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Peer Coaching in Education by Tracy O’Neill

Apr 26th, 2010 | By | Category: Coaching Research

Peer coaching is widely practiced in educational facilities as “a confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another….or solve problems in the workplace.”[i] This on-site dimension to staff development is intended to provide a non-threatening, ongoing learning experience. While peer-coaching programs are available for church, business, and behavioral health communities, most of the research is concentrated in school districts.  

In the 1980’s, Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers investigated the theory that peer coaching could be used to increase classroom implementation of training sessions. They believed that teachers who had training, followed by coaching, would have a higher transfer rate than teachers with training only. Early studies indicated that “teachers who had a coaching relationship….practiced new skills and strategies more frequently and applied them more appropriately than did their counterparts who worked alone.”[ii] At a Staff Development Awareness Conference in 1987, Dr. Bruce Joyce presented research based on teachers who attended training sessions to learn a new skill. He concluded that:[iii]

  • 5% of students in training who study theory will transfer a new skill into practice.
  • 10% of students in training who study theory and observe demonstrations will transfer a new skill into practice.
  • 20% of students in training who study theory, observe demonstrations, and perform, will transfer a new skill into practice.
  • 25% of students in training who study theory, observe demonstrations, and perform with feedback will transfer a new skill into practice.
  • 90% of students in training who study theory, observe demonstrations, perform with feedback, and participate in coaching sessions afterwards, will transfer a new skill into practice.

 After further research, Joyce and Showers developed four guiding principles for creating peer coaching groups within educational establishments: [iv]

  1. All teachers must agree to be part of peer coaching teams and follow an established set of rules.
  2. The primary activity of peer coaching teams is the pursuit of shared goals within a collaborative environment. Evaluative feedback is prohibited.
  3. The group member who is teaching is called “coach” and the other members observing are considered “coached”.
  4. Teachers learn from one another while planning, developing, watching, and thinking about the impact of their behavior. 

Another peer coaching study was conducted by Connie Campbell Cintas from the University of La Verne. Her dissertation discusses the effect of the peer coaching experience on teaching and learning. The purpose of the research was to determine whether peer coaches become more effective teachers as a result of the peer/coach relationship evidenced by: self-assessment of improved teaching strategies, site administer observation, changes in specific teaching behaviors, and increased student achievement. Participants in the study consisted of 110 kindergarten through twelfth grade classroom teachers across 6 school districts in San Diego County. They also served as peer coaches to colleague teachers and have from 3 to 30 years of teaching experience and 1 to 5 years coaching experience. All peer coaches self selected into the position; 41 site administers also participated. Their job was to observe classroom practice before and after peer coaching experiences. Surveys collected both quantitative and qualitative data. Additional qualitative information was collected through 5 focus group sessions to determine changes in teaching behaviors.       

Of the individual peer coaches surveyed, 97% reported improvement in their teaching practice as a result of the coaching experience, and 98% of the site administrators reported that improvement had occurred. Peer coaches experienced noticeable progress in their own teaching practices as a result of peer coaching others. The number of years in the teaching profession did not matter. Teachers were able to better engage students for improved achievement. Teachers and administrators were able to articulate specific behaviors and teaching strategies that changed.

The study concludes that peer coaching should be a regular staff development exercise and engaged by teachers throughout their careers. It is recommended that teachers who have both strengths and learning needs be assigned peer coaching roles. Each coachee should determine which areas they seek improvement. Administrators can then provide training and structure for peer coaching sessions and insure coaching remains focused on improving instructional practice for the sake of the students.[v]

[i]P. Robbins, How to Plan and Implement a Peer Coaching Program (Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 1991), 1.

[ii]Beverly Showers and Bruce Joyce, “The Evolution of Peer Coaching,” Educational Leadership 53, no.6 (March, 1996): 14.

[iii]Barbara Gottesman, Peer Coaching for Educators, 2nd edition (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2000), 21.

[iv]Beverly Showers and Bruce Joyce, “The Evolution of Peer Coaching,” Educational Leadership 53, no.6 (March, 1996): 12-16. 

[v]Conni Campbell Cintas, “Educating the Educators: A Study of Collegial Coaching and Improvements in Teaching and Learning” (Doctor of Education diss., University of La Verne, August 2004).

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