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Building Peer-to-Peer Coaching Relationships in Collaborative Professional Development

Building Peer-to-Peer Coaching Relationships in Collaborative Professional Development

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students evaluate strategies to build peer-to-peer coaching models to support collaborative professional development plans

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In this tutorial, we'll discuss some strategies that can help build peer-to-peer coaching relationships in the context of collaborative professional development plans. We'll begin by learning about sociocultural learning theory. And we'll see this theory's links to peer coaching and collaborative professional development. Let's get started.

Let's begin with an overview of sociocultural learning theory. This theory, attributed to Vygotsky, tells us that peers influence each other's learning. Furthermore, sociocultural learning theory asserts that cultural beliefs and attitudes also impact instruction and learning.

There are three main areas of focus in sociocultural learning theory. The first is that social interaction is the basis for learning. Vygotsky tells us that social learning comes before development. And that our interactions with others help us to develop our cognition. He tells us that the nature of these social interactions is fundamentally cultural.

And he also underscores the importance of language development. He says that language is developed as a direct result of these social interactions. And so, first, not only is language the primary way in which adults are communicating information to children, but also language is used as one of our main tools of intellectual adaptation.

A second focus area in a sociocultural learning theory is the idea that more knowledgeable others promote learning. A more knowledgeable other is simply, someone who has a higher ability level than a target learner or someone who has a better understanding of the material than that target learner. And so a more knowledgeable other helps to provide a model for the desired results of the learning. A more knowledgeable other can also provide support for learners through the process of learning. So while a more knowledgeable other can definitely be a teacher or a coach, it could also be a peer or it could even be an assistive computer program.

The third area of focus in sociocultural theory is the idea that learning occurs in what we refer to as the zone of proximal development. Think of a student's ability level on a spectrum. At one point on the spectrum is the student's ability to complete a task with some help from a more knowledgeable other. At another point on that spectrum is the student's ability to complete a task completely independently. We use the phrase zone of proximal development to describe the area on the spectrum between those two ability levels.

Language and learning both occur in the zone of proximal development. So we want that to be our target zone for our instruction.

How does sociocultural theory support peer coaching and collaborative professional development? First, both collaborative professional development and peer coaching are language-rich experiences. Sociocultural theory tells us that these language-rich experiences will result in learning because language promotes the learning process. And so when we are communicating with one another through feedback, through planning for the implementation of new instructional strategies, through engaging in mutual problem solving, through the process of reflection, all of those activities are going to be promoting new learning and new development.

Next, collaborative PD and peer coaching are both social and collaborative activities. Again, sociocultural learning theory tells us that social and collaborative activities are going to result in learning. The peer-to-peer coaching relationship involves significant social interaction. Not only because the coaching is embedded right within the teacher's regular classroom work with his or her students, but also because the work that the colleagues are doing in the peer-to-peer coaching process is also so highly social.

They are observing one another. They are conducting model lessons for one another. They're providing feedback. And so all of these social interactions and collaborative actions are going to result in learning.

And finally, in some cases, collaborative PD and peer coaching might involve the more knowledgeable others aspect. In these situations, you'll often find that each of the colleagues involved has their own areas of strength. So one colleague might be proficient in differentiating instruction and the other might be more proficient in implementing competency-based strategies.

And so, in those types of cases, really, each teacher can take a turn serving as the more knowledgeable other. And this type of interaction is going to allow each of the colleagues the opportunity to be the learner who is navigating within that zone of proximal development. Remember sociocultural theory tells us that the more knowledgeable other who can complete a task at an independent level can serve as both a model and as support for the learner who is not yet ready to complete that task independently. And this is the situation in which learning will occur. And so when you are working within the context of a pairing or even a larger collaborative group where each person has their own strengths that they can share, each of them then can have that experience of being the more knowledgeable other for their colleagues.

Here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. What is one of your areas of expertise in which you could serve as a more knowledgeable other for your colleagues? As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the Additional Resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set.

Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Building Peer-to-Peer Coaching Relationships in Collaborative Professional Development"

(00:00 - 00:22) Introduction

(00:23 - 00:43) Sociocultural Learning Theory

(00:44 - 03:09) Areas of Focus in Sociocultural Learning Theory

(03:10 - 06:15) Links to Collaborative PD and Peer Coaching

(06:16 - 06:48) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

3-3. Peer Coaching

This page provides an overview of and steps for implementing peer coaching.

Handouts and Articles on Classroom Observation, Peer Coaching, and Mentoring 

These handouts and articles provide useful resources for developing and implementing a peer coaching model based on adult learning theories.