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Coaching: Even Veterans & Star Teachers Could Benefit

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.comRemember that New Yorker story about coaching I recommended a few days ago just because it was about coaching (What Makes Top Performers Better?)?  Well it turns out that the long feature article actually focuses in part on on school-based coaching of teachers in Albermarle County, Virginia, where veterans as well as novices can get help and you get to see oone math teacher who's class is observed and dissected.  

The description of the lesson and the debrief are yet another reminder of just how excruciatingly intricate classroom teaching is, how exceedingly sensitive coaches have to be in order to be effective at what is essentially teaching another adult, and a reminder about the issue of "deliberate practice' we keep hearing about for kids and adults wanting to improve their performance. 

Alas, there's a tremendous amount of resistance among veteran teachers, notes the article:  ""Many teachers see no need for coaching. Others hate the idea of being observed in the classroom, or fear that using a coach makes them look incompetent, or are convinced, despite assurances, that the coaches are reporting their evaluations to the principal. And some are skeptical that the school’s particular coaches would be of any use."  

This is no less true in other fields, notes author Gawande, a medical surgeon who decides he might benefit from coaching.  "We may not be ready to accept—or pay for—a cadre of people who identify the flaws in the professionals upon whom we rely, and yet hold in confidence what they see... The existence of a coach requires an acknowledgment that even expert practitioners have significant room for improvement." 

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Annals of Medicine, The New Yorker Oct 2011

Personal Best, Atul Gawande

Coaching a surgeon: What makes top performers better?

Atul Gawande’s advocacy for surgical coaching to improve procedural and cognitive performance in the operating room is a fine example to all physicians and surgeons. It takes humility and self-scrutinizing insight to recognize that finely honed clinical judgment and skills acquired over long years of training degrade over time. To openly admit to being able to do things better, correct ingrained habits and maintain high treatment standards should be a high tide mark for any medical doctor. Adopting personal initiatives to optimize patient care (rather than being compelled by directives from above) demands respect from colleagues and admiration from patients.

Some uncertainties remain however. Coaching could have a different type of impact in non-procedural specialties where cognitive demands are at a higher premium. It would be difficult to isolate the benefit of coaching from the improved performance resulting from being put under the discerning microscope of an esteemed peer. If merely being scrutinized is the crucial factor, then performance enhancement demands career-long supervision rather than periodic coaching. The coaching that a competent clinician volunteers for could be misinterpreted by colleagues as being remedial for technical weakness or impaired clinical judgment. Like compliance with continuing medical education and assessment for clinical competency, if coaching is convincingly shown to improve patient outcomes, it has to be made mandatory for all clinicians. Stiff resistance and a long hard battle is in the wind in that case.

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