Peer coaching

Peer coaching is a long-term professional learning strategy which provides teachers with the opportunity to learn from each other in a sustained way in order to improve the teaching and learning process.

Peer coaching can take many forms including research, testing strategies, team teaching, peer observation, feedback evaluation and refinement of programs. Through peer coaching, teachers are able to trial different approaches, gather data and improve practice in order to impact on student learning.

Why use peer coaching?

Peer coaching often creates a less intimidating environment for people to explore different strategies, honestly reflect on their practice and see themselves as both learners and leaders. It changes the power dynamic of more traditional professional learning and empowers all teachers to see themselves as being in control of their own professional learning and having something to offer other teachers.

When embedded in a school culture of improvement, and when focused on teaching and curriculum, peer coaching provides an additional strategy for supporting teachers through the process of improvement. Showers and Joyce (1996) identified four main categories of peer coaching practice within schools. They are:

  • Establishing a culture of standards and expectations.
  • Improving instructional capacity.
  • Supporting a process of ongoing evaluation.
  • Connecting classroom practices to policy context.

Key elements

  • Trusting and respectful relationships between staff are developed over time and enable peer coaching to become more honest and rigorous.
  • Shared appreciation of the importance of confidentiality between the peer coaches and of the process.
  • Equal relationships where both teachers learn from each other rather than one as the 'expert'.
  • Culture of high expectations and focus on improvement which leads to a capacity to experiment, investigate, reflect and implement strategies in order to maximise learning for students.

How do I facilitate peer coaching?

Peer coaching can be broken down into 4 stages, and these are listed and outlined below.

There are a number of different approaches to establishing partnerships for peer coaching:

  • Self-identified partnerships – teachers select their own peer coach. It is important that teachers have some accountability for the peer coaching process and use this to select the most effective partner. This approach may not be appropriate in all settings or contexts.
  • Partnerships based on a similar grade or subject area – these partnerships would generally be established by the school leadership team, taking into consideration staff dynamics and context. This would enable teachers to focus on similar goals and collaborate to achieve improvement.
  • Partnerships based on different grade or subject area – these partnerships would also generally be established by the school leadership team and may be selected based on similar goals from professional development plans, for example teachers wishing to focus on writing across subjects, or behaviour management strategies. These partnerships may also be established to build relationships amongst teachers in different stages or faculties, particularly in larger schools.

However, once the partnerships are initially established, it is important to set up a process by which teachers can seek to change partners if they are not comfortable in the peer coaching relationship.

  • Taking time to work with teachers around the process of peer coaching will go a long way to a successful coaching experience. This would involve ensuring there is clarity about expectations for the process, the logistics of how and when coaching will take place and how outcomes will be evaluated, shared and contribute to improvement in the broader school community (where appropriate). Using a planning document, such as the Peer coaching record template (.DOCX 45KB) provided, may help to plan the process carefully in order to maximise impact.
  • Allowing teachers time to develop a coaching relationship, either through a structured process, or by providing time for teachers to collaborate or engage in professional dialogue in a less formal situation, will help develop a relationship in which they feel that they can be honest, take risks and reflect on their own learning and practice.
  • Connecting the goals for peer coaching to broader goals, such as professional development plans and school plans, provides a context and purpose for the coaching program and helps teachers to focus their attention on aspects that will have the most impact on their practice.
  • Session 1 – This session should be spent sharing goals, agreeing to the process (including times, process for feedback, dates etc) and identifying what each teacher would like to use future sessions for. Working together to set up the specific goal and task for the next peer coaching session will help to develop a shared ownership of the process. This may mean that one teacher requests that the peer coach conducts a lesson observation to gather data about the current classroom practice related to the particular goal. It may mean they discuss different strategies to implement and then select one to try through team teaching a lesson in the next session. It is important that a process is clearly established so that both teachers understand their role in the peer coaching program and take responsibility for the learning of themselves and their peer.
  • Further sessions – It is important to only plan one session ahead to allow flexibility and responsiveness to be embedded in the process. Teachers should draw on other strategies to complement the peer coaching process such as: video recording analysis, co-planning lessons, team teaching lessons,  research and collegial discussion.

While reflection and evaluation are integrated into all the coaching activities, it is important to periodically take time to step back and reflect on the broader goal. For example, if the broader goal is to 'improve collaborative learning for students', the individual professional learning strategies may include:

  • the teachers identifying research/strategies to support collaborative learning and discussing them at length
  • the teachers co-observing a lesson by a teacher with expertise in collaborative learning then debrief on what they observed
  • the teachers co-developing a lesson which includes collaborative learning strategies
  • the teachers co-delivering the lesson then debriefing.

Whilst each session has focused on an individual professional learning strategy, the next session may see the teachers return to their initial goal of 'collaborative learning' as a whole, to reflect on what they have learnt so far. This might happen after every third or fourth peer coaching session or at the end of a term or at other points appropriate to the context of the teacher and the school. This helps teachers to ensure they are remaining focused on directing improvement towards a particular goal. It also provides an opportunity to celebrate success by identifying changes already made and the impact that these are having on student learning. It may be appropriate to adjust goals at this point or set new goals if the initial one has been achieved.

Things to consider

Establishing a culture of peer feedback, open and transparent conversations and reflective practice will be vital to the success of peer coaching. Placing peer coaching within this culture and practices supports teachers in using it effectively to refine what is already being explored through larger school professional learning programs, mentoring and individual professional learning.

Providing systems and processes through which teachers can receive support from other members of staff if the peer coaching relationship isn't working will ensure that peer coaching remains a positive experience for all staff.

Further reading and resources

Context, Context, Context: Implementing Coaching in Schools Chris Munro, C (November 2017)

How to Plan and Implement a Peer Coaching Program Robbins, P (1991), ASCD

Peer coaching guidelines November 2012 Montesol Johnson, S & Rigby, B (2012)

Peer Coaching and Professional Development (PDF 104KB) Ladyshewsky, R.K. Curtin University

The Evolution of Peer Coaching Showers B & Joyce B (1996), ASCD

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