Creating a Safe Space for Authentic Communication and Collaboration

ISTE Standards for Coaches

This week centers around the first and second standards; visionary leadership, covering part d; and teaching, learning, and assessment, covering part f. These standards encourage coaches to “sustain technology innovation” and model “best practices in instructional design” when working with peer teachers.

Triggering Event

The triggering event, in which we build our own question, “What roles do communication and collaboration skills play in successful coaching?”

Triggering Question

My question, based on the ISTE standards and the triggering event, speaks to my own context and personal situation. What resources–that integrate communication and collaboration skills–may help a peer coach build a relationship with his or her peer teacher?

Exploration and Integration

A peer coaching relationship creates an opportunity for two peers to come together for the purposes of learning, developing new skills, refining strategies, and creating space for ongoing reflection. This requires a particular defined relationship that provides a robust and healthy space for peers to engage to promote change. Foltos (2013) captures this well in the opening section of his chapter about communication and collaboration.

The goal of coaching is to produce the kind of strong, collaborative relationships between coach and learning partner that can improve student learning. Collaboration requires that coaches and their peers are learning with and from each other as they coplan learning activities, model, team-teach, observe, and reflect. This is a collaborative relationship that requires meaningful discussions about ways to improve teaching and learning, and these discussions are likely to challenge current practices and long-held beliefs (p. 78).

A productive peer coaching relationship requires an investment from both the coach and peer teacher to invest in the relationship. Based on ISTE 1, visionary leadership, and ISTE 2, teaching, learning, and assessment, my triggering question asks, “What resources–that integrate communication and collaboration skills–may help a peer coach in building a relationship with their peer teacher?”

Seattle University created a peer coaching program a number of years ago. Launched as a pilot program, the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning invited a number of faculty–senior and junior–to participate (Huston & Weaver, 2008). They started the program based on the encouraging literature about peer coaching, as a way to reach senior faculty who did not find one off workshops as very beneficial and a way for junior faculty to get plugged in and build their teaching skills (pp. 5-6).

The main focus of the program was to create an opportunity where communication and collaboration occurred among colleagues that required “mutual respect, trust, and confidentiality” (p. 7). With these key attributes, “peer coaching becomes a non-evaluative opportunity for development” (p. 7). Throughout their pilot program, one significant takeaway was the need for a confidential relationship. “Peer coaching, because of its non-evaluative and confidential nature, also provides a relatively safe opportunity for faculty members to shine a critical light on their teaching and the assumptions they take for granted” (p. 13). My professor reminded me of how crucial this is in higher education because tenure and promotion processes are political. When a university creates a safe and trustworthy space for faculty to engage in conversations knowing their relationship is also wrapped in a cloak of confidentiality, there is an opportunity to dive much deeper into critical and meaningful teaching and learning topics without fear. The authors go on to explain how confidentiality creates a “conversational space” in the university.

Within the safety of a peer coaching relationship, a faculty member can express personal concerns about these potentially controversial issues, engage in constructive conversations, and seek solutions so as to become a healthier and wiser practitioner than before. In this way, peer coaching creates the “conversational space” that is needed to construct new meanings from familiar situations (p. 13).

Confidentially is the one of six key guidelines that Seattle University recommends based on their experience and review of peer coaching literature. Filling in the other five spots are goal-setting, voluntary participation, assessment, formative evaluation, and institutional support (pp. 14-17). Reflecting back to my main questions about what support resources are available, I see the importance of confidentiality tightly integrated into the formative evaluation. One of my cohort members, Annie, summarizes this point well, “As coaches, we must be trustworthy as our learning partners experiment, take risks, learn and grow along with us” (2015). The atmosphere of a safe space is crucial. The authors argue the use of formative assessment and not summative because of the impact it could have on other areas of the faculty member’s evaluations. ”Summative evaluation refers to assessments that are used to render a judgment, often about tenure, promotion, or salary increases, whereas formative evaluation refers to assessments that are focused exclusively on improving teaching” (p. 16). Therefore, confidentiality is central to a successful relationship among peers in a peer coaching program.

Concerns

My main concern is trying to discern what is confidential and is not. Mainly, when you share a relationship it can be easy to discuss with another how so and so is doing. The Seattle University article didn’t provide practical specifics–though that was not the point of the article–but it might be useful to determine bounds of confidentiality within a particular relationship. Based on feedback from my cohort peers, a wise step would be to integrate a mutual understanding and expectation at the beginning of each meeting about confidentiality. Each peer teacher/coach relationship may be different, but saying and agreeing to the expectation cements the way forward. For example, if there is a story that a coach might want to share the coach must ask permission–and even change some identifying characteristics–before telling the story to others. It comes down to a conversation, but is always couched in the expectation of confidentiality from the beginning.

Resolution

Becky, my cohort peer, asked if I answered my question about what resources may help build trust with peer coaches. While I concluded with aspects of integrating authentic relationship with confidentiality, it wasn’t my initial intention. However, confidentiality–a seemingly small and insignificant request–does require specific attention to do it well. To that end, my question is answered in the sense that peer coaches used confidentially as a key communication and collaboration attribute with specific attention paid to how to integrate it well to protect the peer teacher, but also provide appropriate information to others when needed.

Resources

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

Huston, T., & Weaver, C. (2008). Peer Coaching: Professional Development for Experienced Faculty. Innovative Higher Education, 33(1), 5–20. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-007-9061-9

  2 comments for “Creating a Safe Space for Authentic Communication and Collaboration

  1. Marsha Scott
    October 26, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Thanks for including confidentiality with effective peer coaching. This is a vital part of coaching when building trust between the coach and peer teacher. Without confidentiality, it may be a challenge to collaborate or even communicate effectively with participants. I agree with this statement, “a wise step would be to integrate a mutual understanding and expectation at the beginning of each meeting about confidentiality.” Situations change all the time, therefore beginning each meeting with a mutual understanding would build trust and respect. Great job, Ryan exploring a safe space for communication and collaboration!

  2. October 26, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Wow, what a great statement Ryan- “When a university creates a safe and trustworthy space for faculty to engage in conversations knowing their relationship is also wrapped in a cloak of confidentiality, there is an opportunity to dive much deeper into critical and meaningful teaching and learning topics without fear.” I’m sure this is something that is lacking at most universities and your repeated mention of confidentiality seems to be a crucial component. Your post serves to remove evaluative (and political) concerns from the practice of improving instruction. You suggest a potentially difficult, but really important, cultural shift. I look forward to reading about this further!

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