California Educator

September 2014

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Know & Tell Tips to share Peer coaching: What two teachers learned about teaching By Lysa Sassman and Ed Auerbach W H AT C A N A second-grade teacher and a high school government/ econ teacher possibly offer each other as peer coaches? How could they realistically help each other become better teachers when their jobs are so vastly different? We asked ourselves those questions more than a few times before we tried it, almost on a whim, after a brainstorming session in our CTA Institute for Teaching (IFT) think tank meeting in Natomas. We thought it would be instructive and fun to see what the other one does all day. We never imagined what an incredible and mutually beneficial experi- ence it would turn out to be! Peer coaching is the non-evaluative observation with the sole intent of encouraging and supporting a colleague in their quest to improve their craft and make a meaningful and positive impact on their students. A peer coach is simply the classroom instructor colleague of your choice, whom you invite to observe your teaching, and who will provide you with that invaluable, compassionate feedback. In return, you reciprocate to provide the same type of support and encouragement. Who best to understand a journey than another who walks in similar shoes? How does it work? It's easy, engaging, and actually fun once you get past the initial trepidation of having someone spend the better part of a teaching day watching you in action. First, choose someone that you trust and admire and whose opinion you value. You need not select someone who instructs the same subject, or even the same grade level. We're proof that a high school teacher can learn much from a second-grade teacher (and vice versa) if the focus is on how teaching and learning works in a particular environment. You're not looking to find a particular method or pedagogical approach, per se. Once one starts to look for the textbook version of what good teaching is supposed to be, one risks missing all of the beautiful little nuances that make learning happen — the looks, touches, changes in tone, motions and subroutines won't be found on your standard evaluative tools. Good, universal teaching strategies just sort of "jump out" no matter the age or discipline. Next, sit down and talk about what you each hope to gain in the process. Is there a particular subject area you want to improve? Do you want to sharpen your classroom management skills? Would you like to strengthen your cooperative learning model among your students? Or do you just want someone to come in with a fresh pair of eyes and ears and share with you what they notice you doing with your students? How many teachers actually have the chance to go into another teacher's classroom and just watch? No writing, no recording, no checking boxes, just watching. What happens is an automatic comparison to one's own pedagogical skills, which is essentially reflecting on one's own teaching. As teachers, we know that reflec- tion is the essence of learning. And as teachers, we should exemplify those great learning processes. No matter what you hope to gain, having a trusted co-worker observe your routine for a day will benefit you both in ways you may never have imagined. It's a funny fact that teachers are sometimes clueless about the genius of their actions. Watch and listen to Lysa and Ed tell their story at GO ONLINE 18

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