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Peer to Peer Coaching: A Model

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The Peer-to-Peer Judicial Coaching Models

In 2009, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court applied for and received a technical assistance grant from the State Justice Institute (SJI). The grant was intended to be a proof of concept grant to assess the extension of “focused mentoring and coaching” into the judicial branch in Massachusetts where judges receive appointment for life.  At the time, the Supreme Judicial Court sought education, skill building, and ongoing support for judges being selected and asked to serve as “focused mentors” assigned to work with judges in need of assistance.

The initial group of focused mentors, a mixed group of 19 judges representing each of the seven trial courts, received three days of intensive mentor coach training in October of 2010. The training consisted of a combination of theory and practice based on the skills and principles of executive coaching. Mary Beth O’Neill (Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, p.5) describes executive coaching as the essence of helping leaders get unstuck from their dilemmas and assisting them to transfer their learning into results for the organization. Coaching is an intentional and focused conversation that is counter-intuitive to the role of being a judge. Judges are sworn to be impartial decision makers based on facts (rule of law), not emotion. The introduction of coaching skills and principles asks judges to be curious and probative with his/her peers, and it asks them to listen for clarity and for what isn’t being said. They are challenged not to advise, even if the answer is easy or obvious. The initial trained group of mentor coaches learned how to support their judicial peers by trusting they have the answers and can locate those answers through support and questioning.

Today, the peer-to-peer mentor coach program (known as the J2J Program: A collaborative professional development resource for judges) continues to support Massachusetts’s judges’ with a cadre of over 75 trained mentor coaches. There is also part-time dedicated staff.  The program, not without its challenges, is slowly changing the court culture and has, systemically, worked diligently to create the expectation that a mentor coach is available to all judges beginning at judicial appointment.

In 2013, Massachusetts’s judges and staff affiliated with the J2J Program made a presentation at the annual NASJE conference. Shortly after, Superior Court of the District of Columbia contacted J&S Bouch Consulting, LLC to bring a similar program to the court. Not unlike most court systems, the DC Superior Court was aware that their informal mentor program was not providing the level of support that they desired. To date, the DC Superior Court has trained two groups of judicial coaches. They too have created policies and procedures, consistent with their culture, and are building an infrastructure for career long support.

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