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International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568

Peer coaching as part of a professional development
program for science teachers in Botswana
Annette Thijs
, Ellen van den Berg
University of Twente, Faculty of Educational Science and Technology, Department of Curriculum, PO Box 217, 7500 AE
Enschede, The Netherlands
This paper discusses the ndings of a study into the potentials of peer coaching as part of a professional development
program, consisting of an in-service course and exemplary curriculum materials, in supporting the implementation of
learner-centred teaching in senior secondary science and mathematics education in Botswana. Teachers in the study
organised several peer coaching activities and considered them benecial. They primarily indicated having learned
about general teaching issues while comments referring specically to the implementation of learner-centred teaching
were sparse. It is argued that for peer coaching to be an effective support tool teachers should have a thorough concep-
tualisation of this innovative approach. 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Curriculum; Professional development; Peer coaching
1. Introduction
Reforming educational practice is a complex
undertaking, and this certainly holds true for
developing countries. Comprehensive teacher
development programs can play an important role
in this process (Dalin, 1994; de Feiter et al., 1995;
Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998). This paper discusses
peer coaching as a promising component of such
a support program. Peer coaching is a condential
relationship between professional colleagues work-
ing together to reect on their teaching and share
ideas in order to improve their professional skills.
Realising effective peer coaching in schools is,
however, not a simple endeavour. While the chal-
* Corresponding author.
E-mail address: thijs@edte-utwente.nl (A. Thijs).
0738-0593/02/$ - see front matter 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S0738- 0593( 00) 00078- X
lenge of initiating peer coaching and promoting
collegiality in schools has been taken up by several
in-service education projects throughout both the
developed world (see for examples: Fullan, 1991)
and the developing world (see for an example:
Anderson and Sumra, 1995), there still are many
hurdles to conquer. This papers focuses on the
COAST study (COAching to support Science and
mathematics Teachers), which aims at exploring
what support is needed to bring about effective
peer coaching practices in schools in Botswana.
The main purpose of the study is to explore the
potential role of peer coaching to support teachers
with implementing learner-centred teaching
methods in secondary science and mathematics
education in Botswana. The COAST study has
taken place as a joint venture between the In-ser-
vice Education and Training Programme for
Science and Mathematics Teachers at the Univer-
56 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
sity of Botswana (UB-INSET project), the Univer-
sity of Twente, and the Centre for Development
Cooperation Services (CDCS) of the Vrije Univer-
siteit Amsterdam in The Netherlands.
2. Context and theoretical background
2.1. Botswana and the UB-INSET project
The nation of Botswana, independent since
1966, is a large but sparsely populated country in
the south of Africa. After its neighbour South
Africa, Botswana has the highest per capita gross
national product (GNP) in sub-Saharan Africa.
Income inequities are, however, enormous between
urban and rural households. The structure of the
school system in Botswana has undergone several
changes over the past years. Presently Botswana
employs a 732 system, consisting of seven years
of primary education, 3 years of junior secondary
education, and 2 years of senior secondary edu-
The UB-INSET project, located at the Depart-
ment of Mathematics and Science Education
(DMSE) of the University of Botswana, focuses
on senior secondary education. The project aims
to improve the quality of science and mathematics
education at this level. At present there are 27
senior secondary schools and a handful of private
schools in Botswana, with about 400 science and
mathematics teachers. Almost all of these teachers
are fully qualied. However, the number of
expatriate teachers is considerable, that is about
65% (van Maarseveen, 1995).
The main aim of the UB-INSET project is to
promote learner-centred teaching methods in
science and mathematics education. Learner-
centred education is related to several international
trends in improving science education (van den
Akker, 1994), such as the emphasis on meaningful
content, promoting scientic literacy for all stu-
dents, and the importance of learning to learn.
These elements are also reected in the goals and
overall philosophy of the educational system in
Botswana as outlined in the National Policy on
Education. The implementation of this learner-
centred approach is a complex endeavour as the
typical science classroom practice in Botswana, as
well as in other Southern African countries (cf. de
Feiter et al., 1995), often includes an over-depen-
dence on the lecture method, a lack of questioning
by learners, and passivity on the part of the learner,
and there are many conditions that are not con-
ducive to change such as lack of material facilities,
high class sizes, and insufcient condence and
mastery by teachers of both subject content and
basic teaching skills (Fuller and Snyder, 1991; Pro-
phet, 1995; Rowell and Prophet, 1990; Snyder and
Ramatsui, 1990). Considering the complexity of
implementing learner-centred education, UB-
INSET uses an incremental approach to promoting
this innovative method. While the full potential of
learner-centred education is communicated to tea-
chers, the more specic focus is on less far reach-
ing strategies that are feasible in view of local prac-
tices and conditions. These strategies purport to be
an activity-based approach where teachers are
encouraged to include (hands-on) activities in their
science and mathematics teaching. To support tea-
chers with implementing this approach, the UB-
INSET project has developed a department-ori-
ented in-service education approach. Support is not
only given to individual teachers, but also to
departments as a whole. Heads of science and
mathematics departments are provided with pro-
fessional development programs to improve their
educational leadership capacities. Teachers are
supported by in-service education courses, the pro-
vision of innovative curriculum materials, and vis-
its to schools by project staff. Peer coaching is
another important component of the in-service edu-
cation approach. During in-service education
courses and school visits by project staff, teachers
are encouraged to organise peer coaching activities
to support each other with the implementation of
activity-based methods. Peer coaching can be
described as a collegial approach to the analysis of
teaching aimed at integrating new skills and stra-
tegies in classroom practice (Joyce and Showers,
1982). Peer coaching activities usually include
elements of classroom observation and collegial
discussion. Joyce and Showers (1995) make a dis-
tinction between peer coaching that supports teach-
ers with implementation of a specic innovation,
and peer coaching with a more general focus aimed
57 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
at improving existing teaching practices. This
paper focuses on the rst type of peer coaching,
which aims at facilitating the transfer of new teach-
ing skills into the existing repertoire of teachers.
Peer coaching appears to be a promising strategy
within the Botswana context, as science and math-
ematics departments in senior secondary schools
are relatively large, consisting of eight to ten teach-
ers. Furthermore, the leadership role of the Heads
of the science and mathematics departments can be
seen as a promising condition for the implemen-
tation of peer coaching. As educational leaders of
their departments, the Heads of Department can
encourage and support teachers with their peer
coaching activities, and can create the necessary
organisational conditions. Despite these favourable
conditions, however, the actual implementation of
effective peer coaching activities in Botswana
schools is difcult (Thijs and van den Akker,
1997). Time constraints greatly contribute to the
limited use of peer coaching. Teachers usually
have heavy teaching loads and are not always able
to meet with colleagues due to clashing timetables.
Teachers also appear to be hesitant to initiate peer
coaching sessions. They do not want to force their
colleagues into peer coaching relationships, and
rather wait until other teachers invite them to their
classroom. Furthermore, teachers are not fully con-
vinced of the personal benets of peer coaching.
Finally, the link between peer coaching and the use
of activity-based methods is also not always appar-
ent. Many teachers that have organised coaching
activities focus on general teaching issues.
The COAST study has been designed to explore
how the potential of peer coaching, as part of the
UB-INSET professional development approach,
can be realised. Its main focus is on investigating
what type of peer coaching would be effective in
supporting the implementation of activity-based
methods, and how such peer coaching can be
implemented in schools. Central to the study is the
assumption that peer coaching will be most effec-
tive as part of a more comprehensive support pro-
gram in which various support tools are combined.
A combination of exemplary curriculum materials,
in-service education courses, and peer coaching
appears to be promising in this respect.
2.2. Supporting teachers with implementing
curriculum change
Curriculum materials can support teachers in
changing their teaching practice (Ball and Cohen,
1996). By picturing how a proposed innovation
works in classroom practice, materials can help
teachers to understand the critical features and
benets of using the proposed change. When con-
taining clear guidelines with accurate and concrete
advice on how to deal with typical implementation
problems, materials can also help teachers prevent
or solve problems met during initial implemen-
tation of the change in practice (van den Akker,
1994). These so-called procedural specications
can support teachers in performing the new tasks
required by the change successfully. As such, the
materials provide teachers with a scaffold in their
initial implementation efforts with which they can
implement teaching approaches that would other-
wise be out of their reach (van den Berg, 1996).
In this respect curriculum materials can stimulate
teachers to develop their teaching repertoire, there-
by expanding their zone of proximal develop-
ment (van den Akker, 1994). Studies conducted
in Namibia (Ottevanger et al., 1995) and Swaziland
(Dlamini et al., 1995) show that curriculum
materials can also be an effective means for teacher
learning within the African context.
Curriculum materials are especially effective
when used in combination with in-service edu-
cation courses (van den Berg, 1996; Roes, 1997).
Effective in-service education courses consist of
theory, demonstration, practice and feedback, and
coaching (Joyce and Showers, 1995). An explo-
ration of theory is needed to understand the ration-
ale behind the new teaching approach. Demon-
stration of the new approach facilitates
understanding of the underlying theories and pro-
vides a picture of the use of the approach in prac-
tice. Practicing the new approach in a safe setting,
for example in an in-service program, is benecial
for the development of skills in using the approach.
Skill development is further facilitated by feedback
about teacher performance in the practice sessions.
Finally, coaching should take place in the school
setting following the initial in-service program.
Within such a program, curriculum materials can
58 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
be used for demonstration and practice purposes.
An in-service education program with curriculum
materials is especially effective in supporting
teacher in their initial implementation efforts. The
program can enhance teachers understanding of
the change and its implications of use in practice
(Roes, 1997), while also stimulating teachers to
implement the proposed change and providing
them with a successful rst experience (van den
Berg, 1996).
For more long-term effectiveness, additional in-
school support is needed (Fullan, 1991; Sparks and
Loucks, 1990). This support is needed to help tea-
chers integrate new skills within their existing
teaching repertoire, and to assist them in overcom-
ing initial uncertainties created by the required
change (Loucks-Horsley et al., 1998). Joyce and
Showers (1995) convincingly point at the potential
of peer coaching in this respect. Coached teachers
appear to use new teaching strategies more fre-
quently and with greater competence. They also
tend to experiment more with the strategies, adapt-
ing them to the needs of their students, and have
a greater long-term retention of the new teaching
skills. Besides supporting individual learning, peer
coaching can also foster collegiality in schools. In
several studies (Sharan and Hertz-Lazarowitz,
1982; Sparks and Bruder, 1987) peer coaching
appeared to enhance mutual sharing and assistance
among teachers. The importance of teacher collab-
oration with regard to sustainable school improve-
ment has often been stressed (Fullan, 1991; Harg-
reaves, 1992) and has also been highlighted by
several studies in the developed world (Hameyer
et al., 1995; Rosenholtz, 1989) as well as in
developing countries (Dalin, 1994).
Peer coaching can be described as a collegial
approach to the analysis of teaching aimed at inte-
grating new skills and strategies in classroom prac-
tice (Joyce and Showers, 1982). Three character-
istics have become common to the variety of peer
coaching approaches that have developed over the
years (Ackland, 1991). Firstly, peer coaching has
to be separated from teacher evaluation. While the
latter implies assessment of a teachers adequacy,
peer coaching implies assistance in a learning pro-
cess and a safe environment in which to experi-
ment with new teaching strategies (Joyce and
Showers, 1995). Secondly, peer coaching models
draw on elements of the clinical supervision cycle.
Joyce and Showers have developed the most
widely known peer coaching model. In their early
work peer coaching includes a cycle of objective
classroom observation, followed by accurate feed-
back on the use of the new teaching skills (Joyce
and Showers, 1982). In their more recent work,
Joyce and Showers (1995) use a broadened view
on peer coaching. Their current emphasis is on
learning through collaborative planning, develop-
ment, and observation of instruction. They stress
the importance of a non-hierarchical relationship
between peers working and learning collabor-
atively to improve their teaching. Thirdly, peer
coaching models aim to improve classroom prac-
tice. In order to be effective in this respect, these
models should meet criteria of selectivity, saliency,
and treatability (Goldhammer et al., 1993). This
means that peer coaching should focus on a few
relevant issues that can be changed by the teacher.
In relation to curriculum change, peer coaching
should thus focus on a few most salient aspects
of the change, which are perceived as relevant by
teachers. Moreover, the aspects should be within
teachers zone of proximal development.
Implementing and achieving effective peer
coaching in schools is, however, a complex process
as it requires radical changes in the technology of
training, school organisation, and school culture
(Fullan, 1991). Teachers should receive training in
coaching skills, such as classroom observation and
discussion skills. Furthermore, organisational con-
ditions at schools should be restructured in such a
way that collaboration between teachers is poss-
ible. To create these conditions strong leadership
at school level is essential. This leadership is also
important for motivational purposes and to stimu-
late the development of a collegial culture in
schools. Considering these complex preconditions,
peer coaching should be seen as an innovation in
itself, subject to the same laws that govern any
other curriculum innovation (Joyce and Showers,
59 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
3. Developing a professional development
3.1. The COAST research project
To explore the potentials of a professional devel-
opment program combining exemplary curriculum
materials, in-service education course, and peer
coaching, within the context of Botswana, the
COAST study employs a developmental research
approach. This approach is characterised by con-
stant interaction between development and
research activities (Richey and Nelson, 1997). The
rst phase of the COAST study focused on gener-
ating design specications for a professional devel-
opment program aimed at supporting science and
mathematics teachers with the implementation of
an activity-based approach. This was done by
means of literature review, and a needs and context
analysis (Thijs and van den Akker, 1997). The
design specications guided the development of a
professional development program within two sub-
ject contexts: mathematics and physics. While the
program for both subject contexts aimed at promot-
ing activity-based methods, the two differed in
their more specic aims and focus. The mathemat-
ics program specically focused on cooperative
learning strategies. In physics, the program aimed
at promoting the use of the PredictObserve
Explain (POE) model, as proposed by White and
Gunstone (1992), in lessons with demonstrations.
During the development of the program, formative
evaluation was an important activity to ensure that
the program was theoretically sound, practical
from a teachers point of view, and potentially
effective. Outcomes of the various evaluation
activities served as a basis for revision of the pro-
gram. The basic characteristics of the program that
was thus developed are outlined in Box 1.
4. Exploring the effectiveness of the program
4.1. Research design
Exploration of the effectiveness of the pro-
fessional development program, as outlined in Box
1, was the next step in the study. The effectiveness
study was guided by the following research ques-
1. What are teachers opinions on the usefulness
of the in-service education course, and what are
their perceived learning outcomes?
2. What changes have taken place in teachers use
of activity-based methods in classroom practice
as a result of the program?
3. How do teachers conduct and value the peer
coaching sessions in practice?
4. How are the results of the program integrated
at the departmental level?
Sixty physics teachers, two teachers from each
senior secondary school in Botswana, participated
in the physics in-service education program. Simi-
larly, 60 secondary mathematics teachers partici-
pated in the mathematics program. The in-service
education courses for both subjects were conduc-
ted separately.
4.1.1. Data collection methods
Combinations of qualitative and quantitative
research methods were used to gather data. First,
the researcher conducted participant observation of
the in-service course. This provided insight as to
the extent to which the course was implemented
according to plan. Next, a questionnaire was dis-
tributed among all participants at the end of the
course to ask about their opinion on the usefulness
of the course and perceived learning outcomes.
This questionnaire consisted of questions with a
ve-point Likert format, and a few additional open
questions. To explore effects on teacher attitudes
towards peer coaching, an attitude questionnaire
was administered in a pre-testpost-test design.
The attitude questionnaire consisted of a benets
scale (eight items), assessing participants percep-
tions of benets of peer coaching, and a concerns
scales, assessing the extent to which participants
have concerns about peer coaching (10 items). The
reliability of the scales was considered to be
acceptable: scale 1: Cronbachs a=0.73, and scale
2: a=0.67.
A few weeks after the course, more in-depth
data collection took place at school level to explore
teachers use of coaching and activity-based
60 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
Box 1. Professional development scenario in the COAST study
Two day in-service education course
Both the mathematics and physics course consisted of the following course
presentation and discussion of the theoretical rationale underlying the specic
demonstration of the specic innovations by means of videotaped classroom
microteaching sessions, in which teachers practiced with the use of the innovative
teaching methods as well as with their observation and discussion techniques;
discussion of the potential of peer coaching.
To facilitate the organisation of peer coaching in schools, teachers were invited to
the courses in pairs: two mathematics and physics teachers from each school.
Exemplary curriculum materials
The main characteristics of the materials:
lesson plans with guidelines for using activity-based approaches
the mathematics materials focused on the topic Patterns and Sequences, a
syllabus topic for which textbook material is hardly available
the physics materials focused on Electromagnetic Induction.
Coaching guidebook
Participants were handed a guidebook consisting of:
general information on peer coaching;
specic guidelines on how to conduct classroom observations and reect on these
lessons in a collegial discussion;
observation forms, focusing on central aspects of lessons, as outlined in the
exemplary curriculum materials, in which the specic innovations are used.
The guidebook was introduced and explained in the in-service course. Moreover, the
observation form was used in the microteaching sessions to practice with its use.
methods in practice. For this purpose eight physics
and eight maths teachers (four coaching pairs per
subject) were selected out of the total number of
participants. Selection of these teachers was guided
by criteria of informativity and convenience (Miles
and Huberman, 1994). Teachers from schools with
active departmental policies on peer coaching were
regarded as informative as they would be in a good
position to organise coaching sessions. Practical
considerations that were taken into consideration
included teachers willingness to participate and
the geographical location of schools.
The following data collection activities were
used with the selected teachers. Four to six weeks
after the in-service course, interviews were held to
gain insight in teachers rst experiences with
61 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
using activity-based methods and organising peer
coaching sessions. The selected teachers were also
asked to keep a log for the rst few weeks after
the course, in which they recorded their experi-
ences with peer coaching. For additional insight in
teachers coaching sessions, the selected teachers
were asked to audiotape their coaching sessions.
This was presented as a voluntary activity, as it
was thought that if teachers would not feel
comfortable with the Audiotaping it would affect
their peer coaching sessions.
4.1.2. Data analysis
Questionnaire results were analysed through the
computation of descriptive statistics and compari-
son of pre- and post-course scores using a Student
t-test. The qualitative data were analysed with
techniques of pattern coding (Miles and Huberman,
1994). A written report was made of each inter-
view based on the interview tapes and notes made
by the researcher during the interview. The results
of the teachers log were summarised and categor-
ised according to data patterns. Finally, transcrip-
tions were made of each audio-taped coaching ses-
sion. These written reports were used in
combination with and in addition to the results of
the teachers log and interviews on teachers
experiences with peer coaching. Through this tri-
angulation of data a clear picture could be created
of the selected teachers use of peer coaching in
practice and perceived benets.
4.2. Results of the study
4.2.1. Teachers perceptions of the professional
development program
Teachers perceptions were considered an
important factor regarding the transfer of course
ideas to classroom practice and included teachers
opinions on the in-service course and their per-
ceived learning outcomes. Questionnaire results
show that both mathematics and physics parti-
cipants highly appreciated the in-service courses.
They regarded the courses as relevant and useful.
Both physics and mathematics participants parti-
cularly appreciated the microteaching sessions. As
can be seen in Table 1, participants were also posi-
tive with regard to perceived learning outcomes.
The course provided them with a clear under-
standing of the use of the innovation in practice.
They acquired sufcient information on the inno-
vation to be able to use it in practice, and their
condence has been enhanced in this respect. The
course also enhanced participants condence in
conducting peer coaching sessions and helped
them to develop a clear understanding of peer
coaching (see Table 2).
Finally, the course provided them with sufcient
information on how to conduct peer coaching in
practice. Results of the attitude questionnaire are
presented in Table 3.
The results show that the in-service course posi-
tively affected participants attitudes towards peer
coaching. The effect is, however, modest. The
course made participants slightly more positive
about benets of peer coaching and somewhat less
anxious to conduct peer coaching sessions. At the
end of the course all participants indicated that they
intended to use the exemplary curriculum materials
and to organise peer coaching sessions with their
4.2.2. Implementation of activity-based methods
The implementation of activity-based methods
and the use of the exemplary curriculum materials
in this process was a next point of focus. Results
of the study show that all of the eight selected
mathematics teachers used the exemplary materials
in their teaching. Two teachers taught several les-
sons based on the materials. Three teachers used
the materials to develop their own lesson plans,
incorporating elements from different lessons out-
lined in the materials. Two teachers used the
materials to prepare for their lessons with cooperat-
ive learning activities. As a result of the course,
teachers have changed the organisation of the
group activities in their lessons to some extent.
These changes include organising students into
larger groups instead of pairs, providing one work-
sheet for a whole group of students to encourage
cooperation within the group, using group activi-
ties to let students explore theoretical concepts, and
discussing group outcomes with students in stead
of checking the outcomes after the lesson.
All eight physics teachers used the POE method
in their teaching. Most teachers, however, did not
62 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
Table 1
Perceived learning outcomes of the in-service education course with regard to the proposed curriculum innovation
Items Mean SD Mean SD
The in-service education course changed my 3.72 1.14 3.62 0.98
opinion about the proposed curriculum innovation
The in-service education course enhanced my 4.02 0.66 4.32 0.71
condence in using the proposed curriculum
The in-service education course provided me with a 4.07 0.58 4.41 0.56
clear understanding of the use of the proposed
curriculum innovation in practice
The in-service education course provided sufcient 4.16 0.80 4.32 0.58
information about the use of the proposed
curriculum innovation in practice
Judgements were made on a ve-point scale (1=completely disagree, 5=completey agree).
Table 2
Perceived learning outcomes of the in-service education course with regard to peer coaching
Items Mean SD Mean SD
The in-service education course enhanced my 4.02 0.69 4.22 0.63
condence in conducting peer coaching sessions
The in-service education course provided me with a 4.07 0.65 4.38 0.64
clear understanding of how to conduct peer
coaching sessions
The in-service education course provided sufcient 4.20 0.63 4.41 0.55
information about peer coaching
Judgements were made on a ve-point scale (1=completely disagree, 5=completely agree).
perceive the method as an innovation. According
to six of them, the method does not differ from
their usual way of teaching physics demon-
strations. They are used to asking students what
they expect to see during the demonstration, and
to make predictions, and to correct students mis-
conceptions on the topic. Two teachers perceived
slight differences between the POE method and
their usual way of teaching. The majority of the
physics teachers did not use the exemplary curricu-
lum materials in their teaching. Most teachers did
not use the materials because the subject topic,
although selected after consultation of teachers,
was not part of their scheme of work for the rst
period after the in-service course. One teacher did
not feel the need to use the materials because she
did not perceive the POE method as a change. One
teacher did use the materials in his teaching. He
considered them useful, but not very different from
his usual way of teaching.
In conclusion, the curriculum materials, as part
of the professional development program, appeared
to work well with the mathematics teachers but not
with the physics teachers. With the mathematics
63 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
Table 3
Participants scores on attitude questionnaire on peer coaching
Pre-test scores Post-test scores t p
Scale Mean SD Mean SD
Benets of peer coaching Mathematics
3.92 0.52 4.13 0.46 3.16 0.000
4.04 0.49 4.16 0.40 2.07 0.046
Concerns about peer coaching Mathematics
2.44 0.53 2.19 0.52 3.80 0.000
2.39 0.52 2.19 0.53 3.02 0.000
Judgements were made on a ve-point scale (1=completely disagree, 5=completely agree).
teachers the materials served a need because there
was no material available for group work activities.
Furthermore, the materials addressed a topic for
which hardly any material is available. The physics
teachers, on the other hand, did not perceive the
POE method as something new and therefore may
not have felt the need to use the materials. This
could be due to two reasons. Firstly, the innovative
aspects of the POE method may not have been
clearly reected in the materials. This idea is sup-
ported by the fact that the one physics teacher that
used the materials did not consider them very dif-
ferent from his usual lessons. Secondly, there may
be some false clarity among the physics parti-
cipants. False clarity occurs when the proposed
change has more to it than teachers perceive or
realise (Fullan, 1991: 70). The physics teachers
appeared to understand the literal intentions of
POE method, but may have had difculty with
fully comprehending the deeper meaning of what
it intended.
4.2.3. Peer coaching in practice
All mathematics and physics teachers organised
peer coaching sessions. The number of sessions
ranged from one to eight. The majority of the
mathematics teachers did not follow the suggested
cycle of observation and discussion, but generated
alternative ways of collaborating with their col-
leagues. Two mathematics teachers jointly
developed a lesson plan based on the exemplary
curriculum materials and observed each other
teaching the lessons. Two mathematics teachers
met prior to the classroom observations to discuss
the content of the lesson, the level of difculty for
the students, and the focus points of the obser-
vation. Finally, two mathematics teachers preferred
team teaching to the suggested classroom obser-
vation. They observed the start of the lesson, but
assisted the observed teacher during the group
activities that followed. The majority of the physics
teachers followed the suggested cycle of classroom
observation followed by a collegial discussion. In
addition to the suggested observation and dis-
cussion, two physics teachers also met prior to the
observation to discuss the content of the lesson and
focus of the observation.
The mathematics and physics teachers con-
sidered the coaching guidebook useful to help them
prepare and conduct their coaching activities The
guidebook provided them with a good idea of what
is expected of an observed and of the observed
teacher. They also appreciated the guidelines on
questions to ask during the discussion meetings
without being offensive and evaluative. Three out
of the eight teachers did not use the guidebook
because they felt the in-service course had pro-
vided them with sufcient information on how to
conduct peer coaching sessions.
All mathematics and physics teachers were posi-
tive about the peer coaching sessions and perceived
them as benecial. They learned both from observ-
ing their colleagues and from the collegial dis-
cussions. While the majority of the teachers experi-
64 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
enced no major problems with conducting the
coaching activities, three mathematics teachers felt
slightly uncomfortable with the observation of
their teaching by their colleague. These teachers,
however, had no prior experience with peer coach-
ing, and indicated that they slowly got used to hav-
ing a colleague in the back of their class as the
lessons proceeded. One physics teacher felt uneasy
during the collegial discussions as he was afraid
that he might upset his colleagues with his com-
ments on the lesson.
All mathematics teachers observed lessons in
which use was made of the exemplary materials.
Six of the eight mathematics teachers made use of
the observation form provided in the coaching
guidebook. Two teachers preferred to identify their
own points for observation. In their feedback meet-
ings, teachers discussed subject matter content and
student understanding, and the use of groupwork
activities. The physics teachers did not focus their
peer coaching activities on the use of the materials
as the majority did not use these materials in their
teaching. They did, however, observe each other
teaching lessons in which they experimented with
the POE method. Four teachers made use of the
observation form provided. Two teachers preferred
to use a self-design form and two teachers pre-
ferred to record their observations on a blank sheet
of paper. In the collegial discussions following the
observations most teachers discussed general
aspects of a lesson as well as issues related to the
use of the POE method.
4.2.4. Benets of peer coaching
All physics and mathematics teachers regard the
peer coaching sessions as benecial. The class-
room observations provided most teachers with
new insights and ideas about general aspects of
teaching. Teachers considered the collegial dis-
cussions benecial because they provided an
opportunity to hear their colleagues view on their
teaching and to discuss suggestions for improve-
ment. As a result of the coaching sessions, the eight
mathematics teachers all learned about the subject
matter content outlined in the exemplary materials.
Five mathematics teachers also generated new
ideas regarding the use of groupwork activities,
such as how to group students and explain a group
work task to students. Finally, ve teachers per-
ceived learning outcomes regarding general aspects
of teaching such as use of the blackboard, introduc-
tion to a topic, and timing of the lesson.
The eight physics teachers acquired new ideas
regarding general aspects of the lesson, such as the
use of questioning strategies, efcient distribution
of equipment needed in a lesson, blackboard use,
timing of the lesson and grouping of students so
that they could all view a demonstration. Three
physics teachers also perceive learning outcomes
regarding the use of the POE method. The obser-
vations and discussions made them more aware of
possibilities to implement the method and their col-
leagues positive appraisal encouraged them to
continue using the method in future lessons.
Concluding, teachers consider the peer coaching
sessions to be benecial. Perceived learning out-
comes mostly consist of new insights and sugges-
tions for improvement with regard to general
aspects of teaching. Learning outcomes with regard
to the use of the POE method in physics and coop-
erative learning strategies in mathematics are men-
tioned to a lesser extent.
4.2.5. Implementation at the department level
A nal focus of the effectiveness study was the
extent to which participants shared and discussed
course issues with colleagues in the department. In
all except two departments, participants informed
their colleagues about the content of the course in
departmental meetings. In one mathematics and
one science department, participants intended to
inform their colleagues about course issues in the
near future. The exemplary curriculum materials
were distributed in two mathematics departments.
The physics teachers did not see the need for distri-
buting the materials as they would not be relevant
for their chemistry and biology colleagues within
the science department. In two departments the
physics teachers do intend to discuss the exemplary
materials with their physics colleagues.
The integration of peer coaching at the depart-
ment level was less apparent. In one mathematics
and one science department a department policy on
peer coaching had been in place for some time
prior to the in-service education course. In this
mathematics department all teachers had been
65 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
paired and had been assigned to organise coaching
sessions before the end of the term. In one science
department there was a general informal agreement
on being involved in peer coaching as much as
possible. The Head of Department strongly sup-
ported the implementation of peer coaching. In this
department the two physics teachers that partici-
pated in the in-service course used peer coaching
as a dissemination strategy. They invited their
science colleagues to observe them using the POE
method in practice so as to be informed about its
particulars. In one case this classroom observation
motivated a science colleague to use the POE
method in his own teaching as well.
5. Discussion
This paper focused on peer coaching as part of
a program for teachers professional development.
This program aimed at enhancing activity-based
learning methods in secondary mathematics and
science teaching in Botswana. Besides peer coach-
ing the program consisted of exemplary curriculum
materials and an in-service education course. This
program had two focal points: activity-based learn-
ing methods and peer coaching. These two points
were interrelated, because peer coaching was intro-
duced as a means that teachers may use to support
each other in implementing activity-based teach-
In our study we tried to answer several research
questions. The rst question dealt with teachers
perceptions of the in-service program. Investigat-
ing these perceptions was considered crucial,
because if teachers do not value the in-service
course it is highly unlikely that they would be wil-
ling to implement the course ideas into practice.
However, the results of this study show that teach-
ers appreciated the in-service program. Teachers
were also positive about what they learned from
the program with regard to activity-based methods
as well as to peer coaching. Moreover, their atti-
tude towards peer coaching changed positively due
to the in-service program. It must be noted how-
ever, that this effect, although signicant, was
rather modest.
The second research question dealt with the
transfer of the ideas presented in the in-service pro-
gram into practice. As far as the implementation
of activity-based learning methods are concerned
the results are mixed. There was a difference
between the mathematics teachers and the physics
teachers. The mathematics teachers took some rst
steps towards including forms of cooperative learn-
ing into their teaching. They used the exemplary
curriculum materials and considered these useful
for two reasons. Firstly, the materials provided
them with suggestions for collaborative group
activities, which are rarely available in common
textbooks and teacher guides. Secondly, the subject
topic outline of the exemplary curriculum materials
is, although part of the mathematics syllabus,
barely covered in common textbooks. So, from a
content point of view, there was also a need for
the materials.
As far as cooperative group learning is con-
cerned, the mathematics teachers especially valued
the active and enthusiastic participation of the
pupils throughout the lessons. They also perceived
the way they implemented the lessons as different
from their regular teaching style. It must be noted,
however, that the mathematics teachers did not
implement cooperative group learning to its full
extent and in complete accordance with the under-
lying rationale. Considering the complexity of the
innovation, this may not be surprising. It is promis-
ing that the mathematics teachers were able and
willing to deviate from their routine and integrate
an activity-based approach in their lessons.
The attempts of the physics teachers to incorpor-
ate pupil centred learning into their lessons turned
out to be less promising. The physics teachers
reported that they implemented the POE method
into their lessons, but a closer look at the data
revealed that they only implemented the supercial
attributes of this method. Results indicate that the
teachers understood the literal intentions of the
method, yet failed to comprehend the deeper mean-
ing of what was intended. This nding is strength-
ened by the fact that teachers stated that the POE
method was not different from their usual way of
teaching. This also gives an indication that the tea-
chers were not fully aware of the underlying ration-
ale of the method, which is related to principles of
constructivism such as taking students concep-
66 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
tions as a starting point and constructing meaning
through social interaction.
Unlike their mathematics colleagues, the physics
teachers (except one) hardly used the exemplary
curriculum materials, because the subject topic,
although selected after a thorough consultation of
teachers, did not t in with their scheme of work.
Another plausible reason for not using the
materials might be that the teachers were not very
motivated to use the materials, because they did
not perceive the POE-method as an innovation. So,
in their view, they did not need support from cur-
riculum materials. This nding is conrmed by the
judgement of the only teacher who did use the
materials, and did not regard them as innovative.
In hindsight it can be concluded that the essen-
tial characteristics of the POE method were not
reected clearly enough in the in-service course
and in the curriculum materials. This caused false
clarity among the physics teachers, which seriously
hampered the implementation of pupil centred
The third research question was focused on the
way teachers valued the peer coaching sessions,
which they organised after the in-service program.
The pattern emerging from the results of the peer
coaching sessions does not show major differences
between the mathematics and physics teachers. All
teachers organised peer coaching sessions in the
rst weeks after the in-service course, including a
variety of working formats. For the mathematics
teachers the exemplary curriculum materials pro-
vided a starting point for a variety of coaching
activities such as joint lesson planning and lesson
preparation. Teachers considered the coaching
guidebook useful in helping them prepare and con-
duct their peer coaching activities. Peer coaching
was considered to be benecial. Teachers learned
from observing their colleagues as well as from the
collegial discussions. The classroom observations
provided them with new ideas about a variety of
practical aspects of teaching a lesson. In the col-
legial discussions teachers learned both about the
use of the POE method and cooperative learning
as well as about general aspects of teaching. In the
interviews, teachers were more outspoken about
the practical issues they had learned from the peer
coaching sessions, such as blackboard use, ques-
tioning strategies and grouping of students.
In conclusion, peer coaching sessions were con-
ducted and were benecial for teachers in terms of
helping them improve their professional skills. As
a tool to support the implementation of activity-
based methods, however, peer coaching was not
utilised fully. Although teachers were provided
with exemplary materials as a basis for their coach-
ing activities and an observation form focusing on
essential aspects of activity-based methods, teach-
ers often preferred to chose their own coaching
focus. This could, of course, be related to the fact
that the physics teachers did not use the materials
and that most teachers did not perceive the inno-
vation as a change to their normal way of teaching
and did not grasp the full implications of the inno-
vation for their teaching practice. Furthermore, tea-
chers apparently valued a broader coaching focus
rather than focusing specically on the curriculum
innovation. This points to the importance of
teacher ownership and perceived relevance of the
innovations at stake, and the importance of con-
vincing teachers of the need to implement the inno-
vation in their teaching. In other words, teachers
perceived relevance of the change is a precondition
for the use of peer coaching as a support tool in
the implementation process. Finally, it should be
noted that the teachers in the study only organised
a few coaching sessions. For peer coaching to be
fully effective in supporting each other to improve
the use of a curriculum change, more peer coach-
ing sessions would most likely be required. Future
research activities within the COAST research pro-
ject will explore how teachers can be supported to
organise peer coaching sessions over a longer per-
iod of time.
The nal research question dealt with the depart-
mental integration as one of the benets of the sup-
port program. The results show that the majority
of the teachers shared and discussed course issues
with their colleagues in their department. They
informed their colleagues about the content of the
course, and, to a lesser extent, shared course
The integration of peer coaching activities at the
departmental level was less apparent. Only when
a policy on peer coaching at the departmental level
67 A. Thijs, E. van den Berg / International Journal of Educational Development 22 (2002) 5568
already existed (which was the case in one math-
ematics and one physics department), did the peer
coaching activities get a follow-up in the depart-
ment immediately after the in-service program. In
these departments teachers, who did not participate
in the in-service program, were also engaged in
coaching activities. Information from the partici-
pating teachers was used to shape these activities.
For a more long lasting incorporation of coaching
activities in a department, it seems not only crucial
to provide teachers with information and support,
but also to support Heads of Departments in gain-
ing the insights and skills to set the conditions and
a climate for teacher collaboration and peer coach-
ing. The next stage of the COAST study will also
be focused on this aspect.
6. Concluding remarks
Some important lessons can be learned from our
study. These lessons are discussed in this nal sec-
tion. As far as the role of exemplary curriculum
materials is concerned, this study shows that their
impact in changing teaching practice is only effec-
tive if the essential characteristics of the specic
innovation are clearly incorporated in the
materials. Moreover, these characteristics should
be given considerable attention in the in-service
course. If these requirements are fullled, curricu-
lum materials can be a supportive tool in assisting
teachers trying to change their practice. Further-
more, curriculum materials also provide a useful
starting point for the organisation of peer coaching
activities. Curriculum materials with content that
is hardly covered by existing materials appears to
be a good means to stimulate teachers use of an
innovative approach.
This study also shows that teachers did not
entirely implement peer coaching activities as they
had been discussed and practised in the in-service
program. They adhered to a broader scope of
coaching activities, rather then sticking to the
activities that were presented in the in-service pro-
gram. This is the case for the organisation and the
format of coaching sessions as well as for the focus
of the sessions. Teachers used a variety of peer
coaching activities ranging from informal dis-
cussions during lunch to forms of collaborative
planning of lessons and team-teaching. The issues
that entered the discussions among teachers were
not limited to the innovation at hand. All kind of
topics relating to classroom practice entered their
discourse. For the physics teachers in this study,
this nding may not be surprising, because they
did not perceive and experience the POE method as
an innovation but as part of their normal teaching
routine. However, many topics discussed by the
mathematics teachers in their coaching sessions
were also more aligned to general teaching
approaches than specically attuned to the innov-
ative practice.
The ndings of this study imply that peer coach-
ing activities as a means of supporting teachers in
the implementation of innovative practices can
only be effective if other parts of the support pro-
gram are effective as well. But even if the latter is
the case, peer coaching seems to be viewed by tea-
chers as a means of giving attention to all class-
room related aspects of their work. Apparently the
perspective on peer coaching in this study, with a
rather xed format for preparing and conducting
lesson observations and a debrieng session, and
limited to well dened aspects of classroom teach-
ing, is not very well aligned to teachers ways of
practising peer coaching. In the next stage of the
COAST project more attention will be given to dif-
ferent formats of peer coaching, and building on
existing forms of collaboration in schools in Bots-
wana. The focus on innovative practice, however,
will remain central, because these practices have
the potential to improve student learning. Further-
more, in the next stage of the study also more
attention will be given to the departmental inte-
gration of peer coaching activities. This study
clearly shows that providing support to teachers to
conduct peer coaching activities is a prerequisite
for implementing those activities, but for more
lasting forms of collaboration among teachers,
changes in school organisation and school culture
are of crucial importance.
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