Program Design: Collaboration Through Mentoring & Peer Coaching

(Reprinted with permission from "Research Update", Institute for Educational Research, Glen Ellyn, IL, USA

A consensus is growing among policy makers, administrators, researchers, and professional organizations, that educational improvement occurs when schools promote the professionalization of teachers. Effective schools research has linked collaborative activities and collegiality among teachers with gains in student learning. Consequently, programs such as peer coaching and mentoring are being widely advocated.

Mentoring
Mentoring usually includes peer coaching but is a more extensive and formal approach. Mentoring uses experienced master teachers who support and assist both novice teachers and experienced teachers new to the district. A formal mentorship period is usually for one academic year.

Tips on Mentoring
1. Use teacher mentoring in addition to, not in place of, a complete teacher induction program.
2. Provide time for mentors to meet among themselves to share information and receive support from one another.
3. Compensate mentors either through a monetary stipend, credits on the salary schedule, release time, and/or reduced teaching loads.
4. Think carefully about whether or not you want mentors to evaluate novice teachers. Placing a mentor in the role of a supervisor many limit the openness of the relationship with the protege, thereby diminishing its effectiveness.
5. Create a clear job description for mentors; delineate which duties are to be shared with principals versus duties that are the responsibility of the mentor.
6. Communicate to new teachers the mentor's role and responsibilities.

Characteristics of Successful Mentors
Mentors should be master teachers.
They should be able to plan and carry out well-developed lessons, have
excellent organizational and classroom management skills, and employ the district policy on discipline. They should be capable of carrying out demonstration lessons. They should be the type of teacher who creates a positive climate for learning, holds high expectations for students, and has the ability to reflect on and articulate the reasons for their instructional decisions, both short term and long term.

Mentors should be committed to professional growth.
They should regularly engage in activities which promote their professional growth, such as workshops, seminars, conferences, and graduate courses. They should be informed about current research on teaching and learning.

Mentors should be team leaders.
Mentors should have a positive attitude toward their school and their colleagues. They should also be people-oriented, have good interpersonal skills, be flexible, and be well-liked by their peers. They should also be willing to share their expertise with others.

Mentors should be confident and caring people.
Mentors should be warm and caring, able to take a personal interest in their protege. Mentors must have high self-esteem and be sensitive to the needs of others.

Research On Mentoring
Studies show that mentoring increases the retention rate of teachers. Several studies conducted after one year of mentoring showed that more teachers who had been mentored continued teaching the following year than did teachers without mentors. In addition, several studies found that after four years, a greater number of teachers who had been
mentored remained in the teaching profession compared with teachers who had not been mentored.

Suggestions for Selecting Mentors
Experts offer advice on selecting mentors as careful choice of candidates is very important. It is recommended that a systematic procedure for selecting mentors be developed. This procedure should be clearly articulated. Potential mentors should be approached in such a way that they will feel honored to be asked to serve but will not feel obligated to accept the assignment.

Aim for choosing mentors who have as many characteristics in common with their protege as possible, such as grade level, subject area, teaching philosophy, teaching style, and gender. Experts recommend that the mentor have at least 5 years of teaching experience and be 8 to 1 years older than the novice teachers. Maintain flexibility so that
novice teachers can be reassigned if the initial mentor-protege pairing is not working.

Training For Peer Coaching and Mentoring
Experts stress the importance of providing adequate training for peer coaching and mentoring. Both peer coaching and mentoring require additional skills beyond those used in teaching, among them knowing how to work with adults, carry out observation and conferences, solving problems, and be an effective agent for change.

Keys To Successful Collaboration
Introducing collaboration in a school district is much like promoting any other element of school reform; without a careful assessment of needs and resources, and without supportive attitudes by teachers, the program is likely to fail. But a well-designed program, one that has been planned and implemented with extensive teacher input and administrative support, will most likely bring many benefits. Mandatory participation in collaborative activities is not recommended. Any type of pressure for participation must be avoided. If a "bandwagon mentality" occurs, initial participation levels may be high, but motivation will not be sustained. Finally, providing adequate time, training, and funds so that collaborative activities are not viewed as an additional burden on teachers is essential.


Peer Coaching
In peer coaching, teachers receive support, feedback, and assistance from fellow teachers. Research has identified many benefits of peer coaching for teachers, among them is a reduced sense of isolation, an ability to implement new teaching strategies effectively, a positive school climate, and a revitalized faculty.

Peer coaching usually involves (but is not limited to) teachers observing teachers. Peer coaching models are described, defined, and labeled in various ways. One useful way to categorize different models of peer coaching is to examine what information is obtained during an observation and what is done with that information.

In mirror coaching, the coach records only that information which the teacher being observed has asked the coach to collect. After the observation, the coach turns the data over to the teacher to analyze. This is the end of the coach's involvement.

In collaborative coaching, the coach still collects only the data specified by the teacher, but in a post-observation conference, the coach and the teacher together analyze the data. The coach guides the teacher in self-reflection by asking questions which help the teacher analyze whether or not lesson objectives were attained, and if not, why.

In expert coaching, a master teacher serves as the coach. The expert may be a mentor who works exclusively with a novice teacher or a teacher new to the district. The expert isn't restricted to collecting only the data specified by the teacher being observed. During the post-conference, the mentor guides and directs the discussion.

Pointers for Implementing Peer Coaching
Commit to peer coaching only if it is possible to invest the time, effort, and dollars that it takes to make it become an integral part of the district's program. Implementing other programs at the same time will lessen the effectiveness of peer coaching.

Explain clearly that peer coaching is not evaluation and that all information obtained during peer coaching is strictly confidential - not to be discussed outside of the coaching situation under any circumstances. The only exception to this is when expert coaching of new teachers by mentors includes an evaluation component.

Convey to the faculty that peer coaching is not being implemented because what they are doing is wrong, but rather that there's always room for improvement.

Stress the "caring" element of peer coaching. Explain that a willingness to help and the belief that colleagues have much to offer is central to the philosophy behind peer coaching programs.

Maximize the effectiveness of training by beginning peer coaching sessions immediately after training. Strive to have all participating faculty do peer coaching five times in the first two to three weeks. If coaching sessions don't start for a month, teachers and peer faculty will remember far less of the information received in training and their level of anxiety will increase.

Appoint a person to serve as a peer coaching coordinator. This person would assist with scheduling, arranging meetings providing observation instruments, obtaining equipment for video taping, and so on.

Place peer coaching items at the top of the agenda for faculty meetings.

Consider postponing peer coaching if teachers have not had a lot of experience working together. Emphasize other collaborative activities such as grade-level meetings, team teaching, advisory councils, and shared decision making. Move into peer coaching after collegiality becomes the norm.

Providing Support For Peer Coaching
Administrative support of peer coaching is critical to its success. Support should be provided in terms of
  • time
  • for planning the program
  • for initial training
  • for support groups
  • for brush-up sessions
  • monies allocated for training
  • monies allocated for hiring substitutes to free teachers
  • monies allocated for program evaluation

Getting Started
A district interested in peer coaching should form a planning committee whose first job is to obtain as much information as possible about peer coaching. The committee could:

  • review the literature about peer coaching
  • invite teachers from other districts who are practicing peer coaching to speak to the faculty
  • arrange for a group of teachers to make site visits at districts using peer coaching

Next, the committee should collaboratively plan how it would like the ideal peer coaching program to operate. The program's effect on teachers, students, and administrators should be analyzed. The committee would then plan in detail how the program would be implemented. Factors such as training, scheduling, covering teachers' classes, and budget concerns must be addressed.


References
Brandt, R.S.(1987). "On teachers coaching teachers: A conversation with Bruce Joyce." Educational Leadership, 44 (6), 12-17.
Heller, M.P. and Sindelar, N.W. (1991). Developing an effective teacher mentor program. Fastback 319. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.
Odell, S. (1990). Mentor teacher program. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association.
Robbins, P. (1991). How to plan and implement a peer coaching program. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Smith, S.C. and Scott, J.J. (1990). The collaborative school. A work environment for effective instruction. Reston, VA: National Association for Secondary Principals.
TEA and AEL (1988). Bridges to Strength: Establishing a mentoring program for beginning teachers, an administrator's guide. Charleston, West Virginia: Tennessee Education Associated and Appalachia Educational
Laboratory.

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