I need a coach

Terrific article by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker about how we could all probably benefit from a coach in our jobs.  Elite athletes still use coaches– why not everybody else.  Gawande, a surgeon, actually improves his operating room performance by bringing in a retired surgeon as a coach.  Turns out, a lot of the action/research on this comes on the teaching front where some school districts are actually implementing policies where teachers get not just mentoring, but actual coaching:

So outside ears, and eyes, are important for concert-calibre musicians and Olympic-level athletes. What about regular professionals, who just want to do what they do as well as they can? I talked to Jim Knight about this. He is the director of the Kansas Coaching Project, at the University of Kansas. He teaches coaching—for schoolteachers. For decades, research has confirmed that the big factor in determining how much students learn is not class size or the extent of standardized testing but the quality of their teachers. Policymakers have pushed mostly carrot-and-stick remedies: firing underperforming teachers, giving merit pay to high performers, penalizing schools with poor student test scores. People like Jim Knight think we should push coaching.

California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.

Knight experienced it himself. Two decades ago, he was trying to teach writing to students at a community college in Toronto, and floundering. He studied techniques for teaching students how to write coherent sentences and organize their paragraphs. But he didn’t get anywhere until a colleague came into the classroom and coached him through the changes he was trying to make.

I’m sold.  I have little doubt that like Gawande’s skills as a surgeon, my skills as a college teacher have likely plateaued.   I would really like to get a forceful external perspective to help me get better and like the teachers in the article, I’ve got a pretty good idea where my weaknesses are.  Furthermore, part of my job is to mentor PhD students who are new college instructors.  I’m definitely going to look into this research to find out how I can be an effective coach for them in this process.

On a quasi-related note, our local NPR station has been running a lot of ads for NC State’s “Business coaching certificate program.”  I was actually going to do a post poking fun at this on one of those slower days.  Now, I feel bad.  If teachers, college professors, and surgeons (not to mention tennis players, golfers, etc.), can benefit from coaching, surely business professionals can as well.

Alright then, now I just need to find a coach for me.  But no blogging coaches (as much as John Wilder seems to want to have the job).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to I need a coach

  1. Steve Saideman says:

    In some ways, we have far more coaching than in other professions: reviewers. Along with reviewers, we have discussants, audiences and colleagues who advise us along the way. Of course, rarely are there folks to help us be better at teaching or service, but in terms of research anyway, we get coached a lot whether we want it or not 😉

  2. Before you can be an effective coach, you need to be able and willing to look at all sides instead of your liberal agenda.
    John Wilder

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