Peer Coaching in Bloemfontein – transformational!

Submitted by Fiona Beal

On Friday 21st October and Saturday 22nd October I was very privileged to be able to attend the last two sessions of Sarietjie Musgrave’s Peer Coaching workshop at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa. This was a large group of at least fifty teachers. Sarietjie was aided by Mrs Bouwie van der Walt. I was also able to visit Eunice High School in Bloemfontein for the day on Thursday 20th October to observe the benefits of the peer coaching programme on the school as a whole.  

What is Peer Coaching?

Peer Coaching is a programme that was developed by Puget Sound Center for teaching learning and technology in the USA. Microsoft sponsors the Peer Coaching programme and its expansion into over 40 countries worldwide. Peer Coaching is incorporated into the Partners in Learning Programme.

In South Africa SchoolNet SA provides Master training for potential trainers and implements the Peer Coaching programme nationally. Basically the programme is implanted over three years and each year two or three teachers from a school attend the course in 8 full day sessions over eight to nine months. Coaches learn good educational practice and how technology can complement learning. These new- found skills are then taken back to school to share with their colleagues. 


Who should attend?

There is a set of criteria that should be used to identify peer coaches within a school. However schools use different ways of deciding who should attend the eight peer coaching sessions in a year. Eunice High School allows the teachers to volunteer for the course. Listen to what Mr Cassar says about his observations of Peer Coaching. He mentions how he allows them to volunteer for the programme. 

What do the school principals think about the programme?

The four principals I interviewed had nothing but positive comments to say about the programme. Three of them had accompanied their staff on the first occasion, which is required by the course, and then returned every time. Generally the principals I interviewed noticed that the staff that volunteered or were chosen for this course became more willing to share with others and as a result they themselves developed professionally. The peer coach teachers start to take the lead in the school’s initiatives and go beyond the four walls of their classrooms. It is a combination of what they learned at peer coaching plus their own willingness to share that causes them to stand out. The principals also noticed a growth in confidence in the teachers concerned.  The programme seemed to bring a new vibrance into the schools. Teachers at the schools no longer saw ICT as an enemy. They saw that ICT helps the teacher to teach more effectively.

Did the teachers feel they had benefitted?

I interviewed quite a few of the teachers and was quite taken with their positive view of the peer coaching programme:

* This course helped them with their lesson planning and lesson design.

*Teachers generally found the course very enriching. Lesson planning improved as well as the structure of the lesson and integrating it with technology. They discovered where to find more resources to draw from.  

*It helped them to stimulate higher order thinking by implementing problem-solving techniques and collaborative practices that motivated the learners. 

*After being introduced to ways of gathering and finding information they learned to help others back at school. Before they came to peer coaching they tended to be selfish and do everything for themselves. They have since learned to share more with other teachers and make lessons more interesting for the learners at school. 

*The programme helped some of the teachers develop in confidence. They generally were excited to be able to take the things they had learned back to their schools. 

*Some noticed a growth in their own motivation. They found they had a lot to share with their colleagues at school. Some actually wanted to attend the peer coaching course because they had noticed the growth in other colleagues who had attended in previous years. 

*The way they asked questions in class back at school had changed, and the quality of the questions they asked in class had also changed. Even the learners asked better questions as a result. 

*The course seemed to open up a whole new world not only to the teachers but also to the learners. 

*Collaboration was new to some of the teachers but the course took them out of their little islands and helped them to discuss more with one another. They learned to tap into what is available out there and share it informally without treading on any toes at school. They found they had lots to share with others and in fact looked out for things to share with others.

*One of the teachers mentioned how peer coaching seems to surpass other forms of professional development as provided by the Department of Education. He described it as “magnificent in comparison”. It is user friendly and applicable, and can be implemented immediately. Peer coaching, he added, is a great confidence booster for a teacher. 

*Another of the teachers whose class I had been able to visit at Eunice spoke glowingly of the whole experience and how it had caused her to go on and experience more courses that SchoolNet had on offer. The brilliant work I observed in her classroom paid tribute to the obvious benefits of the programme. The highlight of her experience was to visit Lesotho with a group of peer coaches and share with the teachers there. 

One of the principals summarized his observations of peer coaching over a span of time. He said that he noticed that in the long term the teachers concerned move further and further out of the confines of their classrooms and not only share with a wide group of people but also bring back so much to the school. The impact on the school and learners is enormous.

A video of the experience

Here is a video summarising my peer coaching experience in Bloemfontein. 

To end off Session 7 Sarietjie showed the teachers four different Microsoft tools – AutoCollage, Songsmith, Photostory 3 and Windows Live Moviemaker. They were asked to document their peer coaching journey in groups during Session 8 using one of these tools. Here are some of the final results.

Photostories created by some of the groups

1) Siphi, Lebohogang, Mpai and Lilian

2) Prisca, Roman and Smith

3) Maritha, Nauda, Mavis and Ingrid

4) Keneilwe, Danisele, Mphomotseng and Motlodi

5) Jacki, John and Isaac

6)  Anthony, Thandi, Jonathon and Matladi

As an onlooker I left these sessions wishing I had experienced the privilege of attending a full course as a teacher when still in the classroom. This programme really seems to be one of the answers to the South African education dilemma!

SchoolNet wishes to thank Sareitjie Musgrave and the other peer coaching trainers around South Africa for the sterling job they are doing in training educators in this programme. 

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