SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTING PEER-TO-PEER COACHING
1Establish trust. It is important to first ease any anxieties that eam members may have as they reflect on current practices and
expand skills. An atmosphere of trust is the foundation for a successful peer coaching program. In their book Cognitive Coaching: Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners, Arthur Costa and Robert
Garmston describe the different dimensions of trust that must be
cultivated to encourage the improvement of the learning process.
• Relational trust is developed through interactions among members of the team, from the highest-ranking firefighter to the
new recruit just starting his career. Relational trust grows when
the exchanges between team members are marked by integrity,
mutual respect, personal regard for colleagues, and competence.
• Another dimension of trust is trust in self, which is built on
self-awareness (for instance, knowing one’s values and beliefs
or being conscious of one’s attitudes toward the demands of
a firefighting career). Self-trust also involves knowing that our
actions and words have an effect on our colleagues and being
more aware of what these effects could be.
• A third dimension is trust in the coaching relationship. Each
peer group must understand that the process is meant to
encourage collaborative, hands-on learning. It must be made
clear that peers are there to provide and receive support and
not make conclusions about each other’s skills and knowledge.
• Trust in the workplace is the fourth dimension, and it is
developed by ensuring that the culture within the fire station is stimulating and cooperative and values continuous
2Encourage voluntary participation. This highlights the idea that fine-tuning and expanding new skills is something that we must
actively and willingly do throughout our career. Keeping RPC voluntary gives team members the chance to own their professional advancement instead of seeing it as just another task they need to do at work.
3Match colleagues in similar career stages. This ensures that coaching partners are equal and that the relationship does not
take the form of “mentor-mentee.” Firefighters in the same stage of
their careers are likely to be interested in refining the same types of
skills. In addition, neither person in the partnership is considered
the “expert,” as both participants are learning with the help of their
colleagues. For instance, two new recruits may want to improve
physical fitness in preparation for their first emergency call. On the
other hand, more experienced team members may wish to explore
advanced skills required to become firefighter paramedics.
4Encourage objective reflection. Full understanding of which skills you may need help with requires honest self-assessment.
In the beginning of the RPC process, team members may hesitate
to share what they think, but as trust is built, individuals become
more open about what they think they have done well and what
mistakes they may have made at work. Being aware of both our
strengths and weaknesses through objective reflection is key to
identifying skills we wish to improve.
5Set regular appointments. Just 15-20 minutes once a week can be a good start to an effective peer coaching relationship. The important thing is to make time and honor appointments with each other.
This shows respect and personal regard for fellow team members.
6Help peers set goals. The popular acronym SMART describes the successful characteristics of setting goals: Specific (also simple
and sensible), Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (also realistic and
reasonable), and Time-bound. Setting goals can help team members
develop their careers more easily, which will give them confidence to
continue developing new skills. It is important to set each other up
for success when in a peer coaching relationship.
7During coaching sessions, keep these in mind: • Listen actively. When it is the other person’s turn to talk,
maintain silence but show engagement through nonverbal
cues like nodding; eye contact; and maintaining an open,
relaxed posture. Occasionally, it helps to paraphrase your
peer’s words to ensure that he is being understood.
• Ask open-ended questions. To further explore topics, avoid
asking questions that could be answered with only a “yes”
or “no.” The goal is not to probe but to encourage the other
person to expand on what he is saying.
• Maintain a nonjudgmental attitude. Keep an open mind and
ensure that the tone of the coaching session is positive. Be
sincere, and use simple and expressive words.
• Give constructive feedback. When asked for feedback, keep in
mind that you are only offering suggestions or helping each
other explore alternatives. The choice on which steps to take
next, however, is purely a personal decision.
BENEFITS OF PEER COACHING
As a complement to the formal training process, RPC is an effective way to constantly improve individuals and organizations. It is
flexible enough to be used with the existing resources and can be
implemented at almost no cost. RPC can be done informally in the
beginning, to allow for experimentation and to build confidence in
the knowledge-sharing process. Eventually, the coaching sessions can
evolve into more structured formats, if the team finds these helpful.
Another benefit is the experiential learning that takes place and the
opportunity for team members to improve more quickly as they
listen to the “real-time” observations of their peers. In addition, peer
coaching helps reduce the sense of isolation firefighters may feel as
an effect of their demanding, dangerous, and high-stress job.
A COLLABORATIVE MODEL OF LEARNING
Reciprocal peer coaching is an adaptable model that encourages
knowledge sharing and, at the same time, gives individuals more
control over their continued professional development. This collaborative learning approach has helped many occupations refine and expand
their knowledge, and it is certainly worth exploring the model’s
potential within the realm of fire rescue training. RPC is a way for
firefighters to help one another improve a wide range of skills throughout their careers. After all, it is fellow firefighters who are in the best
position to understand the unique challenges of their work.
Costa, A. L., Garmston, R. J., Cognitive coaching: Developing self-directed leaders
and learners (3rd ed.), Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016.
Robbins, P., Peer Coaching to Enrich Professional Practice, School Culture, and
Student Learning. Alexandria, VA: ACSD, 2015.
Dr. Nicola Davies is a psychologist and freelance writer with expertise in occupational psychology and well-being. You can follow her on Twitter (@healthpsychuk) or
sign up for her free blog ( http://healthpsychologyconsultancy.wordpress.com/).