Peer vs. Peer Coach vs. Coach (Module 2, ISTE-CS)

I have a million and one questions this quarter as we continue to think about peer coaching and the ISTE Coaching Standards. Most of them seem to center on two main questions:

  1. What is it that we do? What does this master’s program qualify someone to do?
  2. What is peer coaching?

As a start to an answer for 1, I think one of the things a digital education leader can do is peer coach, and of course one of the lenses a DEL peer coach will bring to the table is that of integrating education and technology. But in order to understand what that means, I need a clearer understanding of peer coaching. In my last blog post I wrote about the difference between a coach and an expert, and for this post I’m focusing on the differences between a peer, peer coach, and coach. My guiding question has been:

As a peer coach, am I primarily a peer, or primarily a coach? How are these three roles the same or different?

In peer coaching there is an emphasis on the “peer” part, but the way I’ve been thinking about coaching seems fundamentally un-peer-like. I feel like I can easily see a difference between a peer and a coach (though I’m not sure I have the words yet to describe that difference). So is a peer coach more like a peer, or more like a coach? Are there ways in which a peer relationship is very different from a peer coaching relationship? Are we orienting towards each other in fundamentally different ways in the peer and peer coaching relationships?

Peer First

I’ll start off by saying I do feel like I have an answer to my guiding question: As a peer coach, I am primarily a peer.

I was super excited to find a resource that touched on the exact thing that was troubling me – that the word coach implies some sort of difference in status – and it was validating to find out that I’m not the only one who feels this way. What I found was an excerpt (the first chapter) to Pam Robbins’ (1991) book How to Plan and Implement a Peer Coaching Program. Reading these few sentences, in particular, really helped me bring my understanding of peer coaching into focus:

“Peer coaching is a confidential process through which two or more professional colleagues work together to reflect on current practices; expand, refine, and build new skills; share ideas; teach one another; conduct classroom research; or solve problems in the workplace. Although peer coaching seems to be the most prominent label for this type of activity, a variety of other names are used in schools: peer support, consulting colleagues, peer sharing, and caring. These other names seem to have evolved, in some cases, out of teacher discomfort with the term coaching. Some claim the word coaching implies that one person in the collaborative relationship has a different status.”

My new understanding is that peer coaching is an activity that peers engage in together. Defining my primary role as a peer and our activity as peer coaching helps me understand the intention behind how people in a peer coaching relationship position each other. I see it as taking friends or peers who can care about each other, and putting them in a context where they are collaboratively engaged in the activity of improving and growing in some regard; for teachers, it would be the improvement and growth of teaching in order to better facilitate student learning.

To me, the general description above gets at the heart of peer coaching. Beyond that, there seem to be specific ways to implement peer coaching that would more or less count as having “high fidelity,” which I say based on reading Robbins’ (1991) book, Les Foltos’ (2013) book Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration, and Queensland Government’s (n.d.) PDF Peer Coaching Models Information. I trust that there is value in structuring the activity of peer coaching in the ways that they outline, but learning those ways takes time, as does developing those practices between people.

Moving Forward

I am now wondering about how to create the conditions that allow peer coaching to be implemented with fidelity, or to otherwise reach its full potential. Given my current work/school surroundings, I would like to consider what pieces of those conditions are already in place and what would be reasonable next steps to take in order to work towards peer coaching.

I would also like to look closely at the ISTE Coaching Standards again, now that I have a better understanding of peer coaching, in order to think about how those two things fit together.


References

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching: Unlocking the power of collaboration. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Queensland Government. (n.d.). Peer coaching models information. Retrieved from http://education.qld.gov.au/staff/development/performance/resources/readings/peer-coaching-models.pdf

Robbins, P. (1991). How to plan and implement a peer coaching program. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.