Saturday, July 18, 2015

Collaborative Peer Coaching

Over the years I have been in many classrooms. I have pushed in to teachers' classrooms in a variety of settings with a variety of cooperation. I have loved being able to watch other professionals do their job. I have learned much. In my resource rooms I have students ask if I would do the same thing Mrs. X did. Often my response is perhaps not, but we are different people with different perspectives and there are more than one way to do things. I have struggled with constructive criticism with some peers. If I am not wanted in the room (and neither is the student(s) I support), the responsiveness is very different.

Similarly, I love it when people come in to my space and observe me. Each interaction is a chance to get feedback. Perhaps the best administrator I ever worked with was my first. One practice that he did was walk throughs. He would wander in, sit down for a few minutes and then leave. He always left a piece of paper in the mailbox of the teacher with a comment or question. Once I was asked about how a particular student was responding. Once I was commending for using a computer game (back in the late 90's) on cars because it was reinforcing for the student. Unfortunately much of the feedback I currently receive now is in the category of  "Good job" or my all time favorite, "I have nothing to suggest." Yes, this is positive; I clearly am not a neophyte, but that does not mean I cannot get better or that everything I do is wonderful.

I have been privileged to mentor and coach some teachers as well. This has been a fantastic opportunity for me because it asks me to stretch to really understand the underlying rationales behind what I do. I have seen some amazing things from the people I have coached and that has improved my instruction.

In Japan the Lesson Study concept was developed. This involves a group of teachers observing a peer and then debriefing afterwards. Critical to this plan is a) trust and b) time. Teachers need to trust that feedback will be professional and useful. They need to have time to go in and observe a lesson and then meet to discuss it. Often American schools do not seem to have this level of trust among the entire staff. We also struggle with setting aside meaningful pieces of time to participate in peer observation and discussion.

Dwight W. Allen and Alyce C. LeBlanc's book, Collaborative Peer Coaching that Improves Instruction: The 2 + 2 Performance Appraisal Model, presented a format that seems like a great way to begin using peer review in professional development. The premise of the program is that you spend 10-20 minutes in another teacher's classroom and then provide two compliments and two suggestions. This is done reciprocally, hopefully on a weekly basis. The feedback sheet is given to the teacher. They suggest a copy be kept in the observer's portfolio as well. Observed teachers can implement suggestions or not as they sees fit. Ideally there are more than two people in the observation cycle so that multiple approaches to instruction can be seen. Crossing grade levels and subjects taught encourages interdisciplinary thinking and allows teachers to see kids in different settings.

The compliments section tends to be easier for teachers. We as humans like to hear positive things and so this area tends to be reinforcing and build morale. The suggestions portion can be more challenging. A glance through the research will tell you that we are not generally good at specific corrective feedback.  As trust is built and experience is gathered, this gets easier. Comments like,
  • Did you notice the students in the back corner who were off-task for most of the lesson?
  • I have used a gallery walk to showcase the art of this era. Have you thought about trying that?
  • You did not call on Johnny at all during the lesson.
can be threatening to professionals. This kind of feedback, however, allows us to examine our practice and make conscious decisions to change or maintain practices.

The other piece of the program that struck me as uber-helpful was the reflections piece. The authors provide a form that asks for the most helpful compliments and suggestions and how you changed as a result of the process. I can see this as being critical to development in a way that current performance reviews is not. In the fall I need to see if I can find a peer who would be willing to try and implement this plan. It is especially difficult for me, since my entire department is itinerant, but I think it would be helpful if we could figure it out.

This book is a fictionalized story of the adoption of the 2+2 program. It is a very easy read. The sample forms are half sheets. They could be enlarged to allow more room, or adapted to have the other half list personal, departmental or school objectives.

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