What is Peer Coaching?
Peer coaching (also known as co-coaching) is a confidential process where two people, who are at a similar level, support each other to work through challenges they are facing.
During a coaching session, peer coaches take turns to coach each other. A peer coach actively listens without judgment, reflects back on what they are hearing, asks incisive questions, and supports their peer coaching partner to decide on a course of action’, British Council, 2022.
According to Quantum Workplace, ‘peers often have better insight into an employee’s work ethic and productivity, performance, and areas that could use improvement than managers, as they work closely with one another on a daily or even hourly basis. Creating a culture that fosters peer coaching encourages more accurate development’.
How this project came about?
In the Autumn of 2021, ThinkEQ was awarded a contract by Education Scotland to deliver a programme of learning to educators across the country on pre-identified professional learning programmes. Specifically, Education Scotland sought to offer a peer coaching programme where similar-career-stage professionals in education (teachers, school leaders, pupil support assistants, community learning and development practitioners, ASN teams and early years) were partnered with a peer coaching partner from outside of their own local authority area as part of a wider education workforce support package. No prior experience of coaching was required to participate.
We were tasked with
- Designing a programme of learning to introduce the skills required to have basic coaching conversations with a view to taking the learning back to the workplace.
- Supporting Education Scotland with the promotion of the offer to prospective participants in schools, early learning centres, and in community learning and development settings.
- Matching professionals using pre agreed criteria, introducing them to one another and monitoring their progress for 3 sessions back and forth.
- Facilitating monthly live learning sessions designed to support and complement the practical coaching offer.
- Analysing and reporting on high-level thematic data emerging from sessions, as well as project impact data.
The initial programme saw 244 register and undertake this opportunity. In 2022, the offer was extended to a further 1500 educators across Scotland and rolled out wider to include colleagues in regional education hub settings and to those not specifically taking part in an existing professional learning programme.
Challenges and our solution
Naturally, with the challenges placed on the education workforce during the pandemic, we sought to ensure a pragmatic and flexible approach was adopted. Our intended ‘launch’ session became a recorded, on-demand video ensuring those who could not make a live session did not miss out. We offered two slots of monthly live learning, in the morning and in the late afternoon. We surveyed and evaluated the feedback from participants and adapted our approach to ensure maximum participation and we extended the offer from an initial 3 months to 6 months to allow all participants to complete the programme.
How we matched
Prospective participants were invited to register to be matched with a peer coach. Our platform took the matching requirements and auto matched the participant to another peer outside of their local authority. The match was based on job role, and in some cases, professional learning programme, and coaching experience. As an example, a headteacher in Angus Council was matched with a headteacher in the Scottish Borders. Both had no experience of coaching at all.
The auto match process allowed us to onboard participants at-scale, providing a high-quality match. We added a human element to the matching process, sense checking a selection of matches to ensure they were a good fit in terms of coaching experience and career stage. None of the participants reported any issues with their match.
During the onboarding process, each participant was invited to join our online learning programme. This online course was made accessible on demand and include a series of learning modules, as well as tools and resources to help them with their peer coaching conversations.
The in-built chat function was enabled 24/7, ensuring that participants could reach out to us at any point to ask quick questions or seek support.
Throughout the programme, we were able to provide Education Scotland with a range of meaningful data and statistical insights, ranging from general participant demographic data to themes emerging and impact of coaching on their professional practice. This information was gathered using forms which were embedded into the course modules and were completed by the participants themselves. We were able to provide point-in-time data, as an when requested by the client.
What was the impact of the programme on the participants?
Evaluative questions were supplied by Education Scotland in line with the Scottish Government’s funding requirements. All questions were related to mental health and wellbeing.
Participants were surveyed on what they took from their experience:
- Acquisition of coaching skills which they intend to take back and use in the workplace.
- A feeling of being valued and supported by Education Scotland, with appreciation and gratitude expressed in feedback.
- Ability to grow their own professional network by supporting another colleague out with their own place of work.
- Increase in the areas of self-awareness, confidence and belief, ability to rationalise and consider problems from another perspective, increase in personal resilience.
What was the impact of the programme on the client?
Education Scotland were able to benefit from a fully managed, end-to-end service which saw us promote and advertise the service, set up the programme infrastructure with scope and objectives, report on the delivery of the programme to time and budget and to manage the day-to-day activity of matching, onboarding, reporting and client liaison. As the programme progressed, demand for a place increased, rising from 244 in 2021, to 1500 in 2022. This represents an 84% increase in demand.
Education Scotland was able to use the impact data to evidence the impact of the peer coaching programme, and its success, to evidence need and acquire sponsorship for a further, larger programme.
In terms of creating a lasting and sustainable impact on a business using peer coaching, and with the continuation of this programme into the new year, we are excited to see the more granular impacts that the peer coaching programme will have on the sector going forwards.
Why adopt a coaching culture in your workplace?
From our experience, those organisations that achieve business growth quickly and successfully are those whose leaders are bought into development through coaching and who seek to create working environments where employees are empowered to share their ideas, voice their aspirations and share a collective growth mindset, enabling their colleagues to thrive and flourish.
Jill Hauwiller, Forbes columnist, suggests that organisations ‘give peer coaching a try and you might just end up with a high-trust network of top talent with a broad understanding of the business and proven skills in building an effective culture’.