What is a peer coach facilitating? (Module 4, ISTE-CS: “coach teachers in…”)

I started this module by wondering about the art of asking good questions. Asking questions is a foundational element of peer coaching (Foltos, 2013), and while I’m familiar with the idea of asking questions instead of telling, I was hoping to find a model for asking questions. The word model can be used to mean so many things. What I mean by “a model for asking questions” is a way to organize and understand questions and the activity of asking questions. Maybe I imagined ending with a set of categories for the kinds of questions I could ask, or a quality I could ascribe to “good” questions. But what I found, instead, was that I first needed to better articulate the goals of a peer coach – to have a better sense of what’s guiding me. My investigation question then became:

What is a peer coach trying to facilitate?

Asking questions. Changing questions.

I suppose I changed my focus because of the resource I was initially reading. In my search for a model, I found this document: Powerful Coaching Questions by Alain Cardon (2008) at Metasysteme Coaching: Coaching and Consulting Network. Cardon elaborates on many different types of questions (so this resource may be good for deciding on ways to categorize questions), and paints a pretty clear picture of what coaching looks like, to Metasysteme Coaching. I want to point out that Cardon is talking about coaching, and I don’t believe it is the same kind of coaching that we are investigating with peer coaching. Consequently, I don’t think you can just simply take what is written in Powerful Coaching Questions and apply it to peer coaching.

The parts of Cardon’s vision of coaching that don’t align with my understanding of peer coaching are what influenced the change in my investigation. Here’s some of what didn’t align.

First, in Cardon’s vision of coaching, a coachee comes to a coach when they are stuck:

“When clients bring important issues to a coach, they have already made a complete inventory of their personal or professional issue and of all possible options, to no avail. Clients have already tried working out their issues alone, and have not succeeded. Coaching clients generally consult coaches after having tried to solve their problems, meet their ambitions or deal with their issues. In spite of this, these clients feel stuck in a rut or up a dead end” (p. 2).

In response to this, the coach’s goal is to make the coachee to shift their perspective.

“A coaching approach is to question the client’s frame of reference. Coaching questions that are considered to be powerful are precisely those that jolt clients into reconsidering the way they define a problem, perceive an issue or envision an ambition” (p. 2). … “Strategic or powerful or coaching questions aim to surprise clients or put them ‘off balance’ in order to provoke the emergence of new perspectives on their problems, objectives, issues and ambitions” (p. 8).

This framing and approach to coaching is not in line with my ideas of peer coaching. But these things did make me ask:

  1. I don’t think teachers only seek out a peer coach when they are stuck. So when else do they seek out a peer coach?
  2. I don’t think a peer coach should approach an inviting teacher with the assumption that the teacher has a flawed perspective and needs to be “jolted” into a new perspective. So if the goal of a peer coach isn’t to throw the inviting teacher off balance, what is the goal of a peer coach? What is the coach trying to facilitate, exactly?
When to seek out a peer coach

The majority of my investigation focuses on 2, but for 1 I want to note that: While an inviting teacher may be stuck, you don’t only meet with a peer coaching partner when you’re stuck. But I was having trouble characterizing why else a teacher would seek out a peer coach. I brought this up to my classmates in my Learning Circle, and they helped remind me that the goal is continual growth and improvement. You don’t wait until you have a problem to try and improve. In fact, one of the reasons schools implement peer coaching is to bring teachers out of isolation and to increase teacher-collaboration (Robbins, 1991). Peer coaching isn’t a last resort, it’s a source of inspiration. Therefore, one of the reasons you seek out a peer coach is to push you to improve things you haven’t even thought to improve yet.

What is the coach trying to facilitate?

Before talking about the coach’s goal during peer coaching, I feel like I should state that the overarching goal (for our context), as broadly as I can put it, is to improve education in the ways that we can – we want students to have great learning experiences.

But within that goal, what is a peer coach trying to get the inviting teacher to do? What is the coach trying to facilitate during the meeting itself? In my last blog or two, I talked about how a peer coach should approach the interaction in a goal-free way, with no hidden agenda. But when you get underneath that, past the idea that coaches should not be pushing an agenda, there is some sort of thing that the coach must be working towards. Cardon says that the coach is trying to facilitate a change in the inviting teacher’s perspective, but the way he developed that idea didn’t feel quite right. So what is it that the coach is trying to facilitate?

I think the first thing a coach might have to facilitate is narrowing in on the inviting teacher’s focus – what is it that the inviting teacher would like to work on? But after that, what is the coach trying to facilitate? I was stuck on this and needed some input from my classmates. We decided that once the inviting teacher finds a focus, the next thing to facilitate is simply reflection. (“Simply.”) As teachers, what do we do and why? What are our goals, assumptions, and beliefs? What do we want for our students? How can we make that happen?

That last question is not really reflection, and instead, forward thinking. So maybe I would add a third facilitation item: action – how can we make an action plan?

Conclusion

My current conclusion is that, through questioning, coaches are working to facilitate the teacher in finding a focus, reflecting, and creating an action plan. This does not really tell me a whole lot about what the questions actually are, but it’s an aim that I feel I can hang onto as I figure out what questions to ask.

If you have any ideas about what a peer coach is trying to facilitate, I would love to hear them.

Relation to ISTE-CS

I feel like I should note how I’m thinking that this is all related to the ISTE Coaching Standards, even if it’s just an aside for now.

As per my module 3 blog post, Compatibility between peer coaching and the ISTE-CS, I think that the CS can be used to inform peer coaching, generally speaking. Additionally, all of the indicators in CS 2, as well as CS 3c, explicitly call for coaching by starting with the phrase “Coach teachers in…” In my program, we are choosing to implement coaching in the form of peer coaching (but there are other ways someone might choose to implement coaching). Thus, by investigating peer coaching I am implicitly investigating how to go about engaging in these CS indicators. I intend to investigate this connection more explicitly in my next blog post.


Resources

Cardon, Alain. (2008). Powerful coaching questions. Retrieved from http://www.metasysteme-coaching.eu/pdfexport.php?nid=774

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Robbins, P. (1991). How to plan and implement a peer coaching program. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.