little braver, try to do more things or been just a little more confident in what I was implementing in my classroom,” she reflected. “Having a coach would have made a significant contribution to the quality of my teaching—expanding what my students learned from me.” Peer coaches provide support based on personal experience, research, and professional development that also serves as a safety net for teachers to be brave and implement new learnings together.
The “why” for instructional coach grows with every passing research study in support of this practice as well as personal anecdote citing success. In Dr. Les Foltos’s book, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, he cites research by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2009) in support of instructional coaching, “They found that teachers need about 50 hours of professional development to improve in a specific area.” This proven need exists yet teachers often only receive training that’s “…episodic, myopic, and often meaningless.” The cited key idea that most administrators miss is that ”Improving Practice Can Only Be Done by Teachers, Not to Teachers”. Most Professional Development only focuses on theory and how to put this into practice with a successful application by teachers no more than 15% of the time. Training that includes “coaching, study teams, peer visits” demonstrates successful classroom implementation in 80-90% of trainings according to Dr. Foltos.
What is the Quintessential Quiddity of Instructional Coaching?
Moving from “why” to “what” with regard to peer coaching means moving from supporting research and anecdotal stories to what instructional coaching actually looks like. Dr. Les Foltos outlines the core skills required in chapter 3 of his book: “Think of a successful coach sitting on the stool in Figure 3.1. The coach’s success rests on her ability to utilize skills in all three areas: coaching skills (communication and collaboration), ICT (information and communication technology) integration, and lesson design. Remove any leg and coaching could fail.” So first and foremost, communication and collaboration are the foundation of coaching skills. While Dr. Foltos lists information and communication technology integration second, he actually describes the technology component as being secondary to both coaching skills and lesson design. Communication skills are a recurring theme while learning is clearly emphasized as top priority with technology serving in secondary albeit essential supporting role, “It is not (never was) about technology. To make a difference, it has always been about good teaching, reflecting and focusing on (relevant?) student learning. (Sylvia Tolisano, 2009)”.
In support of these critical coaching skills, coaches take on a variety of approaches while supporting teachers. Dr. Les Foltos describes these roles in the following manner:
· “Facilitator- Planning and leading meetings, activities, and staff development in one-on-one, small group, or large group situations.
· Collaborator- Working together with colleagues to plan, implement, and evaluate activities.
· Expert – Acting as a subject matter expert on a variety of topics.
· Catalyst – Helping teachers reflect on and improve their practice by using questions strategies and skills that assist colleagues to become effective instructional decision makers.”
Knowing the different roles involved with regard to supporting teachers is an important facet of the peer coach’s efforts. When combined with a clear mastery of the skills required, the role of peer coach can be very powerful in effecting instructional transformation across a building. As for whom, the role of instructional coach can be a fellow classroom teacher, a part-time instructional coach, or even a full-time teacher on special assignment. As long as it’s a peer, the peer coaching model can be effective.
How does this Translate Online?
How does the why and what help us achieve the how of peer coaching in general? This question needs to at least be addressed concurrently if we are to explore how to potentially implement peer coaching online. According to research from Digital Promise, there is a strong correlation between peer instructional coaching and technology implementation and instructional integration. One question related to this is how does this technological connection translate to peer coaching that’s provided online. What does instructional coaching in the era of remote learning, and therefore remote teaching, mean for educators in need of additional support more than ever. The nature of effective professional development doesn’t change once everything related to school and education over all moves online, “When the program evaluators focused on one topic, technology integration, they found that 30 hours of collaboration produced increases in the teachers’ use of technology with students. More significant changes in comfort and use with students occurred when the coaches collaborated more than 40 hours (Cohen & Patterson, 2006).” This research quoted by Dr. Les Foltos makes clear the need for continued coaching support in an online environment.
Peer coaching still needs to involve the application of the three key skill categories cited by Dr. Foltos within the context of the four different roles that instructional coaches typically take on. To be done in an online environment, educators must identify and implement effective tools and strategies that support communication and collaboration via a remote learning environment, instructional technologies that work remotely, and lesson design that remains focused first and foremost on effective learning pedagogues while accounting for the differences of online learning. When educators can do this in support of their colleagues then they must also keep in mind that this looks different when serving in the role of Facilitator versus collaborator, expert, or catalyst.
More Questions than Answers?
This is a very high-level and relatively vague description of moving an incredibly complex role online and more details are needed for any sort of full explanation. By tackling one at a time in future posts, I hope to further explore in a much more detailed manner how each of the three areas of coaching skills described by Dr. Foltos potentially translate online to a remote learning environment. Additionally, I hope to explore what he writes on several occasions in regard to the power of the ripple effect in effecting change across the various systems that make up a school’s ecosystem. Translating and transforming this ripple effect from in-person to online is critical in an era of online instruction and also raises the possibility of amplification in terms of the efficiency and effectiveness of spreading positive instructional practices throughout a school community and beyond. Being “the change” as referenced in the Ghandi quote cited at the beginning of this post means that anyone can “ripple” their influence far beyond what they observe on a daily basis just like Mother Teresa. This powerful combination speaks to the potential of peer instructional coaching transformed for an online environment.
- International Society for Technology in Education. (2019). ISTE Standards For Coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
- Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
- Foltos, L. (2018). Coaching Roles. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek.
- Foltos, L. (January, 2018). Teachers Learn Better Together. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/teachers-learn-better-together
- Lee, D. (September, 2020). How Personalized Coaching Can Kick-Start Your School’s PD (Sponsored content from Digital Promise). Edsurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-09-02-how-personalized-coaching-can-kick-start-your-school-s-pd
- Van Ostrand, K., Seylar, J., Luke, C. (2017). Prevalence of Coaching and Approaches to Supporting Coaching in Education. Digital Promise. Retrieved from https://digitalpromise.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Prevalence_of_Coaching_Report.pdf
- Johnson, K. (2016, June 28th). 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, and How Coaching and Collaboration Can Deliver Them—If Implementation Improves. EdSurge. Retrieved from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-28-5-things-teachers-want-from-pd-and-how-coaching-and-collaboration-can-deliver-them-if-implementation-improves