Peer Coaching Trains and Chains

Wise words from the “Queen of Contra”

Peer coaching is a term that is loosely applied in the coaching industry to
various forms of coaches coaching coaches. However, there are two versions
of peer coaching, the “official” and the “unofficial”,
and it would be wise for coaches be aware of which is which before you end up
on the wrong train!

There are two forms of “official” peer coaching existing in formal
education settings, business organizations and in some fields of coaching, expert
coaching and reciprocal coaching. Expert coaching occurs within an unequal relationship
and involves feedback, support, alternatives and suggestions. Reciprocal coaching
occurs within an equal relationship and involves observation, feedback, support
and natural learning (Zeus & Skiffington, 2002). Many peer coaching relationships
between coaches are reciprocal coaching relationships. In addition, cognitive
coaching frequently uses peer coaching, to assist teachers in delving into the
thinking behind their practices, helping them to self-monitor, self-analyse
and self-evaluate their teaching practices (Costa, 1992, 2000; Garmston, 1993).
Notably, cognitive coaching plays a role in evidence-based coaching literature
also (Campbell, 2003).

From the literature, it seems most “official” peer coaching, including
both expert coaching and reciprocal coaching, is used as a means of facilitating
professional development and may or may not involve specific coaching process.
On the other hand, there has been a proliferation of “unofficial”
peer coaching among professional coaches within the coaching industry that focuses
more on personal, rather than professional development and is underpinned
by accepted coaching process
. “Unofficial” peer coaching remains
largely undocumented within coaching literature. Although it is personally focused
and much more fun that “official” peer coaching, with professional
rewards being a by-product, “unofficial” peer coaching can also
be a bit slippery…

Shortly after I first started coaching, I started to swap coaching with one
of my trainee coaching colleagues. We agreed to coach each other for 12 sessions.
I gave her one session, then she gave me one, and so on until we reached…
oh, about session 10. What happened at session 10? Why didn’t we continue?
There were two reasons.

Firstly, I knew too much about her and she found out too much about me, the
result of which meant we could no longer coach each other effectively because
we started thinking we knew the answers to each other’s issues! Secondly,
we had two different relationships going at the same time. I had a relationship
with my colleague as a coach and a client and that meant that her behaviour
as a coach affected my interaction with her as a client and vice-versa! With
this experience I got the message loud and clear that the coaching ethic warning
against dual relationships in the coaching process was put in place for a reason.

After this experience, I was faced with a dilemma: pay for a coach or not have
one at all. At the time, I’d given up my day job to coach, so I didn’t
have a lot of money, leaving just the latter option. As a coach, it was unthinkable
for me not to have my own coach. So I got creative and gathered together a group
of coaches who wanted coaching without having to pay money. By setting up a
chain-like system, we all got coached but never coached the same person who
was coaching us. This small gathering has since spread to hundreds of coaches
from around the world and is known throughout as Contra Coaching. Peer coaching
was sorted forevermore and I have never been without a coach since!




Dr. Kerryn Griffiths, fondly referred to as “the Queen of Contra,”
is the Global Coordinator of Contra Coaching, where coaches go for coaching.
IAC members are now entitled to free membership to this dynamic community, as
part of their member benefits. See our announcement earlier in this issue and
join online via, where coaches go for coaching.




Campbell, J. W. (2003). Coaching as a transformational tool in a learning
correctional culture.
Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Royal Roads University,
Costa, A. L. (1992). An environment for thinking. In C. Collins & J. N.
Mangieri (Eds.), Teaching thinking: An agenda for the 21st century
(pp. 169-181). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Costa, A. L. (2000). Mediative environments: Creating conditions for intellectual
growth. In A. Kozalin & Y. Rand (Eds.), Experience of mediated learning:
An impact of Feuersteins's theory in education and psychology
(pp. 34-44).
Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.
Garmston, R. (1993). Reflections on cognitive coaching. Educational Leadership,
October, 57-60.
Zeus, P., & Skiffington, S. (2002). The coaching at work toolkit: A
complete guide to techniques and practices
. Sydney: McGraw Hill.

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