Can one person both lead by example and work as a peer coach? (Bonus blog)

In response to this sentence, which I wrote in my last blog post:

“If I imagine a person embodying all the things stated in the ISTE-CS, I imagine a person who is leading by example and actively advocating for the meaningful integration of technology and education; neither of these characteristics are in line with the goal of peer coaching,”

my classmate, James, asked me:

“Do you think one could both lead by example and work as a peer coach depending on the circumstances? I’d be interested to hear if that fits into the parameters you’ve developed through your other posts about experts versus peers versus peer coaches.”

My short answer to this is: Of course! I just don’t think you can engage in both of those activities at the exact same time.

I’ve been thinking that I would like to elaborate on my thinking about this, and this seems like a good opportunity to do so. Admittedly, I believe I’m thinking about all this in a very specific way, and I definitely don’t expect someone to organize their thinking in the same way that I have. But let’s see if I can put my thinking into words. 

My Long Answer

Let’s define two things: the activity you’re engaged in, and the “hat” you are wearing (or the role you’re embodying, or the identity you’re “activating”). What I want to do is define peer coaching as a set of activities, and an ISTE Coach as a hat. I think making this distinction can get a little hairy, but through writing the rest of this post I’ve convinced myself that I’m happy with this choice.

Why does it get hairy? Because, if I say that I’m wearing my ISTE Coaching hat, then that implies I’m probably engaging in a certain set of activities. But I’m still not thinking of ISTE Coaching as an activity, I’m choosing to think of it as a hat I can wear; a perspective I can come from; an identity I can activate. I think this way of thinking works because putting on a certain hat probably implies a certain set of activities, but the reverse isn’t true; engaging in an activity doesn’t necessarily imply that you are wearing a particular hat, and this is the crux. (Side note: Heck yes! This so jives with what I know from academic identity literature.)

When you begin the peer coaching activity, you should start off as perspective free. You don’t approach your coachee with an agenda on the back burner. Does that mean that every time you approach this person, you approach them in peer coaching mode? No, because it’s an activity you engage in, not a hat you wear, and you’re not always engaged in that activity when in the presence of that person. Does that mean that you can’t throw different hats on and off as needed during the activity? No. Personally, I think I should be allowed to throw on any hat that I see fit in the moment. But my hats are tentative, and I’m always ready to take them off or put on a new one. The goal is to take the hat off when it is no longer needed, or to switch your hat when a new hat is needed. You’re always checking back in to see if the hat you’re wearing feels like the right hat to wear. And the hat you choose to put on is always in response to your coachee’s needs. During peer coaching, a secondary activity you are engaged in is the activity of waiting to seeing which hat you need to put on, not planning out which hats you want to wear in advance, based on your own goals.

So can I wear my ISTE Coaching hat while peer coaching? Yes. Can I embody that hat while peer coaching? No – not based on what I think it means to embody a hat. Can I embody that hat sometimes, and peer coach at other times? Yes. Can I truly ever rid myself of all hats? No.

You and your coachee are not always engaged in the activity of peer coaching. Hence, you aren’t always restricted to the activities that are specific to peer coaching while you’re with that person. You can lead by example sometimes, and then switch gears to focus on a coachee and their specific needs at other times. I keep thinking of the phrase “you do you.” People expect you to do you when you’re doing your own thing. And assuming you don’t go around telling people that they’re wrong if they don’t copy you, you doing things in your own way won’t stop people from trusting that you support their choices. So I think, most definitely, you can lead by example and peer coach, I just don’t think you can do them simultaneously.

2 thoughts on “Can one person both lead by example and work as a peer coach? (Bonus blog)”

  1. I didn’t think this would inside inspire an additional post but I’m glad you shared. “And the hat you choose to put on is always in response to your coachee’s needs,” this seems to be so important and so tricky in peer coaching. Clearly you’ve thought a lot about both roles!

  2. This ongoing exploration of roles is fascinating. Looking forward to hearing how changing hats while engaged in coaching works for you.

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