Description of Wisconsin Peer Coaching Collaborative, a Research Supported Professional Development Program
ISSAC Consortium Case Study: Building Leadership through Peer Coaching

The ISSAC consortium comprised of 7 small rural school districts in southern Wisconsin work together to provide high quality cost effective professional development to teachers. This work has been funded through grants from the Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program. Teachers participating in the consortium showed statistically significant improvements in lesson design in the following conditions:
  1. Standards and the Level of the Cognitive Challenge of the tasks they asked students to perform, incorporating more critical thinking and problem solving challenges resulting in demonstrating deeper of understanding of standards based content performance requirements.
  2. Opportunity for inquiry/collaboration/and communication with peers and experts where technology is used for critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, team work, and life skills such as leadership, adaptability and self-direction
  3. Student Engagement through real world relevant contexts for students to apply thinking and problem solving to increase student engagement and motivation.
  4. Level of technology use (literacy, adaptive, and transforming) changed from “tool” focused activities to a focus on learning and identifying the best tool and web resource for the learning context.

The professional development program implemented incorporated several research based components to improve instructional practices that employ technology and incorporate critical and higher level thinking skills to impact student achievement in grades 3-12. The program included:
  • Intel Teach to the Future integration of technology training, Intel Elements courses
  • Microsoft Peer Coaching program,
  • Verizon's Thinkfinityhe
  • The integration of BadgerLink resources to enhance classroom teaching and learning
  • Critical Friends Discussions - Teacher reflection on lessons and student work focusing on improving 21st Century skills and the impact of technology on student learning.

The participants engaged in Critical Friends reflective protocol based dialogues throughout the project. These opportunities to engage in conversations around evidence of quality in their lessons proved to be very beneficial and critical to teacher success. Teachers reported the lessons learned from the critical friends experience contributed to a significant change in the quality of lessons they produced. Seldom do teachers have the opportunity to receive evidence based feedback on their work. This seems to have been a critical element in improvement in quality of lesson design.
EETT project participants had clearly developed skills in improved integration and lesson design focusing on standards. Teachers collaborated and reflected with their consortium colleagues online and in face to face sessions.

These highly skilled teachers needed a means in their local districts to share their knowledge and expertise. The ISSAC consortium wanted to develop the capacity to transfer ownership of professional development to the local districts using these lead teachers. In order to develop capacity to sustain growth at the district level the consortium implemented the Microsoft Peer Coaching program. The Microsoft Peer Coaching Program is a successful scalable professional development model that enhances standards-based instruction through engaged learning and technology integration. In schools that adopt a PD model like the peer coaching model, researchers found that when teachers combined participation in typical workshops with peer coaching for sharing and observation, 88 % of teachers were using new strategies in their classrooms effectively (Joyce & Showers, 1994; Joyce, Murphy, & Showers, 1996; Richardson, 1999).

The training provided by the Peer Coaching Program improved the communication and collaboration skills of lead teachers enabling them to direct professional conversations with their peers on assessment practices, effective lesson design and integrating technology resources and tools. ISSAC’s implementation of the Peer Coaching Program fostered systemic integration of technology by training teacher leaders to serve as peer coaches for colleagues and assist schools to build their capacity for sustaining professional growth.

Teachers need continued opportunities for professional development at this critical time when many are not familiar with the Common Core Standards, 21st century skills and assessments and the ways technology can support them. This project allowed ISSAC schools to maximize training across the consortium and locally by implementing a cost effective Peer Coaching Model. Without the grant the training costs would fall to individual districts that simply could not and would not be able to continue professional development. Peer Coaches describe themselves as being much more confident in using technology and taking on leadership roles in their schools coaching others in how to integrate technology. Many of these coaches were viewed as “experts” by their peers. The Peer Coaching program enabled them to develop the coaching skills that resulted in improved communication and collaboration with their peers. They became better facilitators and coaches providing support to peers that was directly relevant and embedded in the teachers’ classrooms increasing teacher skills, confidence and ownership for improved teaching and learning.

Administrative support for the coaching was frequently described as a critical component for success. In districts where administrators were involved in the coaching training and implementation coaches were more likely to meet on a regular basis, focus on the inclusion of more digital tools and resources and produce higher quality lesson improvements. Specifically, Administrators who provided support to teams by assisting in the logistics of pairings and placing a priority on providing a common meeting time implemented the most successful coaching programs.

Wisconsin teachers from all levels K-12 have reported benefits from their participation in working with a coach. Most teachers initially report increased engagement of their students as the most notable change in student performance. Later in their coaching experience many report that they now design lessons more focused on standards and integrate technologies to enhance the learning where prior to coaching they chose a digital tool and built lessons around it. This shift from focusing on the tool to focusing on the learning is a key to building lessons that incorporate more critical thinking and problem solving. Primary k-2 literacy classroom teachers where RtI is closely monitored and assessed learned to use digital tools like interactive whiteboards and iPads to enhance student involvement. They also developed ongoing performance assessments vs. a more traditional skill building approach. Middle school level teachers report the changes in their lessons as moving from traditional independently completed worksheets or summary reports to more collaborative tasks that require students to work together to share responsibility and develop important 21st Century Skills. They report improved tasks, use of a range of formative and summative assessments, and access to appropriate technology resources as major changes in lessons. They report student engagement, quality of discussions and improved student products as changes in student performance.

Teachers develop confidence in using digital tools and develop higher quality lessons and assessments. During their initial year of coaching teachers document the changes in lessons that occur during the year. Teachers report this documentation process to be very affirming and demonstrated a clear picture of continuous improvement. Teachers post improved lessons, self reflections on the change in their lessons, and the resources they have found beneficial to an online portal to share and collaborate with other teachers.

Coaches also collaborate with other coaches across the consortium on their coaching work. Coaches identify and resolve challenges in coaching, analyze the improvements in the lessons they collaborated on, and receive feedback on their coaching skills. Coaches discuss how to improve the ways they engage in thoughtful conversations around teaching and learning that encourage their collaborating teachers to think more deeply about their practice resulting in transformational changes in teaching and learning.

Description of Research-Supported Microsoft Peer Coaching Program:
Current Research:

Only 25% of teachers in any school districts engage in improvement initiatives even at the peak of those reform efforts. “The challenging and ambitious practice of these teachers occurs in proportion to the number of teachers who are intrinsically motivated to question their practice on a fundamental level and look to outside models to improve teaching and learning “(School Reform from the Inside Out, Elmore, R., 2004).

A study conducted by the NEA and AFT in 2008 shows that only 50% of teachers are prepared to effectively integrate technology into classroom instruction and that only 1/3 of teachers ask students to engage in problem solving and research. Current surveys of Wisconsin teachers from EETT grant participants reveal the same patterns of use.

Performance on international student assessments (PISA) show the United States is ranked 24th out of 31 industrialized countries on problem solving and critical thinking. To find out why some schools succeed where others do not, Barber & Mourshed (2007), studied twenty-five of the world's top school systems, including ten of the top performers. They examined what the high-performing school systems have in common and what tools they use to improve student outcomes. “All of the available evidence on teacher effectiveness suggest that students placed with high-performing teachers will progress three times as fast as those placed with low-performing teachers”, ( Barber & Mourshed, 2007). Their findings conclude “The only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction.” ( p.26) and “The quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.” (p16).

The work of the National Staff Development Council (NSDC) (Sparks 2002), Michael Fullan (2001), North Central Regional Laboratory (NCREL), Showers, Murphy & Joyce (1996), Sparks & Loucks-Horsley, (1989), and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) (2003, July) present five factors that have shown to significantly improve teaching:
  1. On the job, job-embedded training, Professional development needs to be part of a teacher’s daily schedule, which means during class time or prep time, in the classroom, and focused on content and pedagogy
  2. Long-term, ongoing professional development,Darling Hammond, NSDC 2009. Intensive 50 hours in a school year on one focus area. The best school systems provide this time for all teachers and avoid educational fads, the most effective schools focus on one issue, like literacy, for 5 years.
  3. Focused on classroom activities, using the actual lessons and students that a teacher is currently teaching.
  4. Highly collaborative environment, and,
  5. Structured to offer chances to learn from others. Robert Fullan argues in “The 6 Secrets to Change” student learning increases substantially when teachers work in learning communities supported by school leaders who focus on improvement. Darling Hammond, NSDC 2009, collaboration impacts more than individual teacher’s classrooms, all students in classrooms of all teachers collaborating see better academic achievement. Conversely that without this type of collaborative effort schools won’t be able to change to implement systemic change

The advent of digital technology has fundamentally changed routines and practices in most areas of work. Advocates of technology in education have hoped for similar dramatic changes in the process of teaching and learning. It has become clear, however, that in education the reality has lagged far behind the vision. Part of the problem has been a tendency to only look at the technology and not how it is used. Merely introducing technology to the educational process is not enough. The question of what teachers need to know in order to appropriately incorporate technology into their teaching has received recent attention (International Society for Technology in Education, 2000; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1997; U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, 1995; U.S. Department of Education, 2000; Zhao, 2003). Our primary focus should be on studying how the technology is used (Carr, Jonassen, Litzinger, & Marra, 1998; Mishra & Koehler, 2003).

The Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) framework developed by Punya Mishra and Matthew J Koehler is the result of 5 years of research focused on teacher professional development and faculty development in higher education. It articulates the essential qualities of teacher knowledge required for technology integration in teaching, while addressing the complex nature of applying this knowledge in learning environments built around content, pedagogy and technology. Expectations of teacher use of technology have historically focused on developing skill in using the tools and software and did not address the more important question of how to use technology appropriately in the instructional process. Professional development focused on what and not how. This has resulted in teachers emphasizing basic skill use in classrooms focusing on tools and hardware and very limited application of technology to enhance critical thinking and research.

Current teaching standards, International Society for Technology (ISTE) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE, 1997, revised in 2001),for technology have moved away from an emphasis on basic skills acquisition and have defined higher order goals that are essential for effective pedagogy with technology (Glenn,2002a, 2002b; Handler & Strudler, 1997; Wise, 2001). This perspective requires the development of very different strategies for developing teachers.

ISTE recently released a White paper: Technology, Coaching anc Community addressing the problem that many teachers do not know how to design and support technology-rich learning environments. The effective use of technology is essential for learning and teaching in a global, digital age. When teachers do not effectively integrate all aspects of technology in the educational process, today’s students are not fully engaged and miss out on authentic learning experiences emphasizing collaboration, creativity, and innovation. This leads to students who are unprepared to be productive digital-age citizens and participants in the highly competitive, global, digital workplace. The White Paper showcases the effectiveness of peer coaching professional development and showcases three peer coaching programs demonstrating positive results. One is the Peer
Coaching program used in our project.

The Peer Coaching model used in the Wisconsin Peer Coaching Collaborative is based on effective research components. It is a framework that builds internal capacity for school districts to implement effective sustainable professional development. The goal of Peer Coaching is to help schools to create systemic capacity to provide professional development by promoting the participation of school administrators as well as coaches and teachers. In a time of budget cuts and department reorganizations, schools are challenged to do more with less. Peer Coaching provides effective, affordable teacher professional development.
Wisconsin Peer Coaching Collaborative Model: Building Leadership through Peer Coaching
The Peer Coaching model is built around research supported factors for improving teaching (see above) and focuses on improving student achievement by improving three areas of teaching and learning:
  • Improving lesson design by incorporating engaging strategies focused on Common Core Standards performances,
  • Integrating digital classroom toolsand resources to enhance learning, and,
  • Developing collaboration/communication skills around reflection and analysis of the lesson improvement process.

Trained coaches collaborate with peers in protocol based discussions. These protocols are designed to give teachers optimal feedback without teachers feeling the need to justify or explain their reasons for current work. These assist the collaborating teacher in analyzing and improving lessons from their own classrooms with their own students toward the goal of improving achievement through the use of 21st century digital classroom tools, balanced assessment practices and ongoing reflection.

The Peer Coaching Program, supported by Microsoft Corporation, is a proven methodology for training teacher leaders to serve as peer coaches for their colleagues. Many educators attest to the transformative power of peer coaching and its ability to alter practices and beliefs. Peer coaching is a practical way to deliver the ongoing, consistent support essential to assist teachers to improve their teaching and increase student achievement. It builds trust betweencoaches, teachers and localadministrators. It aligns with local districtand state initiatives.Currently there are trained teacher coaches in 47 countries, 14 U.S. States and over 25 Wisconsin school districts. The program trains facilitators and provides ongoing support and advice as they implement Peer Coaching in their districts. These facilitators recruit and train coaches in their local schools. The local coaches choose 1-2 teachers to collaborate with throughout the year and each subsequent year they coach 1-2 more teachers. The Peer Coaching training provided by trained facilitators helps coaches collaborate with teachers at their schools so that each teacher in the school can strengthen the quality of learning, and improve student learning by providing students with active, engaging, technology-rich learning activities.

Coaches are trained to engage in the Coaching Process outlined below. They learn collaboration and communication skills to become effective coaches. Coaches also collaborate with other coaches on their coaching work, identify and resolve challenges in coaching, analyze the improvements in the lessons they collaborated on, and receive feedback on their coaching skills. Coaches discuss ways to engage in thoughtful conversations around teaching and learning that encourage their collaborating teachers to think more deeply about their practice resulting in transformational changes in teaching and learning.
Coaching Process:

Step 1: Coaches and teachers focus on Common Core Standards using protocols to discuss current instructional practice and lesson design. Protocols use research identified indicators of effective instructional components to assess quality of current lessons and identify areas where improvement could occur.

Step 2: The collaborating teacher and their coach work together to develop engaging relevant tasks that require students to demonstrate the performance outcomes and the critical thinking required of the Common Core Standards In relevant real world contexts. Teachers use a research based lesson improvement template to guide their work.

Step 3: The coach and the collaborating teacher identify challenging aspects of the lesson and work to provide clear concise directions and explicit expectations of student performance. These include developing opportunities for balanced assessment practices that include providing specific feedback that will assist students in moving to the next level of performance.

Step 4: Technology resources and digital classroom tools are identified that will enhance the learning outcomes based on six research supported indicators of effective technology integration. The Wisconsin Verizon Thinkfinity partnership provides access to effective digital tools and learning resources.

Step 5: Assessment options are identified that provide a balance between content outcomes, 21st Century skills, and self and peer assessments.

Step 6: Teacher and coach reflect on the outcome of the improved lesson and discuss challenges and identify changes to make improvements. Teachers discuss the impact of the improved lesson on student performance and chart the changes made and their resulting impact. This reflection and assessment leads them to discuss next steps and the process repeats. Collaboration logs are records of the conversations and lesson improvements. These logs provide evidence of improvement in teacher practice and provide rewarding feedback to collaborating teachers.
Participants examine their coaching success throughout the project. They collect teacher and student artifacts (collaboration logs, participant journals, lesson plans, student work samples, session evaluations) and document technology/ tools used to collect and show evidence. Coaches share observation data (examples: observations of coaching, observations of classroom practice, observations of coach training sessions, and participation in a culminating coaching event). Coaches also complete or provide program evaluation data through: self assessments, interviews, coach reports, collaborating teacher reports, oral examination of participants, discussion or blog entries. Data is used to evaluate the project and identify program improvement needs to plan for ongoing implementation.

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