IATEFL 2015 | Dita Phillips & Ela Wassell. Better together: peer-coaching for continuing professional development | Talk summary

Posted: April 12, 2015 in Conferences
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Dita Phillips and Ela Wassell gave a great session about a peer-coaching project which was very beneficial for their professional development. They gave heaps of invaluable advice on how to set up a similar project with a colleague that you trust. An inspiring session!

Abstract. Workshops, lesson observations, methodology books, etc. can all help with CPD, but sometimes it’s hard to find the time (or the motivation!). That’s why we tried a different approach: peer-coaching. In this talk, we will outline the benefits of peer-coaching for CPD and provide tips on setting up and running your own peer-coaching project.

Contacts: dita.phillips@british-study.com @ditaphillips, ela.wassel@gmail.com @elawassell

The scheme started when Ela asked Dita to observe her. That felt really good about how it went and decided to take it further and set up a project.

Before starting the project:

  • they discussed some key issues:
  • they set up goals (they didn’t focus on the goals of the project – instead, identifying their personal goals. Some formal, some less formal, some went beyond the time span of the projects, which was six months)

The project. What they did: 

  • observed each other (in person or video recording) and gave feedback
  • asked each other to focus on specific questions e.g. how to set up this activity more effectively?
  • also, commented on little things they noticed while observing. (e.g. ‘you used a grid to organize these vocabulary sets – Venn diagrams would be better’)
  • Ela found it very useful to have a reflective diary (things that went well/badly, specific things to do next time – and this also gave them ideas what to focus on in later observations)
  • They taught each other’s classes while the other observed (so you could look at your students and their interaction)
  • Getting out of the comfort zone. Dita went away for a month to teach on a CELTA course in a different school in a different country.
  • Students started asking why sb else is teaching them today, which initiated a natural dialogue with the students – helped to ask them for feedback informally or experiment more, telling them ‘today we’ll try something new’
  • Helped Dita and Ela with their teacher training jobs (opportunity to think about feedback, and also opportunity to discuss things in much more depth without having to assessment and boxes to tick – very liberating). 

Why peer coaching?


  • Easy to incorporate into work schedule – can be part of everyday teaching.
  • Inexpensive (apart from the cost of pizza :D).
  • Two heads better than one!
  • Closer relationship you developed. Normally when people need ideas they ask everyone, but when you have a problem, you’re very careful who you’d approach. Peer coaching is an extension.
  • Gives you more in-depth reflection of your practice. You can spend as much time as you like on the issues. And it’s hand-on – you apply your ideas immediately.
  • Life has a way of getting in the way of plans. Having the other person around – someone who you don’t want to let down – motivates you to stay on track.
  • Ongoing rather than one-off, so you can observe the progress you’re making. In Dita and Ela’s they based later observations on feedback.
  • Fun!



  • Helped Ela to improve work-life balance and keep to the resolution to keep the weekends to herself.
  • Gave Dita and Ela confidence to try things out.

How to set it up?

  • Choose the right person – someone you value and trust
  • Establish rules (rules?) Discuss confidentiality, what form will you feedback take, how formal/informal you want the project to be, how you’re going to take minutes
  • Decide what forms of coaching (observations? feedback – evaluative or not? how open you want to be)
  • Set goals and review them as you go along
  • Also discuss why you’re doing this – what you want to achieve
  • Create a schedule and stick to it
  • Get support from your school (e.g. in time tabling)
  • Be open and honest. Cultivate trust.
  • Evaluate your project (and share it!)




Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

  1. […] been looking for resources on options for effective peer collaboration. There’s already a write-up on this blog of a very interesting IATEFL talk on peer coaching from three years ago (by Dita […]

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