High Impact Peer & Mentor Observation & Coaching Training
By Barry Sweeny
What is the Difference Between "Peer" and "Mentor" Coaching
One of the greatest challenges in mentoring has been what has been known as the "mentor's dilemma". Simply stated, the egalitarian culture of teaching makes those with special strengths and status uncomfortable among their colleagues. The typical result, for example, is that mentors who are identified BECAUSE they are different, better teachers, down play their differences and strengths so they can work more comfortably with other teachers. In the end, the very reason for mentoring is subverted and lost, and very little professional growth may occur.
In part, this dilemma can be addressed by a strong training and by thinking in advance about this challenge. However, Barry has found that part of the most essential goals of mentoring and coaching must be to CHANGE the egalitarian culture of schools to one in which differences are valued and celebrated as strengths for the team effort of improving teaching and student learning. A part of this effort must be the alignment of our symbols and language with our beliefs and the new norms we are trying to create.
That is why Barry only uses the term "peer" when the teachers are truely of similar levels of experience and skill, as when two experienced teachers "peer" coach each other. That is also why Barry does NOT use the term "peer" in the induction mentoring context in which the mentor clearly is not the peer of the novice teacher. In that case, Barry describes the interaction as "mentor coaching". Some may feel it is simple semantics. Barry does not.
Don't misunderstand the intent. The MUTUAL support of the professional growth of BOTH parties involved in coaching is still the goal. The mentor is expected to learn as much as does the novice teacher who is the protege. Certainly, the different viewpoints and experiences of the protege are important resources for the mentor's growth. Further, without someone to be "another pair of eyes", the mentor may not grow much at all.
In fact, Barry asserts that unless the differences between the expert and novice teacher are HIGHLIGHTED and utilized, the desired levels of professional growth will not be achieved! If that happens, teachers will decide that their valuable time is being wasted, and the coaching will stop. We must keep in mind that DOING coaching is not the goal. Attaining the potential impact on instruction and students through either peer or mentor coaching, THAT is the goal.
A Description of the High Impact Coaching Training:
This training prepares teachers to support each other while improving their teaching and student learning.
In the initial part of the workshop coaching techniques are actually demonstrated by the presenter as a part of the presentation. The trainer uses a staff person from the local district to model a pre conference and development of data collection tools for the observation. This modeling continues as the coach observes the presenter and collects the requested data during the presentation on coaching definitions, models for conferences and data collection, and guidelines for effective peer coaching. The section continues with a post conference, first by the coach and presenter, and then by the participants of the workshop who practice effective coaching skills while providing feed back to the coaching pair.
The goale of this demonstration is to clearly show that the process is NOT about perfect coaching, but rather, about the real challenges of working together to ensure increased results for both coaching participants. The High Impact Coaching Strategies approach separates this coaching training from many others which promote one specific tool and strategy as the answer to all coaching problems.
The second section of the training uses "group" coaching. The full group of participants discuss and plan their coaching questions. Then we conduct a preconference in which I am the teacher and the group is the coach. My role as a teacher is real as I do a brief lesson next, during which all participants observe for those things we agreed on and all collect the data. After my lesson, the group meets to discuss and plan their postconference question. Again the participants "group" coach me, trying to apply what they have learned about effective coaching skills. Finally, we step out of the coaching role and discuss how it went, how it felt, what was hard, why and how it could be improved. This step creates a low-risk environment that increases everyones' learning.
The third section of the training usually includes pairing participants who take turns coaching each other. Given the time available, the best approach is to create practice triads with each person taking a turn as teacher, coach, and observer/coach for the pair. This method ensures that practice of the model is actually carried out and that participants don't just talk through the experience.
The role play is very effective because each partner's coaching it is prompted by a video segment of a real teacher teaching. Each does a preconference, an observation (of the video), and a postconference. Afterwards, the pairs debrief about their experience, their learning, etc. and they receive feed back from their observer who holds them accountable for implementing the High Impact Model. Then, the pairs and observers share in the large group and the presenter is able to make suggestions and prompt planning for the teachers' next steps in actual independent coaching.
A CAUTION: DO NOT JUST PLAN A TRAINING, PLAN FOR A SUCCESSFUL COACHING PROGRAM. (Here's why.)
High impact coaching is a counter-culture activity. Making time for adult learning during the school day is a new norm that conflicts with the older established norm that schools exist just for the benefit of kids. This is one reason why coaching is hard to sustain as a long term initiative. Explicitly discussing & challenging this old norm is critical to replacing it with the new norm, and replace it we MUST. Adult learning is the prerequisite for improved student learning. This truth suggests two essential next steps as a follow up to the training.
STEP #1 - Since high impact coaching is a counter-culture activity, our habitual instincts and natural behaviors are actually counter to some of the behaviors needed to improve teaching and learning. That is why high impact coaching is not easy to implement right away. It is also true that most teachers cannot use the strategies effectively without some help in solving the problems that always accompany implementation and internalizing of the skills. An additional challenge is just making the time to practice the new strategies teachers have learned in the training. That practice needs to occur soon after the training, to capitalize on teachers' enthusiasm gained from the training and to implement the practices while they are still fresh in peoples' minds.
To address this need it is often wise to plan with Barry for a series of 2 or 3 follow up meetings after the initial coaching training. These follow up meetings can last just an hour or two and will provide the support needed to:
- Continue developing greater mastery of the coaching strategies
- Solve the problems which are alwats obstacles to mastery and implementation
- Hold participants gently, but firmly accountable for making the time to practice the strategies they have learned, and...
- Increase the participants' comfort level in being "high impact" coaches.
STEP #2 - It is very hard to create and sustain effective high impact coaching unless there is a coaching coordinator whose role includes "coaching the coaches" (Mentoring the Mentors). No matter how good any training is, there will be little on-going improvement unless there is also a local, on-site coaching "champion". The coordinator's job is to manage the many logistical, time-related problems, hold the coaching pairs responsible for implementing the High Impact Model, for working to refine their coaching skills, and to assist pairs in resolving problems and keeping at the professionally challenging task of making coaching effective as an instructional improvement process. Whether the coaching is done as a part of the mentoring program or independently, such as between experienced "Peer" coaches, I can help you set up such a "coach of coaches".
Don't just plan a training. Plan for these follow up elements too. Barry can provide modeling , problem solving, and support to ensure that your teachers implement the training correctly and that your program coordinator can provide the follow up support to your coaching pairs that is needed to sustain the program over time and produce the desired results.
How Many Days Long is the High Impact Coaching Training?
THE ONE DAY VERSION - The one day training includes sections one and two above, which include modeling of a preconference, observation, and a postconference, group practice in coaching the presenter in a pre and post conference and observation. It is enough for coaching teams to gain a good understanding of how to coach but it is insufficient training for people to be able to coach independently and successfully. It makes the most sense to do the one day training as an introduction when there is no expectation that people will be able to coach each other but where some may wish to try it, and when there will be additional training later on.
THE TWO DAY TRAINING - The coaching training is most powerful as a 2 day experience that includes all that the one day training offers, plus the third section of the training described above. This includes lots of practice for the participants and continual guidance and critiques by the presenter to sharpen participant skills. The two day training is needed if there is an expectation that all coaching pairs will have the skills and self-confidence to succeed in their coaching for at least several months.
CAUTION - If you are planning mentor AND coaching training, please understand that the full three or four day MENTOR Strategies Training described elsewhere, already includes training on high impact coaching too. The coaching training described here does not need to be added again. It is just stated here as some folks prefer to contract just for coaching training alone.
PARTICIPANT COMMENTS ON BARRY'S COACHING TRAINING & SUPPORT -
"During the first year of our three year pilot induction program, I brought in a well known "cognitive coaching" trainer. She really knew her stuff and was very engaging. However, about the second day of that 4 day training I began to get "on the side" questions from teacher mentors who were participants and concerns from their program administrators. I became worried because the complex strategies required in the model were overwhelming the mentors. Fortunately, Barry Sweeny, our program consultant was there too, and he helped to allay participant fears right away. He agreed to meet with the concerned folks during lunch and he explained that the cognitive coaching trainer's approach made sense in SOME situations but that there were other approaches that we would teach them later that were more flexible, easier to implement and still very powerful. The mentors and administrators immediately relaxed and were grateful for the clarification Barry provided.
From that moment on, I used Barry to provide both the mentoring and coaching trainings for all teacher and administrator participants in our program. All the participants and I liked his 'High Impact Coaching Strategies Training' much better than the approach the previous trainer had used. I continued to use Barry for this training role for two years. Not only did his training meet our present needs, but he also worked with outstanding participants to help build their capacity to lead future trainings for our program. I have never known a consultant to think that way, and to "work himself out of a job". Seeing this behavior taught me I could trust Barry to keep my program's best interests and my needs as coordinator in the forefront. He always did so without my even asking! That is why over two years of work with Barry, I continued to expand his contract and his role in my program.
Once I realized I could trust Barry completely, I resolved to work more collaboratively with him to plan program activities. He was great at helping me be sure that each event was developmentally approprite for participants, that they fit well with the phase of program implementation were were at, and that they would integrate well with all of our other events. I was never disappointed by Barry and was always glad I trusted him with this much influence.
After two years we sponsored an event to expand the number of districts involved in the pilot. Barry helped to plan this event and was instrumental in leading key parts of it. We invited an influential staff person from the State Board. We had many success stories to tell and many participants praised Barry for his role and contributions to their success. At the close of the day, the SBEC representative told my boss that the event had been the best of the several similar events he had attended around the state. That is the kind of impact Barry can have on your programs!
That is the kind of impression I wanted to make! Teachers, administrators, State Board people, and my boss were pleased, so you know I was. I seriously feel that it was my work with Barry that made this whole project achieve such a "high impact"! - Ms. Zoe Windley- TxBESS Induction Program Coordinator, Region XI Education Service Center, Fort Worth, Texas
"I jealously guard my time and rarely feel that professional development has been worth the sacrifices it takes to leave my classroom with a sub. Your peer coaching training was a wonderful exception! You exceeded all my expectations! Now I know how to establish the program on a more solid foundation and to help our teachers become more successful." - Sharon, Coaching Coordinator & Foreign Language Teacher, St. Charles HS, IL
"Barry, the two days were much more than I had hoped for! You have really helped me see how what we are doing in our peer coaching program is only part of the potential we can expect to achieve. Now I know just what I must do to help our teachers become more effective in improving their teaching AFTER the training. Thanks!" - Jean Ford, Elementary Principal
"I went to two previous coaching trainings when I was in a different district, and did not expect to gain much from a third, but my district required it of all mentors so I came. I was amazed to find how little I really understood about what makes coaching an effective instructional improvement process. Thanks for your modeling and the terrific discussions. I am sure this will help me to be a much more effective mentor than I was before. Your presence was a much needed shot of adrenaline!" - Grant Harwig, Mentor, Oswego, IL.
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