Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Peer Coaching: Changing Classroom Practice and Enhancing Student Achievement

Les Foltos, Puget Sound Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology
Why Peer Coaching?
Over the last fifteen years, a growing number of educators have come to the
conclusion that the workshop and conference format that make up most staff
development is ineffective. Teachers say that traditional professional development
doesn’t offer the sustained opportunities for collaboration, feedback, and reflection they
need to change their classroom practice. At the same time, a different methodology for
professional learning has emerged. Richard (2003) notes that more and more schools
across the country are replacing traditional staff development with school-based staff
developers. Boston and San Diego School Districts are pioneers of this method of
preparing teachers, but they are just two examples of the dozens of school districts that
have adopted peer coaching as a model for school-based staff development. The reasons
for this shift are clear; research on effective staff development shows that a peer coaching
methodology meets teachers’ needs and is effective at shaping classroom practice.
Researchers have noted that workshops that comprise most traditional staff
development methodologies don’t provide sufficient time, activities, or content necessary
to promote meaningful change (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001). Study
results by Joyce and Showers (1996, 2002) show that fewer than 15% of teachers
implement new ideas learned in traditional staff development settings such as workshops.
The problem with these traditional approaches is that teachers often don’t have the skills
or knowledge needed to apply what they learn in these workshops and have no way to
receive support or feedback when they do attempt to apply what they have learned.
Teachers need time to see new strategies modeled during the school day and
opportunities to use new skills in developing and implementing learning activities (Garet,
et al., 2001; Joyce and Showers 1996, 2002; Rodriguez and Knuth, 2000).
As they have studied the impact of traditional professional development, many
researchers have identified the characteristics of effective staff development, and their
findings are remarkably consistent. Alexander Russo (2004) summarized these research
findings in a recent article. Effective staff development must be “ongoing, deeply
embedded in teachers’ classroom work with children, specific to grade levels or academic
content, and focused on research-based approaches. It also must help to open classroom
doors and create more collaboration and sense of community among teachers in a school”
(para. 8).
Russo noted that school-based coaching not only met these criteria “remarkably
well,” it is consistent with the standards for effective staff development outlined by the
National Staff Development Council (NSDC). For more than a decade the National Staff
Development Council has studied the research on professional development with the goal
of improving the quality of teachers’ professional development. The NSDC has outlined
standards for effective professional development based on its analysis of the research. In
reviewing the NSDC’s standards, Russo noted coaching aligned with many of them. In
particular, he noted coaching “…is focused on authentic student work, is closely tied to
specific school or district's curriculum and to teachers' practice, takes place on a
continuous basis, and relies heavily on research” (para. 9).
Does peer coaching affect academic achievement?
While peer coaching may be an effective model of staff development, many
educators are asking hard questions about peer coaching and academic achievement.
Does peer coaching actually affect student learning? Does it produce increases in
academic achievement? There are increasing indications that coaching can affect
academic achievement.
• Richard (2003) notes that coaching, which was part of a broader package of
reforms, was producing test score improvements in the San Diego School District.
• Guiney (2001) looked at the impact of literacy coaching in Boston Public Schools
and concluded that, “Several schools have had dramatic increases on parts of the
state’s difficult test, the MCAS [Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment
System]—increases that can be directly connected to teachers’ work that was
undertaken with their coaches” (para. 12).
• Branigan (2002) concluded that Missouri’s eMINTS program, which combines
computer technology, an inquiry-based approach to teaching, and extensive
professional development, including coaching, produced impressive results in
students who took the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) test. “Results show
that a higher percentage of students in eMINTS classrooms scored in the
‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ categories…when compared with other students who
took the MAP tests…” (para. 18).
Despite these promising findings, a recent study of peer coaching by Neufeld and
Roper (2003) found that there is no conclusive evidence that coaching alone produces
increases in academic achievement. Despite the lack of clear proof that coaching leads to
increased academic achievement, Neufeld and Roper were quick to point out that
“…coaching does increase the instructional capacity of school and teachers, a known
prerequisite for increasing learning” (p. v). Their conclusion is shared by many leading
researchers in the field.
Does peer coaching affect teacher practice?
Research findings indicate that school-based peer coaching plays an important
role in improving teachers’ abilities to adopt and implement new teaching and learning
practices. When comparing teachers who had worked with coaches with those who had
not, Showers and Joyce (2002) found that teachers who worked with coaches:
• Practiced new strategies more often and with greater skill than teachers who were
not coached.
• Retained and increased their new skills over time; teachers who were not coached
did not.
• Demonstrated a clearer understanding of the purposes and uses of the new
strategies than teachers who were not coached.
These same researchers also found that when teachers combined participation in
traditional workshops with peer coaching or methodologies that promoted collaboration
and reflection, more than 80% of teachers were using newly learned strategies in their
classrooms (Joyce and Showers, 1996; Joyce, Murphy, & Showers, 1996; Richardson,
Over time, research had made it increasingly clear that one key to changing
classroom practices is to provide teachers with opportunities for ongoing discussion and
reflection. Methodologies that provide teachers with these chances for collaboration
change teaching practice (Darling-Hammond, 1995, 1996; Garet et al., 2001; Hargreaves
and Fullan, 1992; Little, 1993; Loucks-Horsley, Stiles, & Hewson, 1996; Richardson,
1994; Sparks and Loucks-Horsley, 1989; Richard, 2003; Showers and Joyce, 2002;
Veenman and Denessen, 2001). Coaching is one methodology that encourages this type
of professional collaboration. Teachers value coaching because it promotes their learning
by offering them opportunities to become involved in meaningful discussions and
planning, observing others, being observed, and receiving feedback (Carey and
Frechtling, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1997; Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998). Garet and
several co-authors (2001) found that teachers from the same school who work together
with coaches have more opportunities to “discuss concepts, skills, and problems that arise
during their professional development experiences” and are “likely to share common
curricular materials, course offerings, and assessment requirements” (p. 922).
Does peer coaching help teachers effectively integrate technology into classroom
The peer coaching methodology has an impact on teaching practices in a variety
of content areas, and also plays a powerful role in helping teachers integrate technology
into their classroom learning activities. Teachers needed ongoing support as their
proficiency in integrating technology into instruction grew. While teachers initially rely
heavily on technical support, they need instructional support as they begin to use
technology to support project based learning or interdisciplinary learning (White,
Ringstaff, & Kelley, 2002). Peer coaching can provide the type of support teachers need
as they begin to integrate technology with classroom activities that actively engage
students in learning (Ike, 1997; Miller, 1998; Norton and Gonzales, 1998; Saye, 1998;
Tenbusch, 1998; Yocam, 1996). One reason peer coaching is so useful for technology
integration is that it provides both ongoing support and just-in-time support that teachers
value (Brush et al., 2003).
While peer coaching is slowly finding its way into American schools, we have enough
experience with this methodology to know that it is a proven technique which can change
teacher practice. Experience with this form of professional development shows us the
building blocks that need to be in place to make it successful. Like any other professional
development methodology, coaching won’t be successful unless it is closely aligned with
the school’s educational goals, budget, and other resources. If it is “integral to a larger
instructional improvement plan that targets and aligns professional development
resources toward the district’s goals,” Neufeld and Roper (2003) concluded that,
“coaching can become a powerful vehicle for improving instruction, and, thereby, student
achievement” (p. 26). Peer coaching is a cost-effective way for schools and school
districts to meet their needs.
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1 comment:

Linda and Marilyn said...

As a British mother of 3 sons who are at present in the US education system, there are many insidious factors that contribute to the dire failure of the education system, for many. Some of the people reading this list of comments might be interested in a unique education reform book that a colleague and I have compiled - Education:The Emperor's New Clothes, by Carlson & Felix, 2008. This book does not pander to political correctness or jargon, and is an easy read with many original cartoons and famous quotes. It is a verbal documentary from teachers, parents and concerned individuals world-wide. Here is the publisher’s link, for more information -

For a YouTube clip go to: