Peer coaching: Teachers helping teachers

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Illinois Chicago]On: 24 October 2014, At: 05:10Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Criminal JusticeEducationPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcje20

    Peer coaching: Teachers helpingteachersTara Gray a & Jon'a Meyer ba Department of Criminal Justice , New Mexico StateUniversityb Department of Sociology , Rutgers UniversityPublished online: 20 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Tara Gray & Jon'a Meyer (1997) Peer coaching: Teachers helping teachers,Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 8:2, 273-284, DOI: 10.1080/10511259700086361

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  • RESOURCES

    PEER COACHING: TEACHERS HELPING TEACHERS*

    TARA GRAY Department of Criminal Justice

    New Mexico State University

    JON'A MEYER Department of Sociology

    Rutgers University

    Peer coaching is a process in which teachers visit each other's classes and meet to pool their observations and expertise. It is based on the premise that teachers have a wealth of experience and knowledge about teaching and that "we are the experts" and can improve our teaching both by observing others and by being ob- served. Faculty members' and students' responses to peer coaching programs have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, almost 60 percent of participants in New Mexico judged peer coaching as the most effective teaching improvement strat- egy when compared with teaching workshops, reading about teaching, and evalua- tions by administrators, peers and students.

    As scholars, we conduct a great deal of co-authored research. As teachers, we stress the importance of collaborative learning: All of us are smarter than any of us. In our own teaching, however, we often forget this principle, and our classrooms become isolated. When teachers work alone without helping each other, no one benefits from the experience of others (Arredondo and Fueyo 1994:110). A process that works to reverse this trend is peer coaching, in which teachers visit each other's classes and meet to pool their observations and expertise. Peer coaching is based on the premise that most teachers have a wealth of experience and knowledge about teaching, and that "we are the experts." We can, therefore, improve our teaching both by observing others and by being observed.

    *We thank Jody Crowley and Barbara MiMs for their help on the instruments, as well as Lisa Bond-Maupin and Harriet Linkin for their comments on the article. For funding this project we thanl~ The Center for Teaching Excellence at Eastern New Mexico University, as well as the Center for Educational Development, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Vice President of Academic Affairs, and the Department of Criminal Justice at New Mexico State University.

    JOURNAL OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE EDUCATION, Vol. 8 No. 2, Fall 1997 1997 Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

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  • 274 PEER COACHING: TEACHERS HELPING TEACHERS

    The goals of peer coaching are to enhance learning and to increase teachers' positive feedback, companionship and risk taking. Teachers need positive feedback. In light of the many negative comments in students' evaluations, we need affirmation for the effective job most of us do every day (Munro and Elliott 1987:2). Teachers also need companionship. Peer coaching offers this by providing someone with whom to think out loud (Joyce and Showers 1982:6). In addition, teachers need support to experi- ment with new learning techniques. If we are to be encouraged to take risks, there must be someone to reassure us when we fail (Munro and Elli- ott 1987:14). Finally, teachers want to teach more effectively. Peer coach- ing will improve learning as well as teaching because students learn more when teaching improves (Weimer 1993:74).

    In this article we discuss a two-phase peer coaching program con- ducted in New Mexico during 1995-1996. In the first phase, each of the program directors took a class from the other to gain some experience in peer coaching. In the second phase, we advertised peer coaching at two state universities; faculty members were encouraged to participate for one week. We held an orientation at one site, and a workshop/round table at both sites. Here we describe the results of a survey we administered con- cerning the problems and the promise of the program.

    Peer coaching is not new; it has been used extensively in K-12 school systems (Arredondo and Fueyo 1994:107). A few college campuses (Mary- land, Ball State, Valdosta State) also have experimented with classroom vis- its. In the peer mentoring model, senior teachers visit the classrooms of less senior teachers; in the peer coaching model, peers visit each other's classrooms. The University College at the University of Maryland estab- lished a mentoring program using funds from FIPSE, the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (Millis 1992; 1994). In this ongoing program, award-winning teachers are paid to visit other teachers' classrooms and to provide written and oral comments. At Ball State Univer- sity, nine sets of teaching partners were given release time from teaching one class to attend a peer's class for a semester and to meet weekly to discuss new teaching strategies (Annis 1989:7-9). At Valdosta State Univer- sity, two teachers engaged in a peer coaching exchange that involved both a literature review and extensive writing in a journal (Arredondo and Fueyo 1994). At an Illinois high school, one-third of the teachers agreed to ob- serve each other's classes and to discuss their observations (Munro and Etli- oft 1987). 1

    Iinstructors do not need a peer coaching program, however, in order to enioy most of the benefits of peer coaching. Eve-n if one's un~ee-rsityh- as no program, peer coachi]agrequires nothing more tlaan a partner and a commitment. Criminal justice faculty members seem to be willing participants: At one site, half of the eight members of the Department of Criminal Justice completed the program. A peer coaching packet provided participants with questions that might help initiate di~ogue between partners, - -

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  • GRAY AND MEYER 275

    Peer coaching is not free of problems, however. It frightens some teachers away, and may cause others to overprepare before the coach's visit. Before the first observation, one peer coach wrote:

    Both of us are excited, anxious, and nervous. Even though trust levels are high between us, I'm concerned that she not see me teaching at less than my best. I think she feels the same . . . . I don t feel I've had adequate time to prepare and I'm resisting that feeling. I think it is just a response to having her there. I want to "show off my best teaching. I don't want her to think I'm not as good a teacher as she is. (Arredondo and Fueyo 1994:108,109)

    Her partner expressed similar concerns:

    Since we set the date for my first observation, I've used much energy resisting the impulse to do more than I ordinarily do to prep for a class. I am determined to avoid the cart-and-pony rou- tine. (Arredondo and Fueyo 1994:109)

    Some teachers may not be able to resist overpreparing for class. Even so, teachers probably are "about as good one day as the next" in the areas that will be most apparent to the observer: knowledge of the subject mat- ter, relationship with the students, and public speaking skills. Indeed, these areas cannot easily be changed with an extra hour, two hours or even ten hours of preparation.

    Even though peer coaching intimidates some teachers and may cause them to overprepare, the faculty members' response to peer coaching has been overwhelmingly positive: "[Although] teaching is typically a private, even secretive act, the partner pairs genuinely seemed to welcome the op- portunity to throw back the cloak of secrecy for at least one term" (Annis 1989:11). Many teachers find the programs an important step in their pro- fessional development, and a rejuvenating experience. They are reassured to see that other teachers experience the same problems as themselves, including "problem" students and disciplinary concerns. Through this type of sharing, teachers feel less alone and face daily challenges with increased enthusiasm. As one teacher wrote, "Peer coaching confirmed that what I was doing in the classroom was right" (Munro and Elliott 1987:11). Partici- pants report "high satisfaction, more interaction with other faculty mem- bers, increased motivation, and renewed interest in teaching" (Menges 1987:91).

    Participants have made significant changes based on their experience with peer coaching, in sharp contrast to modifications based on students' evaluations. Some teachers resist changes suggested by students because they feel that students are not experts on teaching (Irby 1983:458; Spencer 1992:13). One study found that fewer than one-fourth of college teachers made changes in their teaching based on students' evaluations; only 8 per- cent responded to peers' evaluation and 2 percent to administrators' evalua- tion (Spencer and Flyr 1992:12). In peer coaching projects, on the other hand, more than 80 percent report positive effects on their teaching (Mfllis

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  • 276 PEER COACHING: TEACHERS HELPING TEACHERS

    1994; Munro and EUiott 1987); and the improvements are relatively long- lasting (Erickson and Eriekson 1979:682). Perhaps peer coaching is more helpful than evaluations of teaching because it is intended to improve teaching, not to judge it (Munro and Ell/oR 1987:9-10).

    Students also observe important differences when their teachers par- ticipate in peer coaching. At Ball State, students rated faculty members at both the beginning and the end of the semester-long peer coaching experi- ment. At the end of the term they judged faculty members as significantly better at numerous teaching skills including stimulating students' interest, invoMng students in class, listening and questioning, achieving closure, or- ganization and presentation, and evaluation methods (Annis 1989:11).

    THE PEER COACHING PROGRAM IN NEW MEXICO

    Phase 1

    During the fall 1995 term, the program directors, Tara Gray and Jon'a Meyer, each attended a course taught by the other. (This experience is described elsewhere in greater detail; see Meyer and Gray 1996). Gray attended a research methods class; Meyer attended a senior seminar. We attended class each day and then met for an hour to discuss what we had seen. Our discussions about class did not always go smoothly: sometimes they were loud and spirited. At the outset we agreed that the role of the peer coach would be to identify problems without dictating solutions from personal experience. In our own work as peer coaches, however, this was the greatest challenge: each of us occasionally ordered the other to make sweeping changes in her teaching style. We considered warning future par- ticipants about this problem but decided against it because some partici- pants might have the opposite difficulty: they might be afraid to even identify problems. In fact, this was the case, as we discuss later. In the end we came to believe that successful peer coaching requires the ability to point to problems without demanding ready-made solutions.

    In Phase 1 we participated fully as students by doing all the homework and taking all the quizzes and examinations. As soon as we were cast as students, we behaved like students. Once Gray complained to Meyer that an exam was scheduled at a bad time because she wanted to finish the draft of an article and didn't have time to study. On another occasion, Gray sided with students on what she perceived to be a "trick" question. Again, on the first test, Gray was disappointed when another student outperformed her. We actually spent long hours studying for exams on which the grades would never be recorded.

    We worked hard as students, and we also learned a great deal. It was rewarding to see that PhDs who apply themselves can learn so much in

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  • GRAY AND MEYER 277

    undergraduate courses, even in our own discipline. Peer coaching con- firmed that what we teach in criminal justice can be useful and challenging to students, even advanced students.

    Phase 2

    In spring 1996 we opened a peer coaching program to others by invit- ing faculty members from two campuses to participate. In this phase, teachers participated as observers rather than as students in the classes they attended. Participants made classroom observations at their home institu- tion with a partner of their choice. After the observations, the partners shared their insights with each other. At the end of the term, the partners stated their observations in a workshop and roundtable discussion at their home institution.

    At this workshop, all participants were asked to evaluate the program in terms of the objectives and its usefulness to them. For this purpose we provided each participant with an eight-page questionnaire containing open- an...

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