Wanted: Teacher, Coach or both?

CJ Westerberg, February 17, 2014 10:16 AM

photo: tennis champion, Rafa Nadal
Ed note: Previously published and updated by CJW

"The coach is the boss of you,
but they're not the boss."

                           - Atul Gawande, Personal Best, The New Yorker

On the Teaching Model vs. the Coaching Model

by C.J. Westerberg

NPR host Neal Conan interviewed Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School for another intriguing Talk of the Nation episode that caught my attention.  Gawande explained his "aha moment" while watching one of my favorite athletes - tennis champion Rafa Nadal -  at Wimbledon. 

Noting that someone of Nadal's caliber and super-star status looked up to his coach during the match inspired his piece in The New Yorker magazine entitled Personal Best.  His premise, "Top athletes and musicians have coaches.  Should you?"    

"The coaching model is different
from the traditional conception of pedagogy,
where there's a presumption that, after a certain point,
the student no longer needs instruction.
You graduate. You're done.
You can go the rest of the way yourself.
-  Atul Gawande

Highlights of NPR interview:

On the teaching model versus the coaching model

"The coaching model [is] what you think of with athletes and singers, who have someone who coaches them all the way through their career, even if they're one of the best in the world. But violinists and surgeons - at least in our theory of how we're supposed to do it - we don't. You go to medical school, you go to Juilliard, and you graduate. You get a degree, you get in your 10,000 hours of practice, and then some cream [is] supposed to rise to the top.

"But I was really struck by how different these models are and tried to understand it ... I had a fascinating discussion with Itzhak Perlman, the great violinist, and I said, 'Why don't violinists have coaches, but singers do?' And he said, 'I don't know, but I think it's a mistake.' "

On how schools are using coaches
to improve teacher performance

"We now know that in teaching, the most important thing for the outcomes of students ... that the school has control over is the quality of the teaching. A bunch of [studies] have shown that when you have teachers go through workshops [and] learn some new skills about teaching math or teaching English, less than 20 percent are using those skills six months later."

"But if you have a coach follow them into the classroom, even just once a month, and
watch them try that out, they get to over a 75 percent likelihood that they'll use
those skills.

"And so now there [are] more than 100 school districts where they've put in coaches in the classroom who come once every couple weeks, watch the teacher teach, and then give them detailed feedback. They work on an agenda that the teacher helps set ... They work on their problems handling the student behavior or planning the class or dealing with time management."

"This is why it will never be easy to submit to coaching,
especially for those who are well along in their career.
I'm ostensibly an expert.
I'd finished long ago with the days of
being tested and observed.
I am supposed to be past needing such things.
Why should I expose
myself to scrutiny and fault-finding?
- "Personal Best," Atul Gawande

On the difference between a coach and a teacher

"The coach is someone whose job is to be on your side of the fence ... They're there ... to help you achieve your maximum potential, and help you figure out how to get there along the way. And it's a funny relationship, because in individual sports - the professional ice skater or tennis player - they hire and fire the coach.

Posted September 2011 The Daily Riff with updates and minor modifications
Related posts The Daily Riff:

10 Ways to Build Resilience by Edna Sackson with video of Jay McTighue

The Fires of the Mind: What Does It Take To Get Really Good at Something?

Parents:  Are We Sabotaging Our Own Math Ability? 

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
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