Two special education professors at Utah State University recently received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct research into peer coaching.

While peer coaching is not new, applying research techniques to discover what constitutes quality coaching is, said Charles L. Salzberg, head of USU's department of special education and co-investigator.Peer coaching with undergraduate students in teacher education also is new.

Salzberg and Pamela J. Hudson, a member of the department, won the competitive stipend of $100,000 with their proposal to study effective coaching techniques and then to apply those techniques to regular college courses.

The project will last 18 months.

"Peer coaching goes against the historical grain of education where teachers work in isolation," Salzberg said. "Teachers normally go to their rooms and teach alone. Peer coaching is part of a move in education to help teachers become more collaborative."

Both Hudson and Salzberg have conducted prior experiments in peer coaching. Hudson's experiment was at University of Florida where participants reported "very promising results," she said.

"The participants liked the frequent observation in the classroom and the immediate feedback they received from their coaches," she explained.

Together the student teacher and peer coach set daily goals and focused the teaching and observing on those things.

It is important to start peer coaching early in training, and special education is a good place to do it since roughly half of our student's training is hands-on in the field, Salzberg added.

"If student teachers are comfortable observing and being observed by peers, they are more likely to continue using the technique once they enter the classroom as teachers," Hudson emphasized.

The advantages of peer coaching to students are several. Quality of teaching increases as collaborators share success stories and techniques. Teachers with peer coaching experience will be better prepared to train classroom aides and other paraprofessionals, as well as coach parents and visiting experts who have something to share with students.

This final aspect is particularly useful as schools draw more and more often on volunteers - parents, business people, community specialists - to augment teaching.

The research is in step with the future of all education, Salzberg and Hudson believe. Special education classrooms in Cache and Logan School Districts will be used for the research.