Learning from each other: A Peer Coaching Program

By: Clarissa Wallace, Sue Mills and Fahreen Dossa, no disclosures

What we did before: 

In preparation for teaching a Clinical Skills session, we diligently reviewed the tutor guide and video ahead of time.  However, we sometimes wondered how other teachers were translating the advice from the guide into their teaching.  What did their sessions really look like?  What  might we share with each other to improve our teaching?  Though we met on occasion as a group of tutors to debrief and discuss our techniques, talking about teaching couldn’t paint the full picture.  We realized the importance of direct observation: we needed to see each other in action!

What changed my teaching practice:

Earlier this year, we participated in a 1:1 Peer Coaching Program developed by the Vancouver Fraser Medical Program (VFMP) Faculty Development Team.  In this program, we teamed up in pairs to watch each other teach.  Rather than merely comparing notes, we were able to directly observe each other’s sessions.  It was magnificent.  Not only were we able to offer each other helpful feedback, but we realized that we were picking up great ideas for our own practice simply by watching each other.

It turns out that peer coaching is an increasingly common approach to professional development (Bell et al. 2019; Campbell et al., 2019; Schwellnus & Carnahan, 2014).  The goal is to foster engagement within the medical community and to improve the quality of our teaching (O’Keefe et al. 2009; Wieme, 2016).  Students recognize the value of lifelong learning and how our community supports this when they observe their teachers model collaboration and collegiality in this way.  (Yee, 2016).

Within peer coaching, teachers work together to help improve each other’s current practices through a voluntary, confidential and collaborative process of observations, reflections and feedback. Tools such as this one offer high quality, evidence-based teaching skills that can provide focus for the dialogue (Newman et al. 2012). Tips on how to observe and how to provide feedback are also available (Newman et al. 2018; Siddiqui et al., 2007).

What we do now:

 Each of us has taken away a number of specific methods and pearls from the other’s teaching practice.  Here are a couple of examples of the many things we learned from each other:

  1. CW enjoyed watching FD start her sessions with a ‘round robin’ of introductions and self-directed learning goals. CW now starts her sessions now with a similar introduction: “What are you most interested to learn today?” “What would make this session most valuable for you?”


  1. FD appreciated that CW encouraged students to record “take home messages” on the whiteboard to photograph at the end of the session for review. In the respiratory session these included landmarks of the chest and a chart of breath sounds and percussion notes.


  1. Both CW and FD routinely emphasized to students the importance of actually performing all elements of each clinical skills segment on multiple occasions. Practice, practice, practice! Repetition encodes the manoeuvres in physical memory and begins to free the mind to observe and process findings.


  1. Both FD and CW excelled at relating the students’ learning to clinical presentations. Watching each other teach with case examples strongly validated our impression that the students find this inspiring as they anticipate their own further clinical encounters. We now both make a special point to include some of our own clinical experiences, anecdotes, and pearls in our teaching.

How your experience is relevant to teachers in the Faculty of Medicine:

This experience is generalizable to other teaching contexts both clinical and academic.  Peer coaching, including direct observation of teaching and self-reflective dialogue, improves the quality of our teaching and helps to establish a network of collegiality, collaboration, and connection amongst Clinical Faculty.

Moreover, we had a lot of fun observing each other at work!  It was very refreshing to see different teaching styles.  We also realized that in being open with the students about the fact that we were helping each other improve our teaching, we were modelling the ‘life-long learning’ and collegiality that we hoped to inspire.  This set up a nice dynamic, moving us away from the “top-down” idea that the tutor knows everything.

Finally, this experience motivated us to seek other opportunities to watch clinical teachers in action and to welcome peer observers and collegial feedback.  Rather than serving as a critical review process, the peer coaching program was an opportunity for the observer to benefit by watching a different teaching style.  Any notion that we ought to be expert teachers to participate in this program was quickly dispelled.  We simply shared our actual teaching practices and with them, our passion for learning, for fun, and for friendship.

Further Reading (Reference articles and add resources here):

Bell, A. E., Meyer, H. S., & Maggio, L. A. (2019). Getting better together: A website review of peer coaching initiatives for medical educators. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, , 1-8. doi:10.1080/10401334.2019.1614448

Campbell, N., Wozniak, H., Philip, R. L., & Damarell, R. A. (2019). Peer-supported faculty development and workplace teaching: An integrative review. Medical Education, doi:10.1111/medu.13896

Garcia, I., James, R. W., Bischof, P., & Baroffio, A. (2017). Self-observation and peer feedback as a faculty development approach for problem-based learning tutors: A program evaluation. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 29(3), 313-325. doi:10.1080/10401334.2017.1279056

Hendry, G. D., Bell, A., & Thomson, K. (2014). Learning by observing a peer’s teaching situation. International Journal for Academic Development, 19(4), 318-329. doi:10.1080/1360144X.2013.848806

Newman, L., Roberts, D., & Schwartzstein, R. (2012). Peer observation of teaching handbook. MedEdPORTAL Publications, doi:10.15766/mep_2374-8265.9150

Newman, L. R., Roberts, D. H., & Frankl, S. E. (2018). Twelve tips for providing feedback to peers about their teaching. Medical Teacher, , 1-6. doi:10.1080/0142159X.2018.1521953

O’Keefe, M., Lecouteur, A., Miller, J., & McGowan, U. (2009;2010;). The colleague development program: A multidisciplinary program of peer observation partnerships. Medical Teacher, 31(12), 1060-1065. doi:10.3109/01421590903154424

Pattison, A. T., Sherwood, M., Lumsden, C. J., Gale, A., & Markides, M. (2012). Foundation observation of teaching project – A developmental model of peer observation of teaching.Medical Teacher, 34(2), e136-e142. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2012.644827

Schwellnus, H., & Carnahan, H. (2014). Peer-coaching with health care professionals: What is the current status of the literature and what are the key components necessary in peer-coaching? A scoping review. Medical Teacher, 36(1), 38-46. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2013.836269

Sekerka, L. E., & Chao, J. (2003). Peer coaching as a technique to foster professional development in clinical ambulatory settings. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 23(1), 30-37. doi:10.1002/chp.1340230106

Siddiqui, Z. S., Jonas-Dwyer, D., & Carr, S. E. (2007). Twelve tips for peer observation of teaching. Medical Teacher, 29(4), 297-300. doi:10.1080/01421590701291451

Wieme, L. (2016). A peer coaching curriculum’s influence on medical educator effectiveness (Order No. 10256231). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1875241082). Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.ubc.ca/docview/1875241082?accountid=14656

Yee, L.W. (2016). Peer coaching for improvement of teaching and learning. Journal of Interdisciplinary Research in Education, 6(1), 64-70.


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