Employing Peer-to-Peer TA Strategies
Peer-to-peer TA is the use of a structured approach to share expertise among colleagues within a professional community.22, 27 It may consist of one-time events such as presentations, meetings, or hands-on site visits or take place in the context of an ongoing mentor/mentee relationship or community of practice.
Use of peer-to-peer strategies with service providers and families allows state deaf-blind projects to:
- Make the most of limited resources by expanding the avenues through which recipients can access TA
- Increase the ability of service providers and families to solve their own problems
- Situate learning in real contexts
- Give service providers the opportunity to benefit from the multiple perspectives of experienced colleagues
Peer-to-peer TA can be either directional or equal in nature:
- Directional: One party (an individual or group) is the recipient and the other is the provider, with the provider having a more highly developed set of skills
- Equal: Individuals with similar problems or goals and similar skill sets convene to seek solutions
Although, peer-to-peer TA refers to peers providing support to each other, it requires facilitation from the state deaf-blind project to foster relationships and assist with arrangements, including:30
- Matching service providers or families to other service providers or families to help them solve a specific problem or for generalized support
- Providing logistical support (e.g., online or face-to-face meeting space, online work areas, webinar hosting)
Advice from Colleagues
Our project has successfully used a format where we bring together (online or face-to-face) teachers or other service providers from around the state to discuss a specific need they have related to a student. We use a case study format. All participants are asked to bring the same information (e.g., description of the problem, description of the student, possibly video clips). They present their information and offer each other ideas and support. Participants often follow up by sharing resources (e.g., lesson plans, assessment tools) after the meeting.
Tools & Resources
Mentoring, a specific type of peer matching, is a relationship-based process between colleagues in similar professional roles.26 The mentor is a more experienced practitioner who provides guidance to the less experienced mentee.
Mentoring differs from coaching in that it is focused on the overall professional development of an individual rather than the performance of a discrete set of skills. The mentor offers advice to enhance the mentee’s professional performance and development and serves as a role model and support person within a profession or professional network26 (e.g., the deaf-blind network, a school, or a professional organization).
Visiting a site where a similar implementation effort has occurred and been successful is a recommended strategy for promoting implementation.20 For state deaf-blind projects, this might involve making arrangements for a team to visit another school or program that provides a good example of effective instruction for children who are deaf-blind. Having team members visit established programs with well-implemented practices allows them to see the practices in action. It also helps to build relationships among service providers who work with children who are deaf-blind.
Prepare by establishing goals for the visit (including a plan for how the knowledge gained will be used),20 and select sites that have:
- Characteristics in common with the site where you are providing TA (e.g., classroom type, a child with deaf-blindness of similar age and abilities)
- Features that relate to what you are expecting the team to implement (e.g., use of specific instructional practices)
Communities of practice can foster collaborative learning environments that help members improve their use of effective practices.20 They are an extension of the peer matches described above in that they typically include more people and have an open-ended time frame. Like other types of peer-to-peer engagement, communities of practice provide opportunities (often via distance communication) for individuals with common interests and needs to learn from and offer support to each other.
Because these communities require a great deal of facilitation and maintenance, they aren’t usually created by state deaf-blind projects for the purpose of child-specific TA. When relevant communities of practice do exist, however, they allow service providers and families to learn from each other, giving them access to TA beyond what a state deaf-blind project can provide.
Advice from Colleagues
The Network of Teachers Working with Deaf-Blind Students (NTDB) is a community of practice for educational team members who work with students with combined hearing and vision loss in New York state. It was established by the New York Deaf-Blind Collaborative in 2011 to bring together dedicated professionals to support ongoing skill development and share resources and ideas. Groups in four regions typically meet every 6-8 weeks to discuss relevant content that is self-identified by the respective members. NTDB provides a unique opportunity for peer-to-peer mentorship beyond the constraints of classroom and district settings.