Fina Hallman, a teacher from Flanshaw Road School, has been exploring culturally responsive pedagogy for her teaching inquiry.
In this blog Fina shares how peer coaching has enriched and deepened the inquiry process.
How has peer coaching supported me?
Peer coaching has allowed me to arrive at my own solutions and next steps. It’s like having a peer moderator. I have been given a fresh pair of eyes and the space to talk through the ‘jumble in my head’.
The reflection part is very much on the individual ... your peer coach is not going to give you the answers.
How was I matched up with Greg?
As part of the senior leadership team, we were invited to select who we would like to work with.
I chose Greg because I thought he might be critical and he works in a different part of the school - I’m in the junior school and Greg is in the senior school. We have some big differences in how we approach teaching.
What did Greg bring to my learning?
Prioritising my inquiry was essential. Greg made sure that I committed time.
I came to a dead end with scanning and got into a flap. Greg told me to go back and look at what I wanted to do originally.
What I found especially helpful was sharing the excitement with Greg when things were going well. For example when I used a learning map with whānau to map out priorities for students' learning.
Greg asked the right questions and stopped me waffling. He let me talk and kept me on my toes by asking critical questions that really tested my assumptions.
- Do you have a reciprocal relationship with parents?
- Is that your perspective or a whānau perspective?
- How much do you genuinely incorporate parents' ideas?
How have I been challenged to step up?
The initial challenge was that we needed to build trust quickly.
We were given time to meet during staff meetings and we were released to observe each other. However, I found the most effective technique was to just begin talking to Greg. Chatting about our lives and sharing moments when lessons hadn’t worked out as planned. It was about opening myself up to Greg.
A highlight for me was a classroom observation that I deliberately set up at a chaotic time of day. The children were tidying up and parents were coming in. I wasn’t trying to impress Greg. It proved to me how much trust we had built and how far we had come.
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How have I supported Greg?
I hope that I have made him more aware of his assumptions and clarified his thinking.
Because I didn’t know much about Greg's topic of inquiry he had to explain himself clearly. I hope it has deepened his own reflective practice.
Whilst we have very similar philosophies, our different backgrounds and approaches helped place another lens upon my thinking. This differing viewpoint enabled deeper thinking and self reflection and gave me more options to explore. I have found this the most valuable part of peer coaching.
What would I do differently next time?
I would work faster. I had some initial paralysis about doing some things and in the end had to take the plunge.
How successful has my inquiry been?
I now have a clearly defined hypothesis for this year - that using learning maps with Māori whānau will enable me to gather individual information on what each whānau defines as success for their tamariki.
The learning maps allow me to access the tools, places, and people that engender success for each child.
It was about that genuine relationship with whānau. Together we unpacked who enables the child to be successful. We looked at tools as in terms of conditions of success. We also looked at where the child learns, both at school and elsewhere. Through this process whānau were better able to articulate what success looks like for their child at this stage in their life.
The highlight was it was revealing for the parent as well as for me. With our joint expertise we arrived at an individualised learning pathway for the child. In future I want the parent and child to do a learning map together.
In terms of student outcomes it made everyone in our team much more aware of the need to regularly monitor the progress of target students, making the next learning steps more specific to each learner.
Our Māori ethnic data this year shows we have more students achieving at or above National Standards than in previous years.
What advice would I offer others about to embark on a peer coaching model?
- There has to be an element of choice in getting the right peer coach. Don’t go for a safe option. Go for someone who will challenge your thinking. We need to get away from being ‘nice’ because that won’t challenge thinking.
- Building trust with your peer coach is essential … finding time just to say “how are you doing today?"
- Carry out classroom observations as soon as possible. I know that Greg grew to see more value in the process.
- The whole thing wouldn’t work if our inquiries weren’t meaningful. They have to result in better outcomes for students.
- The principal needs to have a high level of trust. Sometimes we have to change our inquiries as they go down pathways we hadn’t anticipated. Sometimes the changes may not be successful but if we thought the outcomes were always going to be successful then it wouldn’t be a true inquiry.
- Our inquiries need to centre on what interests us. It’s important that our inquiries feed our own passion for learning. A peer coach is someone to share that passion with and we can share and learn from their passion too.
What I love about teaching is it is so intellectually challenging and it’s all about being creative and having academic rigour. There has to be excitement around it.
School snapshot – Peer coaching at Flanshaw Road School
In this snapshot Dr Cherie Taylor-Patel, principal of Flanshaw Road School, explains how peer coaching was developed and reveals the highlights and challenges. Cherie offers advice to other schools wanting to use peer coaching to support their teachers' inquiries.