Learning to Navigate the Many Roles of a Peer Coach

It’s the fall of 2020 and this quarter for my EDTC 6105 course in the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University we are focusing on peer coaching. For this first blog post my focus is on ISTE Coaching standard 1 which is about being a change agent. The reason I am focusing on this standard and specifically indicators a and c are because of their focus on a coaching culture and how it connects with a shared vision and goals. As I began digging into these standards and reading the text for our course, Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration by Les Foltos (2013) I started thinking about all the different roles and hats that a coach wears. I started wondering about the use of each role, how many roles are there, and how do coaches know when to switch from one role to another. All of this led me to my driving question for this week’s blog post.

Driving Question

As a new coach how do I balance my use of the 4 different coaching roles and know when to move from one role to another? I know each role has a purpose and is important but there are times when one role may be more effective then another. How do coaches go about determining what role to take and when they might move between roles?

To get started I wanted to really look into what the different roles are that coaches take on. What I found is that there are a variety of roles and depending on who you ask they go by different names. While the list of roles can go on forever there were some roles that seemed to be common across the board. 

Facilitator – This role is all about leading through asking questions, supporting the learning while still pushing thinking. As a facilitator the coach is the one leading the learning and helping teachers to reflect on their practice. While the coach is asking questions the teacher is the one doing most of the thinking and reflecting. In this role the coach is there to act as a sounding board to the teacher in order to help improve practice. In her research article, “Teacher-centered Coaching: An Instructional Coaching Model” Sonia Wang (2017) provides examples of questions and statements that a coach might pose when taking a facilitator role. All of the questions or statements are phrased in a way that pushes the teacher to go deeper in their thinking. Questions such as “take me through your thinking process” or “What do you think allowed for this to happen?” all help the teacher to reflect on their practice.

Collaborator – This role is about being a partner and working together with the teacher. As a collaborator coaches and teachers are working together to brainstorm ideas, coplan lessons, reflect on and evaluate lessons. The coach should not be doing all the thinking and talking but instead there should be a balance of responsibility. This is a great role for working together to problem solve and plan activities. When in a collaborating role the coach should be asking things like, “why don’t we brainstorm around … “ or “let’s think of some pro’s and con’s for …” or simply “what if we …” all of these shared the thinking with the teacher.

Expert – This role has the coach doing most of the talking since they are taking on an expert role and sharing their experience. As an expert the coach positions themself to be the one sharing their knowledge and the teacher is there to learn from them. This does not mean that the teacher is a passive participant however. Through this role the coach is sharing their experience but also asking questions that check for understanding, similar to an instructor in a course.

Catalyst/Empowerer – This role is about reflection and improving practice while building teacher agency. When in the role of a catalyst the coach is working to improve instructional practice and helping teachers to become instructional decision makers within their classrooms and buildings. In order to do this a coach must empower the teacher to build their own professional identity, agency and voice. Wang (2017) shares that “ Therefore, I coined the term “empowerer” for the moments in the session where the teacher and I shared a thinking process where they identified their own growth and/or they saw the larger impact their instructional practice can and does have on their students and classroom (p. 30).

So how does a coach navigate and move amongst all of the roles listed above and the hundreds of other roles not mentioned? Part of this navigation starts with being clear around your goals as a coach and having a trusting relationship with the teacher that you are working with. If the coach has built a trusting respectful relationship with a shared vision and goal then they will be better equipped to shift from one role to another and flexibly. The ability to shift from one role to another is something that I think takes time but should also be natural. I think oftentimes coaches don’t even realize that they are shifting in between roles because it is just part of natural conversation. The shift or move should happen and be based around the needs of the teacher and what is going to push student and teacher learning further. Something else that I have come to recognize is the importance of framing everything around a third point such as data, standards, goals, student work. This helps keep the conversation focused on student learning and helps continue to build trusting relationships because it is not about the teacher personally but about the learning. I appreciated how Wang (2017) shared that they tracked the frequency with which they were assuming the different roles and that this gave them a better understanding of how often they were utilizing each one. I also think it showcased how easily it is to move from one to the other and how as coaches we subconsciously determine which role to take and when. Moving forward I plan on using the goals set between myself and my coaching partner to help determine which role to begin in. I then plan to let the conversation dictate the course and help determine the role to take and when.

After all of this what I have come to realize is that there is not a magical answer. It really is all about relationships, trust, and vision. If I continue to build relationships with my coaching partners then the movement between roles will come naturally as it will be built around our shared vision and the community we have created. While I still believe that each role has a purpose I think when to utilize it is up to the coach and where they are at in their relationship with the teacher. For me when I am just starting I don’t want to come in as the expert since I want the relationship to be a partnership. So for that purpose I tend to start with more of a facilitative or collaborative role. One in which I can support, ask questions and be a partner in the learning. As our relationship builds then I can begin to move into more of an expert role when appropriate or even that catalyst who can empower the teacher to be a change agent in their classroom and school community.


Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin; eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). https://ezproxy.spu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip&db=nlebk&AN=1046240&site=ehost-live

Foltos, L, 2018, Peer-Ed. Mill Creek, WA

Impact-Cycle.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.instructionalcoaching.com/downloads/pdfs/Impact-Cycle.pdf

ISTE Standards for Coaches | ISTE. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

LearningFocusedConversationsGuide.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.miravia.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/LearningFocusedConversationsGuide.pdf

McNamara, C. (n.d.). How to Know When to Facilitate, Train or Coach. 2. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://managementhelp.org/misc/roles-to-do.pdf 

Wang, S. (2017). Teacher Centered Coaching: An Instructional Coaching Model. Mid-Western Educational Researcher, 29(1), 20-39. https://www.mwera.org/MWER/volumes/v29/issue1/V29n1-Wang-VOICES-FROM-THE-CLASSROOM.pdf

5 thoughts on “Learning to Navigate the Many Roles of a Peer Coach

  1. Megan, I love your blog post. Your descriptions of each role were super helpful and I like how you included some of those driving questions. I agree that work should be framed around a third point such as data, standards, goals, student work, etc. I think that helps teachers feel like they’re not in the hot seat. I think I tend to lean towards the facilitator/collaborator at the beginning as well. However, I wonder if it would be helpful to have a direct conversation with the teacher at the beginning of your time together, outlining the different roles you will take on throughout your time working together. I think this will help create the shared vision you kept referring to. Great ideas! I’m sure I’ll refer to this blog post again in the future. 🙂

  2. Coaching is not a silver bullet and now I can add to that “there is not a magical answer.” I really appreciated the thoughtful questions a coach might ask in each role, and particularly that all of them kept responsibility for leading the way to an answer on the coaches learning partner. Can’t wait to learn more about your experiences navigating between these various roles.

  3. Great post, Megan! My last principal used to say that it’s all about relationships at the end of the day. Great focus! I also appreciate your emphasis on learning together. Being an instructional coach was the best PD that I ever could have asked for as a teacher. Sometimes, I felt a little guilty because I was learning so much by working with so many different educators! Thanks for breaking down and describing the different roles. Very helpful. Empowerer is a great addition to the language instructional coaches utilize to describe the many different hats they wear. Thanks gain for sharing!

  4. This blog is especially helpful in providing clear definitions, examining the role of each component, and then reflecting on how it all comes together and becomes meaningful. Having a common vision and allowing the work and roles to fluctuate around a central work really resonated. Thank you for sharing!

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