In October Mary Lou Ley, the facilitator who leads Wisconsin’s Peer Coaching Collaborative, shared how coaches use probing questions to move beyond the friendly, supportive relationship between teacher and coach. This approach certainly would feel comfortable to many educators who focus only on what is “nice” when collaborating with other educators. (To learn more about getting beyond nice see MacDonald, E. June, 2011. When Nice Won’t Suffice. Journal of Staff Development)
This type of relationship may fit nicely in the coaches comfort zone, but it may not work to improve instruction. Ley says coaches should use the kind of probing questions that push teachers to improve instruction. These probing questions may make educators uncomfortable, or even feel like they are being asked to take risks. But these same questions also encourage the teachers coaches collaborate with to improve teaching and learning.
To demonstrate the impact of Peer Coaching that uses communications skills as a key to improving learning, Ley shared the results of a recent evaluation of Peer Coaching. It found that 71% of participants felt coaching made a significant impact on their ability to use technology to promote critical thinking and problem solving, engage students in learning, and improve academic curricula.
Ley and her team collected examples of learning activities from participants at the start of their coaching experience and at the end of the assessment year, when educators had some considerable experience with coaching. The evaluation team looked at indicators of quality like cognitive challenge, inquiry and collaboration, real world connections, and the level of technology use to assess these learning activities. Their assessment showed that using these quality indications more than 70% of the learning activities collected prior to significant coaching experience scored at a low level. After participating in coaching throughout the assessment year these same educators submitted examples of learning activities that reflected their coaching experiences. The results were amazing. When judged by the same set of quality indicators, evaluators found that nearly 60% of the educators’ learning activities were “High Quality.”